How to stop being codependent in romantic relationships

Molly Frances|2021.09.09

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If you consistently find yourself in relationships with people who are about as emotionally available as an ice-cold lake in the middle of a hot desert, you may have codependent tendencies.

Codependent individuals often ignore their own needs and spend most of their time trying to manage others. If this sounds like you, you may wonder how to stop being codependent so you can develop a more healthy relationship model in the future.

Codependence can trigger intense anxiety and other mental health problems. It may even affect your physical health, manifesting as fatigue or decreased appetite. Codependent behaviors can even cause you to stop caring for your own needs as you focus all your attention on the other person.

Ignoring your own needs is a surefire way to make your sex life less satisfying. If you’re always worried about pleasing your partner(s) instead of yourself, you may find yourself faking orgasms (please don't!). You might even perform sexual acts you aren't really into (also, please don't!). Here at Dipsea, we're all about helping you cultivate a sex life that allows you to openly share and enjoy the sex you want (partnered or not).

Learning how to stop being codependent will help you build healthier relationships with people willing to return the energy you put into the partnership. It may also improve your sex life, which is reason enough to work through codependent patterns!

Let’s explore the definition of a codependent relationship, examine some of the signs of codependency, and detail strategies for moving from codependent patterns to healthy romantic relationships.

5 questions to determine if you’re in a codependent relationship

Codependent relationships are dysfunctional because one person ignores their needs, and the other takes advantage of them. Of course, taking care of your partner isn't inherently unhealthy. Still, there are some signs of codependency you should be aware of so you can maintain healthy boundaries in your partnership.

1. Do you have trouble trusting yourself?

Codependent individuals often have trouble trusting their intuition. If your partner's words or actions make you question your emotions or even your memories of an event, you may be involved in a codependent relationship. This lack of self-trust can affect your mental health and lead to low self-esteem.

Questioning yourself often happens after your partner has used gaslighting to draw your attention away from their poor behavior. For example, if you know you and your partner made plans, but they don't show up and say you must’ve been mistaken, they’re trying to distract you from their poor behavior.

2. Are you putting more effort, energy, and emotion into a relationship than you get out of it?

People who are susceptible to codependency are those who have a naturally caring and giving heart. That's not a bad thing! But, sometimes, we wind up in relationships with people who take advantage of our generosity.

Suppose your partner expects their schedule to be more important than yours, doesn't introduce you to friends and family, is easily defensive, or generally drains you emotionally. If this is the case, they might be taking advantage of you.

3. Are you constantly feeling anxious about the relationship?

In a codependent relationship, you may find yourself wondering about the state of your relationship on an endless loop. Anxiety about the state of your connection with another person occupying all your mental energy is a sign that things aren’t right.

In a relationship with mutual affection and healthy boundaries, everyone should discuss how they feel and what they want from the partnership. If your loved one pulls away when you try to discuss feelings, which causes you to stop trying, your relationship may be codependent.

4. Do you spend too much time and effort trying to please your partner?

Codependents are people pleasers. A codependent person may spend excessive time managing things, so their partner is happy and fulfilled instead of worrying about their own satisfaction. We aren’t saying you shouldn't consider your partner’s happiness, but it should never supersede your own.

For example, you should never cancel plans with friends because you worry your partner will be upset. A healthy relationship allows for both partners to have outside interests.

5. Do you change yourself to conform to what you think your partner wants?

Codependent individuals often give up their identity for a relationship. If you find yourself pretending to like the same things as your partner (when you definitely don't), you may be struggling with codependency.

Do you give up your preferred activities because you think it will endear you to them? For example, you give up Saturday morning hikes with your dog to watch your partner’s football team play (an activity you hate) because you want them to love you. This behavior is a sign of an unhealthy relationship.

3 causes of codependency

If you find yourself falling into codependent patterns, chances are it took some time to build those tendencies. Learning how to stop being codependent will take time as well. Codependent behaviors typically begin in childhood and are reinforced by other relationships as we grow.

Codependency often has roots in an unhealthy family dynamic involving secrecy, blaming, manipulation, or coddling and can be passed down from parents to children. Children of codependents are often codependents themselves. People with codependent tendencies learned their needs don't matter or feel they cause problems in the family. The adult children then seek relationships that fit into those ideas.

