Have you ever been in a relationship that felt as though it sapped all of your energy? If so, you may have been in a codependent relationship. Codependency is generally defined as a type of relationship in which one person supports the other in an unhealthy behavior of some kind. This could be enabling someone to maintain an addiction, to not take responsibility for his or her actions, or to become overly reliant on you.
Codependency is often learned in a dysfunctional family environment. There are generally underlying issues that have been ignored or minimized, such as an addiction, physical or sexual abuse, or a family member struggling with a chronic mental health condition. Frequently, the person in the caretaking role disregards personal needs and focuses on providing for the other financially, emotionally, and/or physically. The person being taken care of comes to depend on the caretaker’s help in order to enable him or her to maintain life choices. Feelings in this type of family or relationship are generally repressed, and problems tend to go unacknowledged.
Some of the signs that indicate you might be in a codependent relationship include:
- Recognizing the harmful behaviors that your partner or loved one is engaging in, but providing for that person in such a way that he/she is not having to suffer consequences.
- Remaining in an unhealthy relationship despite the emotional and psychological toll to your own health.
- Feeling unappreciated, angry, and resentful, but also afraid of retaliation if you stop “rescuing” or taking care of the other individual.
- Difficulties with setting appropriate limits or boundaries in the relationship.
- Putting the needs of others before your own.
- Being overly protective and taking on all responsibility for your partner or loved one.
- Minimizing or denying the problem.
- Having poor communication skills, especially regarding the problem and/or your emotions.
Although the caretaker in the codependent relationship usually has good intentions and generally acts out of a sincere desire to help a partner or loved one, the situation typically ends up backfiring. Over time, the caretaker an start to feel unacknowledged and taken for granted. By constantly protecting the loved one from the consequences of his or her actions, the relied-upon partner actually helps to foster even more of the destructive behaviors. This, in turn, prevents the loved one from experiencing important life lessons and learning to take responsibility.
So how can you stop the unhealthy dynamics of a codependent relationship? A few methods include:
- Setting appropriate boundaries in the relationship. Take stock of your feelings and determine where you will draw the line when offering financial, emotional, and/or physical support.
- Stop rescuing your loved one from the consequences of destructive or inappropriate behaviors. Providing resources for getting help with an addiction, for example, is much more loving than covering up for the person’s actions and watching that person slowly ruin his/her life.
- Spend more time with friends doing activities you enjoy. Broaden your horizons and develop a larger support system that you can turn to when you need someone to depend on.
- Acknowledge your own needs and start implementing more self-care strategies. This is often one of the most difficult things for people on the caretaking end of a codependent relationship to do, but it’s one of the most necessary, too.
- Get help from a mental health professional. Codependent relationships can be difficult to leave or change. If you have been struggling to make changes on your own, contact a therapist to work through these issues in a caring environment.
Although codependent relationships can be extremely challenging, change is possible by following some or all of the methods listed above. A great deal of pain and suffering can be alleviated by learning to set healthier boundaries in order to stop any destructive behaviors and support the growth of the partners or family members involved.
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