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We all want to be with that special person in our lives, but what about when that desire for your partner becomes twisted into a relationship that is based on “need?” When you need someone to make you feel good about yourself, you are dependent on that person.
There is also the opposite: when you need someone to need you, you feel useful and become their “savior,” which makes you feel good about yourself. Is either of these types of relationships healthy? Should you stop being “needy” or codependent?
Stopping codependency is not easy, but you can learn how to stop being codependent in a relationship in these steps (without leaving your partner).
What Is Codependency?
Codependency is when you are more than just in a mutually inclusive relationship where both partners contribute equally and share equally. It’s when you become over-invested in your partner’s life, when their life becomes your life that it is known as codependency.
In codependency, there is a “giver” and a “taker.” The giver does for the taker, while the taker depends on the giver to make them feel good. In a codependent relationship, there’s no single “guilty” party. Instead, both parties are involved in an unhealthy relationship.
When a couple is codependent, they struggle to function independently. For them, there is only an “us” and not two people contributing to the relationship. Instead, there is a designated “driver” who steers the relationship, while the “passenger” partner is just along for the ride and has no life of their own. The twist is that the “driver” needs the “passenger” to make them feel good about driving them along the road of life.
Are You in a Codependent Relationship?
It may be hard to distinguish between a codependent relationship and a normal relationship, especially when you are on the inside. People around you may be more able to see that your relationship is not balanced, but you probably don’t want to turn to others for their opinion on your relationship.
Being needed is normal in a relationship. Being involved in your partner’s life is normal for any couple. It’s when you can’t live without being involved, when you can’t survive if your partner has to go away for their work and you become utterly depressed, that you are looking at a codependent relationship.
Being in a codependent relationship means you are not able to function healthily on your own. Instead of living your life and sharing that life with your partner, you have no life of your own. You live as a shadow in their life when you are the taker – you try to completely share their life as your own is a mere shadow.
The person who has a shadow living with them in their life is also not living a wholesome life as they are responsible for two people instead of just themselves.
The giver then becomes reliant on feeling good only because they have a passenger they can satisfy in their life. There is a sense of power that comes from this “being in charge” feeling. The resulting relationship is not a joining of two equals, but rather a parent-child relationship.
Some warning signs that you may be in a codependent relationship include:
Attraction, Challenges, and Concerns with Codependency
You may ask why anyone would want to be in a relationship where your own life essentially takes a seat on the backburner. If you are a strong and independent person, the idea of so completely enmeshing with your partner may sound like a nightmare—but there are also some perks to being in a codependent relationship. As a result, when you are in one, you may not want to leave it.
The attractions of a codependent relationship are that:
The challenge with a codependent relationship is that nobody is supposed to live their life completely absorbed by their partner or limited by them. A healthy relationship is between two totally independent personalities and minds, where the sharing brings a unique identity to the relationship. In a codependent relationship, you may find that there is only one identity—that of the driving partner.
Of course, there is then the concern that this could lead to severe personality disorders beginning to factor into the relationship. Narcissism, for instance, is often found in a codependent relationship, since the driver position appeals to a narcissistic personality.
The passenger partner may develop a victim complex, and soon, they can begin to resent their partner. Love CAN turn to hate.
Should You Leave Your Codependent Relationship, or Is There Hope?
Reading this, you may wonder if the only course of action is to divorce your marital partner or leave your romantic partner. It isn’t. There is hope for a codependent relationship, and it doesn’t require that you end the relationship at all.
There are healthy ways to be in a codependent relationship that is mutually beneficial in a less damaging way than just being driver and passenger. The goal is to carve out some space for both partners, while maintaining the beneficial side of a codependent relationship.
You also want to avoid the relationship eventually disintegrating into a parent-child relationship where the “child” will soon resent their “parent” for dominating them and not allowing them to live their own life.
7 Steps to Stop Being Codependent in Your Relationship
By working in a step-by-step manner, you can begin to redefine your codependent relationship and stop it from becoming harmful to either you or your partner. It can work, if you’re willing to put in the work.
