Is my relationship codependent?
Watch any good Hollywood film or listen to most pop songs (“And I feel so helpless here, watch my eyes are filled with fear, tell me do you feel the same, hold me in your arms again, I need your love”) and we are bombarded with relationship ideals that quite frankly look pretty codependent.
You may be wondering about your own relationships. Whether it be with a spouse, partner, family member or friend, has your relationship crossed the line between being caring and being codependent?
First let’s unpack what we mean by codependency.
What is codependency?
Whilst there are many definitions of codependency, I would describe it as being so focused on helping/fixing/changing someone else that you put yourself second. Also that your happiness depends on that other person being happy. You are likely to have low self-esteem and confidence.
If that sounds like you, don’t panic. It was me too, completely! But if I can change, so can you.
If you are still not sure, here are some classic indicators:
- If I asked you how you are feeling about something, you would have no idea. But you could tell me how other significant people in your life are feeling.
- You never seem to have an opinion, even on the smallest things, like where to eat out. You would rather that the other person makes the decision.
- You would describe yourself as extremely loyal and don’t like to end a relationship, even if it is unhealthy.
- You are your own worst critic.
- You feel that you need to be needed in a relationship.
- You feel resentful when the other person doesn’t want your help.
Is my relationship codependent?
You can bring codependent behaviours into any kind of relationship. You could be in a relationship with someone who isn’t codependent and they don’t understand what is driving your behaviour.
Unfortunately, those with codependency often attract narcissists. Whereas the codependent is extremely other-focused, the narcissist is totally self-focused and those opposites attract each other like magnets.
You can also have relationships where both people are codependent, which can lead to a lot of second-guessing and mutual reinforcement of unhelpful codependent behaviours. You can also spot these different dynamics in relationships with parents, children and friends.
Whatever kind of relationship you are concerned about, here are some questions to ask yourself about it:
- Do I avoid speaking up for what I need for fear of upsetting them?
- Am I spending time with them to avoid feeling lonely?
- Do I feel I need to be needed by them?
- Am I staying in this relationship because they give me attention?
If you find you are answering yes to most of these, you may be bringing some codependent behaviours into your relationship. You can also ask these questions about the other person.
A lot of codependent behaviours get reinforced by society. But it doesn’t make for healthy relationships where we are whole beings, equals and open to real connection. The good news is that we can un-learn a lot of what we have absorbed about relationships and learn what will actually help us create and sustain rewarding relationships.
How can I improve my relationships?
In order to improve your relationships, the work starts with you. You have to decide whether you are willing to make changes or not. If you are, then read on.
1. Be aware of codependency in your relationships
The first step is raising your awareness of where codependency shows up in your relationships. You may want to seek out someone you trust who you know has healthy relationships to help you spot when you have gone into codependent behaviour. As you become more familiar with what to look for, you can keep a daily journal.
2. Pay attention internally
Secondly, keep turning your attention towards what you think and feel and what your reality is. The temptation is that when part of us shows up that we don’t like, we try to ignore it and move away from it. Unfortunately, when we do that, that part of us is like a small child who is ignored and it will get louder and louder until we give it our attention! Learn to feel your feelings and how to develop self-compassion.
As you are able to be with your own emotions more, you will grow in your acceptance of others' emotions, without trying to ‘fix’ them.
3. Develop your own identity
Commit to developing your own identity – without the need to be needed. This is the process of getting to know yourself – what is important to you, what you love, what you hate, what makes you laugh, what brings you joy and so on.
What this allows you to do is show up as a whole human being in your relationships so you don’t end up ‘merging’ with the other person. It allows you to identify what boundaries you need. You will find that your self-esteem and your confidence increase too.
4. Understand your communication
Finally, look at how effective the communication between you and the other person is. Do you both say what you need and want, or are you trying to guess? When you feel upset by something they have done, do you bring it up, or do you fall into passive-aggressive behaviours or hints? When conflict arises, do you see it as an opportunity to clear the air, or as something to be avoided at all costs.
We have often developed codependent behaviours from an early age and they can become ingrained. However, you can begin the process of un-learning them and learning how to have healthy relationships, starting today! Above are some fantastic questions and tools to get you underway. Not only will they improve your relationships, they will boost your confidence and self-esteem too.
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