Many different experiences can contribute to codependent tendencies, and having an unhealthy family dynamic doesn’t automatically make someone codependent. That said, here are three common causes.

1. Substance abuse among family members

Children of people with addiction issues witness enabling, which shields the addict from their destructive behaviors. When children spend time taking care of adult responsibilities due to addiction, it can cause them to develop many codependent tendencies. Adult children of addicts may even seek out relationships with addicts because it feels familiar to them.

2. Emotional neglect or abuse

When a parent cannot adequately care for a child's emotional needs due to addiction, mental health issues, or other concerns, it can lead to low self-worth and codependent behaviors.

Sometimes children who take on adult roles too early, like caring for younger siblings, can develop patterns where they ignore their own needs in favor of helping others. Helping others isn't the problem. Ignoring your own needs is. The goal in a relationship is to have everyone's needs met, not to have one person ignore their well-being.

3. Overprotective parents

A parent's job is to provide enough support for a child to grow and learn to trust themselves. The opposite of neglectful parents are those who indulge children so much they don't learn to care for themselves. Both extremes can lead to codependent tendencies.

If parents refuse to allow a child to take risks, such as learning to ride a bike, they may not trust themselves. Lack of self-trust can lead a person to avoid setting boundaries and develop unhealthy relationships.

When parents fail to teach children life skills such as doing laundry, the child will not feel prepared for adulthood. Lack of preparedness may cause people to seek a codependent relationship with someone who will care for them.

How to stop being codependent in a relationship

Knowing where your behavior patterns come from will help you identify your triggers and help you learn to set boundaries with romantic partners, building the healthy relationship you deserve.

If you're in a codependent relationship, you don’t necessarily have to break up—it's not hopeless. With the proper support, you and your partner can undo codependent patterns and work together to build a satisfying partnership.

Learn what healthy relationships look like

Healthy relationships allow each person to retain their identity while providing mutual support. There’s a give and take of emotional, mental, and physical resources in healthy relationships, which allow everyone to feel loved. In these relationships, your self-esteem is not dependent on the other person because you have enough self-love to set boundaries and continue living your own life no matter how serious you and your boo get.

Focus on your needs

The key to overcoming codependent tendencies is to put the focus on your own needs and well-being. We aren’t saying you should ignore others—think of it as “me too” instead of “me first.”

You may need to spend some time figuring out what your needs and desires are, as many codependent individuals have trouble identifying them. Meditating is a great way to silence your thoughts and tune out the world around you so you can gain clarity about your needs.

Set boundaries, boundaries, and more healthy boundaries

Boundaries don’t keep loved ones at arm’s length. Boundaries are guidelines we use to allow relationships to flourish while maintaining our identities and priorities. Boundaries can help ensure you protect your needs while loving your partner.

People often set boundaries within their relationships about finances, physical touch, communication, or work. For example, if you’ve often found yourself having sex when you aren’t in the mood, you might be putting too much emphasis on your partner’s needs or assuming they’ll be mad at you if you say no. You might set a boundary to only have sex when you really want to in order to contribute to your recovery from codependency.

The boundaries you need to feel safe, secure, and happy will depend on your values. Learning to set boundaries can help you be independent while knowing you can rely on support from your partner when you need it.

Find support for your recovery

Since many codependent individuals have a familial history of addiction, some find support groups helpful. Codependents Anonymous was started to help the families of addicts recover from codependency. They now offer support to any codependent person. The organization provides support from people sharing the same struggles through meetings and shared resources. The meetings take place in person, online, and over the phone.

You may want to get professional help from a therapist to help you figure out what your needs are and how best to meet them as an autonomous individual. Couples therapy is a good idea if you have a partner. Individual in-person or online therapy can help if you’re solo and preparing to create healthy relationships in the future.

Recovering from codependency is worth the work

The process of undoing codependent tendencies is difficult and emotional, but it’s worth it. Once you’ve acknowledged your codependent behaviors and started working through them, you’ll feel empowered in your relationships.

There’s sure to be forward motion and setbacks as you heal, so give yourself some grace. If you're looking for help dealing with all of the emotions that pop up as you work through codependency, guided meditation from Dipsea may help. Listen as our narrators guide you through exercises designed to help you calm down, recenter, and focus on your goals.

Listen, light yourself up.

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