1. Acknowledge Your Needs
Whether you are the driver or passenger partner, you need to own up to your own needs. These are needs that apply to you as a person, not to you as an integrated part of the relationship.
It may be that you have a hobby you want to practice, but you’ve been holding back because your partner doesn’t like it or can’t participate in it.
Start doing some solo activities. Small steps here will help ease you into a personal activity that doesn’t involve your partner (not even as a spectator).
2. Become Self-Aware
In a codependent relationship, you focus on your relationship and not on yourself. Start seeing yourself. Acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and needs. Your partner isn’t responsible for fulfilling these—you are.
A few ways to get into touch with who you are (outside of the relationship) include:
3. Redefine Your Style
We all have a personal style that involves our self-care, fashion, likes and dislikes, and more. It is a style that shouldn’t be locked down like a prisoner. Instead, it is meant to evolve with our passage through life.
In a codependent relationship, you may have become stuck in who you are. Instead of growing and changing, you have remained who you were. You now don’t know your full potential. It’s time to find out what you like and what your purpose is.
Start with small items such as changing up your wardrobe. Don’t go on a shopping spree, as even trying on clothes you’d never have considered wearing before can help create the mind shift.
This is an activity that is ideally done on your own, but you can involve your partner if they don’t dominate your adventurous spirit. If you are the passenger and they are a narcissistic driver, they may choose to suppress your changing style.
4. Build Boundaries, Not Walls
We all know that a relationship needs boundaries. There are some aspects of our lives that are not open to our partner’s presence, or things we won’t accept. Not accepting physical abuse from your partner is one example of a boundary.
Boundaries aren’t negative things in your relationship. These don’t keep your partner out. Instead, they help show you both where to go, what is acceptable, and what is required from each other.
What are the boundaries in your relationship at the moment? Which boundaries can help you take more ownership of your life while still supporting your partner?
5. Embrace the Power of NO
In a codependent relationship, the word NO is rarely used (if ever). Therefore, start using it in small ways.
“No, I don’t want a second serving of pie.”
“No, I am not going out tonight.”
“No, I don’t like that color.”
“No, you can go to the store on your own today.”
When you and your partner learn that NO isn’t a bad thing, you can begin to respect each other more, see independence as being good, and practice personal power without causing or taking offense.
6. Practice Awareness in the Relationship
Communication is a powerful thing. Not all codependent relationships are created intentionally. Sometimes, these relationships simply happen when the partners aren’t able to fully communicate with each other and express their needs.
In a relationship where one partner has a strong personality and the other is more submissive, this can easily happen.
Start becoming aware of your partner in the relationship. This isn’t an opportunity to criticize them. Instead, you can begin to encourage them toward self-exploration and becoming more of who they are meant to be. It’s also about communicating to them your need to be more of who you are.
7. Open Your Emotions
When you are insecure in your own feelings, you may slip into the shadows of your partner because it’s easier and safer. Yet, this isn’t healthy. Even the driver partner may become tired and decide to leave a relationship where they carry all the emotional responsibility.
Open your feelings, acknowledge them, and share them with your partner. You may find that your partner can be a true pillar of strength, not a door to hide behind.
Sharing your feelings honestly means you can start to create an interdependent relationship instead of a codependent relationship. You and your partner can find real connection and new intimacy and trust each other.
Final Thoughts on How to Stop Being Codependent in a Relationship
Codependency gets a bad rep as it often leads to a relationship that’s so unbalanced that it’s hard to see where one partner starts and the other stops. A relationship should be between two equal individuals. However, this is often rare to achieve.
Usually, one partner is stronger than the other. Strength doesn’t mean that the strong person should be the driver of the relationship and their partner is reduced to being a passenger. Codependency can become a valuable form of relationship when it’s a more balanced relationship where both partners receive their share of responsibility and ownership.
Depend on your partner, but trust yourself to also get things done. And if your partner is acting out, you may want to read our article on men with mother abandonment issues.