Relationships of any kind can be complicated. Even the healthiest relationships will require a degree of compromise and may still contain occasional disagreements. However, co-dependent relationships present a unique situation that can cause several mental and emotional strains.
Understanding what a co-dependent relationship looks like can help an individual identify any symptoms of codependency in their relationships. Doing so can help each person take a proactive stance in working to develop one’s relationship into a healthy, productive, and equally unified front for whatever life presents.
What Is a Codependent Relationship?
Co-dependent relationships can create a great deal of stress and there are a number of ways they can develop. Generally, co-dependent relationships are defined as a relationship in which a person cannot function normally without the other to an unhealthy degree. This typically involves a disparate power dynamic or unequal share of responsibilities.
For some, this could be a person who suffers from substance use or a mental health disorder, coupled with a partner who needs to feel needed by the other person. Codependent relationships can still develop even without the existence of a substance use or mental health disorder. The only requirement is that each person in the relationship defines themselves by what the other person does or needs, leaving little room for individuality, personal agency, or regular independent functioning.
That being said, when one partner is struggling with substance use or a mental health issue, there is an increased chance that their relationships will become codependent. The other person is often put in the position of supporting them when they are not able to take care of themselves.
Signs of a Codependent Relationship
No two relationships are the same, and one’s experience in a codependent relationship may differ from another’s. However, certain signs can help an individual identify if they are in a codependent relationship. In these kinds of relationships, a person may:
- Feel like their opinions do not matter if they are not validated or shared by their partner
- Have difficulty identifying their own feelings
- Avoid making personal space or personal time for self-care
- Fear abandonment or loneliness
- Have difficulty articulating their feelings or needs, or communicating in general
- Put their partner’s needs before their own
Putting another person’s needs before one’s own can be a result of the use of drugs, alcohol, or a mental health disorder, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or other types of mental health issues. Trauma can also play a role in amplifying one’s fears of abandonment or lack of self-worth. This can cause a person to fall victim to a codependent relationship in which they feel that they need the other person in order to be happy.
While the more passive partner may be denying their own feelings and needs in a codependent relationship, the more dominant partner will prioritize their own needs and feelings, often over those of their partner. This part of codependency can manifest as one person having:
- A heightened sense of self-worth
- The need to be heard or paid attention to
- An exaggerated perception of responsibility towards one’s partner
- Difficulty trusting others
- The need to constantly be praised by others
Addressing these unequal elements of a codependent relationship can be difficult. Work from both parties is required to effectively begin changing the relationship dynamic and become more self-assured of their identity outside of the relationship.
Developing one’s independence and identity is a complicated process. However, it is also necessary to address the feelings of anxiety, depression, lack of self-expression, agency, and freedom that are needed for a healthy relationship dynamic.
How to Address a Co-dependent Relationship
It is possible that the person or persons in a codependent relationship may not realize that their struggles are due to codependency. The realization that one’s relationship may be unhealthy–or even harmful–can be difficult to acknowledge and process.
However, there are ways to begin addressing the situation to help the relationship become more independent or interdependent, rather than codependent. Addressing any substance abuse or mental health disorders and objectively looking at one’s relationship can all help a couple work through the challenges of rebuilding their relationship to improve their well-being.
While the proposition can be met with resistance, couples therapy can provide a safe space to begin working through issues and developing effective communication strategies with the help of a trained therapist. Good communication is crucial throughout any kind of relationship.
This is especially true for codependent relationships. Developing effective strategies for communicating and addressing problems can help each individual articulate their needs, wants, and boundaries that are important parts of a healthy and happy relationship.
Make Time for Self-Care
Spending time alone or engaging in forms of self-care is crucial for defining oneself outside of one’s relationship. Spending all of one’s time or energy on another person can compromise a person’s independence and agency. Therefore, it is important to make sure an individual has time to focus on their own emotions, needs, and desires. Scheduling these times on a calendar or having them easily referenced can help establish healthy boundaries with the other person.
However, it is important to have these boundaries be respected, and one should not have to justify their need for self-care activities to their partner. Creating and maintaining healthy boundaries can help a person develop their sense of identity and agency, and it can also help with re-building trust.
Look To Friends and Family
Discovering one’s identity outside of a codependent relationship can be difficult, especially if one has been in that kind of relationship for a long time. However, spending more time with old friends and family members can help a person rediscover their passions, interests, and sense of self.
Just because a person is working to change a dependent relationship by becoming more independent does not mean they have to do it alone. It is often a good idea to lean on friends and family for additional support and encouragement when facing these challenges.
Codependent relationships can create a number of stresses and strained relationships as each person struggles with their own sense of identity and agency. At Everlast Recovery Centers, we understand the difficult and fragile nature of codependent relationships and are prepared to help you begin to restructure your relationships to be more healthy and independent. Our comprehensive treatment facility is equipped to help you overcome any substance use or mental health disorders that may be causing codependency in your relationships. Our home-like atmosphere is curated with trained professionals and supportive peers to help you focus on getting the treatment you need for a lasting recovery. We offer a range of therapies and activities for self-care, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, art therapy, yoga, meditation, and family programs, to help you and your loved ones create a better future. For more information on how we can help you, call us today at (866) 388-6925.