The end of a relationship, especially one that was cherished, is difficult and can be heartbreaking. This is true whether the relationship was a healthy or dysfunctional one. Sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants, even when what the heart wants may not be good for you or the other person.
What is codependency?
Codependency is one of those terms you hear a lot these days when people are talking about relationships. It applies in all kinds of relationships, including those of the romantic and platonic variety. Codependency can develop in all sorts of relationships, such as between a parent and their child, spouses, and even between coworkers or a worker and their boss.When people use the term “codependent,” they sometimes use it to describe a person who is needy or clingy in a relationship. This has elements of truth to it, but it’s not the whole picture. Codependency is a relational dysfunction or addiction where the relationship is characterized by extreme dependence on and preoccupation with another person.
The dependence or preoccupation may be emotional, social, or even physical. A codependent person feels responsible for the feelings and actions of others, and they will assume this responsibility without looking to their own needs or acknowledging their feelings.
This means that the relationship is imbalanced, and that’s one of the main concerns with codependent relationships. After all, relationships are about give and take, but if one person yields themselves to give to the other without regard for themselves, that’s problematic.
In a codependent relationship, you often thus have the “giver,” the one who is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the other. They may feel worthless or useless if they are not needed or sacrificing for the other person, the “taker” or “enabler.” The relationship thus benefits and is centered on the needs of the taker, and more often than not the taker is comfortable with that dynamic.
What does a codependent relationship look like?
All relationships have a bit of compromise between the participants, otherwise, they wouldn’t work. At times you must give up your free time because your partner or coworker needs help with an urgent project. You make compromises when you want to have a family movie or game night – the final choice won’t always be something you would pick for yourself.
The dinner options aren’t always your first choice, but you eat that kale or quinoa or Brussel sprouts because it’s good for you. You may be called upon to attend functions in support of a sibling, parent, or spouse that aren’t your scene or vibe.
All this is par for the course, and our family members, spouses, and coworkers will also make sacrifices on our behalf. That is what healthy relationships look like – the give and take that lubricates our relations and makes life together possible.
In codependent relationships, this interdependence is distorted and one of the parties occupies the role of the giver while another takes and enables the imbalanced relationship. God did not intend for relationships to work this way. This distortion takes root and manifests itself in various ways in the relationship, including:
Feeling like losing one’s sense of self.
You invest so much in making the other person happy that you simply become an extension of the other person and begin losing your sense of personal identity.
Doing stuff for the other person even though it may make you uncomfortable.
This goes beyond the occasional ask that is reciprocated. You allow your boundaries to be violated, and these may include emotional, moral, physical, and even sexual boundaries
Apologizing even though the other person is in the wrong.
In a codependent relationship, the feelings of only one of the parties to the relationship are considered. So, even in the case where one person is called out for their bad behavior, the giver often takes responsibility for the other person’s actions and finds themselves being the one apologizing for speaking the truth. The giver may also give a pass to unhealthy behaviors in the taker and stay with them despite those behaviors. These behaviors may include substance abuse.
Not having time for yourself despite investing lots of time in the other person.
In line with losing one’s sense of identity, in codependent relationships the giver often finds themselves making enormous sacrifices of time and other resources to meet the needs of the other. The taker is happy to receive these sacrifices but doesn’t reciprocate, meaning that often the giver doesn’t have time or space for themselves.
Feeling sorry for the other person even though they may be the one who’s hurt you.This indicates again how one person’s feelings are centered in a codependent relationship.
Being unable to say “no.”
Because the relationship is configured to benefit one person and the giver wants to be needed, they are unable to say ‘no’ and draw boundaries. They may make sacrifices that are detrimental to themselves, including their other relationships, finances, and health because of this inability to say ‘no’.
These and many other signs may point to a codependent relationship. If you recognize one or more of these patterns in your relationships, take the possibility seriously that you are in codependent relationships and that you may have an issue with codependency.
Ending a codependent relationship
There are some steps you can take to address codependency in a relationship. The first step is to recognize that there is an issue in the relationship. The giver and the taker/enabler must recognize that there is an unhealthy pattern of needing to be needed on the one side and making the other person’s needs central on the other.
The giver must be willing to create and maintain boundaries as well as begin investing in themselves and other relationships such as with friends and family. The giver needs to begin speaking positively of themselves, learn to be kind to themselves, and learn to stand up for themselves.
The taker/enabler needs to recognize that they are part of the problem and should not expect or desire their partner to keep making sacrifices for them, especially without reciprocation. It is also important to go for therapy to address the underlying causes and impact of codependency.
However, if these steps don’t work, or if your partner doesn’t have the capacity or willingness to implement those steps, the next best thing may be to end the relationship. How do you go about this?
- Remember that if codependent behavior is left unaddressed, codependent behavior will continue in other relationships. Thus, it’s important to face the issue head-on and be honest about your codependent tendencies and behaviors.
Taking this and the next steps requires courage, especially if you’ve been reliant on the other person for a long time. Speak frankly with the other person and establish clear boundaries that if they are unwilling to do their part, you will step out of the relationship.
- Step away from the relationship, and don’t jump into another one. Codependent people feel the need to always be in relationships, but as part of your healing, you have to be willing to step out on your own. Start focusing more on yourself and the things that you enjoy.
This may mean finding or rediscovering a hobby or activity that brings you joy or finding a job that gives you a sense of purpose. Find whatever works for you that gives you a sense of purpose, joy, and individuality. Invest in those things and yourself. Remember that self-care is not selfish.
- As you let go of your past relationships, continue to commit to growth in your understanding of codependency. With the help of a mental health professional, seek to understand the effects of codependency, understand why codependency is problematic and why another way of relating to others is vital to your emotional and mental health.
This will help you remain aware of the dangers of codependency and keep you from relapsing into codependent behaviors in the future.
- Grow in your understanding that as a being made in God’s image, you are worthy of love, respect, kindness, and dignity. Codependency makes a person focus on the needs of others without paying heed to themselves. To be a healthy human being and to enter relationships as an equal who has boundaries and respects the boundaries of others, you need to adjust how you view yourself and begin to develop a healthy self-image. Give yourself the time and space you need to grow.
Christian Counseling for Relationship Issues
If you’re looking for additional support and advice for relationships, feel free to schedule a counseling appointment with me or one of the other counselors in the online counseling directory. We would be happy to walk with you as you learn to navigate the various dynamics of your relationships to find a balance that supports your mental health.
“Happy Together”, Courtesy of Ronny Simpson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Couple”, Courtesy of Henri Pham, Unsplash.com, CC0 License “Sitting in the Park”, Courtesy of Simon Rae, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Admiring the View”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License