Do you worry more about your partner than you do yourself? Do you find yourself trying to control his or her behavior by manipulating him or her? Are you constantly making excuses for things that he or she does? Do you hide the things that your partner does from your friends because you know that they would tell you to get the heck out of there if they knew the truth?
If so, you may be suffering from codependency.
What Does It Mean To Be Codependent
Codependency, or being codependent occurs when you are so consumed by what your partner is doing that you forget to focus on yourself. Many times, codependency happens in response to being with a partner who has some kind of addiction or a mental illness. The addiction could be to alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, food, the internet, or video games. It doesn’t matter what kind of addiction it is, only that the addiction takes your partner away from you and makes him focus only on themselves. The types of mental illness that often attract or create partners with codependency are personality disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and others.
Signs of a Codependent Relationship
Codependency can show up in many different ways. If you aren’t sure if you are in a codependent relationship, here are some checklist items to consider:
- Do you often cover for your partner so that he/she won’t face negative consequences of his/her behavior?
- Do you make excuses for your partner’s behaviors?
- Are you in denial that your partner has a substance abuse problem or mental illness?
- Are you aware that your partner has a substance abuse problem or mental illness but you are afraid to ask him/her to get help for fear they will get mad or leave you?
- Do you tell yourself things like, “Well, he only drinks after 5pm, so he’s fine,” even though he has to drink every night? Or downplay the fact that he watches porn everyday and there is a lack of intimacy between the 2 of you?
- Do you make excuses for your partner’s verbally, physically or emotionally abusive behavior towards you and others?
- Do you clean up after his/her messes, both literally and figuratively?
- Do you walk on eggshells so as not to upset your volatile partner?
- Do you find yourself worrying about your partner often? Wondering what he/she is doing but afraid to ask? Or snooping to find out.
- Do you feel unable to function and obsessing about your relationship when you and your partner aren’t getting along?
- Do you put your partner’s needs before your own?
- Do you have trouble setting boundaries with your partner?
- Do you find yourself giving your partner ultimatums that you never intend to follow through with because you are so desperate to get him/her to change their behavior?
- Do people tell you that you’re too nice in a relationship?
Over Dependence In Relationships
If you are in a relationship with someone with an addiction or a mental illness, chances are you’ve experienced some of the behaviors above. You probably feel like your world revolves around your partner and their emotions and you are constantly walking on eggshells trying to manage their reactions. Just as the addicted person is addicted to alcohol, so the codependent person is addicted to the addict.
Let that sink in.
Being codependent means that you are addicted to your addicted person. Just like alcohol (or drugs or porn or video games) temporarily takes him away from his problems, focusing on him, temporarily takes you away from yours.
Think about it: If you are always focused on what your addicted person is doing or feeling, you can’t focus on yourself. You avoid having to be conscious of your own behaviors. Sure, you might be neglecting your own needs, or “not having time” to work on your own goals, but it would be selfish to focus on yourself and your problems when your partner is so much worse off, right?
The energy that you are spending trying to “fix” your alcoholic-addicted-liar-narcissistic-partner is going nowhere. Whatever problem your partner is having is not something that you can cure or control. In fact, the more you do for him or her, the less they will do for themselves. That’s why we call it enabling when a codependent person makes excuses or cleans up metaphorical (or literal) messiness for an addicted or mentally ill person. Even though you think you are helping, you are actually making it easier for the addicted person to continue his behavior without experiencing the natural consequences that should be happening.
Why Are People Codependent?
Many people who find themselves in a codependent relationship grew up in a home with a parent with an addiction or mental illness. They learned to tune in to that unhealthy parent’s emotions in an effort to predict when interacting with the parent was safe and when it was not. Addict and mentally ill parents are often unstable and unpredictable, both emotionally and physically. As a result, children of such parents learn to walk on eggshells and make their needs scarce in order to keep the parent calm and happy. This was an adaptive response as a child and often helps a child survive or stay out of danger in an unstable home.
