Overcoming Codependency in a Romantic Relationship

Codependency is defined as a dysfunctional relationship where one person enables the other person’s behaviour.

The enabler is usually referred to as the codependent. The codependent person normally fills a “caregiver” role and as such, their intentions usually stem from a good place. Their actions and choices revolve around the other person. In turn, the individual receiving this attention may develop a reliance on the codependent. This forms a cycle of codependency and can in time lead to a codependent relationship.

Types of behaviour the codependent can enable:

  • Addiction (e.g. gambling, substance use, substance abuse etc.)
  • Poor mental/physical health
  • Irresponsibility
  • Immaturity
  • Under-achievement

Signs That You Are in a Codependent Relationship

It may not always be immediately obvious that you are experiencing codependency. Codependent people often feel as though they are helping the other person and so the issue often goes unnoticed.

Here are some signs of codependency to look out for:

  • Intimacy issues
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of boundaries
  • Struggling to spend time alone (sometime referred to as “relationship addiction”)
  • An abusive partner
  • Feeling unfulfilled

You may be the codependent in the relationship if you find that you:

  • Are excessively controlling
  • Are excessively reactive
  • Feel responsible for the other person’s actions and life choices
  • Facilitate, tolerate or ignore troubling behaviour
  • Derive self worth from giving to the other person but feel insecure when your loved one reciprocates
  • Insist on helping your partner, even when they resist
  • Have a hard time putting your own needs first
  • Are constantly thinking and talking about your partner’s issues
  • Feel worthless if you are not helping your partner with some issue

Another point to consider: Although you may feel as though you know your own relationship best, it is worth taking note if several people in your life have concerns about your codependent behaviour. While you should take these concerns with a grain of salt, remember that loved ones usually want what is best and there is no harm in listening to their point of view.

Understand Why You/Your Partner are Codependent

Codependency can be a hard dynamic to recover from, it is however possible. Couples counselling is highly recommended in these types of relationships.

Relationship counselling will help you establish who is the codependent person. It also will help uncover the unhealthy patterns that have lead to codependency. Having someone else outside of your relationship assess the situation can provide you with a new perspective. This is an essential first step in resolving the problem.

It is even more important to consider professional counselling if you and your partner have children. Children are highly influenced by others, especially family members and parents. By working to fix your own issues you are setting a positive example for your child/children which may prevent them from developing their own codependent tendencies in relationships.

Establish Boundaries Between You and The Other Person In The Relationship

By establishing the type of codependency present in your relationship, you will be in a better position to break codependent behaviours. This will likely involve establishing boundaries between you and the other person. Boundaries allow both parties in the relationship to form a stronger sense of self which will in turn improve self esteem over time.

Relationship psychologist, Sara Bertolini notes, “A relationship, which requires constant words and behaviour geared towards validation, acknowledgment and reassurance…can be exhausting for both people in the relationship”. Forming boundaries is the best way to address these issues.

Couples counselling is an effective way to work with each other to establish these boundaries. Without counselling, codependency tends to persist for a long time. However, there are a few things you can do in the meantime that will help:

  • Reestablish your own core values/needs: Codependent individuals often forget about their own values and needs in favour of the other person’s. Identifying your own is a great first step towards change. Whether it be family, religion or friends, you should also aim to spend some time engaging with related activities (e.g. organise a picnic with your friends and family).
  • Take care of yourself: Go further than just values and needs. Remember that you cannot are not responsible for your partner’s behaviour, but you can change your own. Self-improvement comes in many forms and investing even a small amount of time and energy can make a big difference. Reading a book, downloading a meditation app and/or spending time on a hobby (e.g. playing guitar) can be great first steps.

Look After Your Own Mental Health

Focusing on your own mental health goes hand in hand with self improvement and self care. Codependency can result from a range of situations but is commonly indicative of other mental health issues.

For example, those with borderline personality disorder (BPD) tend to have a difficult time understanding and respecting the boundaries of another person. This can foster codependent relationships.

In addition to couples counselling, you may need to set up some individual sessions with a psychologist. Mental health professionals will be able to provide you with:

  • Additional mental health information surrounding codependency
  • Diagnosis and counselling for a mental health condition

Overcoming codependency issues with someone who you love is never easy. However, it can be achieved with some help. Our psychologists are here to offer support through this challenging time will guide you through the steps to break the cycle.