Someone who grew up like that often becomes codependent. A codependent is the ideal partner for an addict or someone with a personality disorder because they have a much higher tolerance for abusive or unstable behavior, they are used to ignoring their own needs to cater to a difficult person, and they are often attracted to the familiar (albeit unhealthy) feeling of living with an unstable person. Recreating the environment of childhood in our romantic relationships is our unconscious mind’s way of trying to heal our childhood wounds.
How To Fix a Codependent Relationship
How To Stop being Codependent In My Relationship: Focus On Your Own Self-Esteem
Pay attention to the way that you talk to yourself. Replace negative self-thoughts like, “I am not good enough,” with positive ones like, “I am worthy of love just as I am.” Focus on your strengths instead of your limitations. Try to see failures as opportunities for growth, and for the love of llamas stop blaming yourself for what your partner does!! You are not their keeper.
If you find that it is a pattern for you to get involved with people with addictions, it’s okay to explore whether you might be a “fixer,” but do it with self-love. Try to be curious, rather than judgmental about your patterns. Most likely this is something that started in your childhood (as described above) and it’s not your fault. I know it can be scary to look at your own patterns, but it’s well worth it. If you want to start that journey, it’s definitely something that we can work on in therapy.
One of the things that I like to do with my clients is to help them learn to “re-parent” themselves. Basically, you learn how to relate to yourself as if you were the responsible, loving parent that you never had. It might sound kooky, but it really works.
How Do I Stop Being Codependent In A Relationship? Let Consequences Happen
If your partner is going to be late for work because he’s been pulled over for a DUI, don’t lie to his boss for him. Let the natural consequences of his actions take place. Sometimes, the only way an addict can get better is by hitting “rock bottom,” and that can’t happen if someone is always covering for them.
Sometimes, it will feel extreme to let these consequences happen. For example, if you have to kick your spouse out of the house, you might feel like a horrible person. You aren’t! I’ve even known mothers who have had to stand by and watch while their children go to jail. This isn’t easy, but the alternative is to continue to block the lessons that the addicted person desperately needs to learn to feel motivated to change.
How To Stop Being A Codependent Enabler: Know Your Boundaries
Realize that “NO.” is a complete sentence. Recognize what your limits are and stick to them. One way to do this is to scan your body for your own feelings. Know when something makes you uncomfortable and give yourself permission to put a stop to it, even if it might make your partner upset. Learn to give priority to your own feelings of comfort, instead of constantly trying to please your partner.
Setting healthy boundaries is one way of truly loving yourself. Many times people who tend to ignore boundaries are drawn to those who don’t know how to set them. Don’t expect your partner to know when your buttons are being pushed. You have to be willing to say “NO,” and mean it.
Stop Being Codependent: Focus On Yourself
This is a big one. Get to know yourself better. Find out what you like and what you don’t and take steps to fill your life with more of what you like. Make plans with friends and don’t wait until you know your partner is unavailable to make plans! Make sure that you are practicing self-care (eating well, exercising, getting enough rest, etc.) and allow time to find hobbies that you enjoy that don’t involve your partner.
It’s very healthy to have interests outside of your romantic relationship. Some people worry that this could ruin their relationships, but the opposite is actually true. Having individual interests makes each person in the relationship feel better about themselves, and this helps to make a healthier couple. Plus, when you have your own jam, you have more exciting things to talk about when you do spend time with your partner.
How To Stop Codependency: Reach Out
Above all, know that there is help available! Try reading one of Melody Beattie’s works like her groundbreaking book, “Codependent No More,” which has helped millions. Or, find an Al-Anon meeting, which is a sister meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, for partners and loved ones of those suffering with addictions.
Knowing that you aren’t in this situation alone is a very powerful tool. It can help you to feel less isolated, and it might even help you recognize others who do the same things that you do. This will help you become aware of why you think and feel that way that you do. It’s extremely healing to realize why you act the way that you do; this is what we call “becoming conscious,” and it’s the pathway to emotional freedom.