Do you find yourself giving so much in a relationship and receiving little support from your partner in return?
Do you feel frightened at the prospect of being away or apart from your partner for any period of time?
Do you find yourself always needing to fix, repair or overbearingly nurture your partner?
Do you feel unable to express yourself honestly & vulnerably to your partner, fearing you’ll hurt them, anger them or they’ll leave you?
Do the emotion states of your partner completely overtake and overwhelm you to the point that you can’t connect with your own feelings?
If you answered “yes” to some (or all) of these questions – this could signal that there are aspects of your relationship that might be co-dependent.
What is a co-dependent relationship?
When you’re in a romantic relationship, there will often be some level of dependency that exists between partners. This is completely normal and vital. Throughout humankind’s evolution, we’ve required others to meet our needs, support us and love us. However, it is possible for this dependency to become maladaptive – whereby an individual loses all sense of autonomy and independence and relies on their partner completely to meet all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. It can be characterised by the mindset “I cannot survive without them” or “They cannot survive without me”.
Co-dependency is often learned from our caregivers, but can also be learned as a result of the dynamics in our formative romantic relationships. And it’s not always cut and dry – there can be aspects of a relationship in which you lean more towards a co-dependent dynamic, and others aspects that are more healthy, balanced, and interdependent.
What is an interdependent relationship?
The defining feature of an interdependent relationship is that both partners are capable of autonomy, that is, the ability to function independently of one another. These couples still love one another and desire closeness and support from one another. But, in contrast to a co-dependent relationship, each partner possesses an individual robustness that allows them to take responsibility for their own feelings, behaviours and contributions to the relationship. The mindset of “I can survive on my own (even though I’d rather not…)”
Is it possible move from codependency to interdependency?
Of course! But it does involve looking inward, being accountable, getting vulnerable and also facing up to the reality that your partner may not be ready, willing or able to do the work required. While everyone’s circumstances are unique, and one-on-one or couples therapy is really the most suitable way to work through your own unique co-dependency issues, the list below explores a few tools that may support you as you move towards a healthier, more interdependent dynamic in your relationship…
1. Boost your self-esteem.
If you often feel like you are not good enough or not worthy of safety, love and happiness, it’s easy to hang your sense of self-worth on your relationship. But this also means your sense of self-worth is always bound to the feelings and behaviours of other people, which is generally out of your control. Through nurturing your inward relationship, you can increase your self-esteem. This allows you to recognise your worth as something intrinsic, ever-present, and something independent of who you are with and what you do.
Low-self esteem sounds like:
“I am only worthy if and when somebody loves me.”
Healthy self-esteem sounds like:
“I am always worthy, regardless of my relationship-status.”
2. Set boundaries.
Boundaries are important lines of demarcation, between what is yours and what is somebody else’s. It applies to your body, your money and your belongings, as well as to your feelings, thoughts and needs. Often in co-dependent relationships, these lines either become blurred (and it is unclear where one person ends and the other begins) or rigid and inflexible (where one partner is closed-off, withdrawn, overbearing or demanding). Setting healthy boundaries requires you to develop a clear understanding of what you need from others, and how other people’s behaviours and feelings tend to impact you.
Lack of boundaries sound like:
“I will give” or “I will take utterly and completely.”
Healthy boundaries sound like:
“I will love and support you, but I will not sacrifice my own health, safety or values in the process.”
3. Calm & clear communication.
Once you have established your boundaries, its necessary to communicate them calmly and clearly. This can be challenging in a co-dependent relationship, as communication of such boundaries might be interpreted as rude, unsupportive or hostile. So, when practicing healthy and assertive communication, it’s important to take ownership of your own needs and experiences with phrases such as “I feel…” or “I need”, as opposed to “you made me feel…” or “you don’t ever…” Try to avoid communicating when you’re overwhelmed, frustrated or angry, instead try to find a time where you are both feeling safe and comfortable.
Messy communication sounds like:
“You make me so angry when you go out with your friends all night. You never think about my feelings and never want to spend any time with me. You’re so fucking selfish!”
Healthy communication sounds like:
“I felt angry when you went out with your friends all night, because I think you don’t want to spend time with me …but I might be reading too much into things. I know time with your friends is important to you, but it would also mean so much to me if we spent more time together too.”
4. Detachment & letting go.
After setting boundaries and communicating clearly, it is important to detach from the response or reaction of your partner. You must let them experience what they are experiencing without the need to merge with, fix or control them. Acknowledge your partner as a seperate entity, fully responsible for their individual choices and behaviour. Doing so, whilst also respecting their opinions and validating their emotional experiences, allows you to maintain your own perspective and integrity. Note that this does not mean “abandoning” or “giving up” on your partner, instead, it offers you the important space to “do you”, while allowing your partner to “do them” and recognise that they do not have to be one and the same thing.
Resistant detachment sounds like:
“I need you to be happy right now, because you being so upset is making me upset.”
Healthy detachment sounds like:
“You’re allowed to be upset. I am here to love and support you, and give space when necessary.”
5. Understand “fixing” or “pleasing” is not synonymous with “loving”
During the process of detachment, it’s important to understand that “fixing” and “people-pleasing” is not the same thing as loving. This is valid from both the position of the fixer or fixee. You do not need to repair your all partners faults or solve all their problems. You do not need to keep your partner happy and satisfied at all costs. You do not need to always say “yes” to your partner, and sacrifice your own wants and needs for theirs. Healthy and sustainable love means being compassionate, kind and supportive to your partner and also being compassionate, kind and supportive to yourself.
6. Support & nurture yourself.
The path towards resilience and autonomy both within and outside of a relationship requires you to find ways you can support and care for yourself, without being fully reliant on the presence or behaviour of another person. This means experimenting with and exploring a range of various self-care practices that are effective methods of self-soothing, and that also allow you to cultivate a kind and compassionate inward relationship (so, not merely shutting yourself down or numbing yourself out). These might include journalling, meditation, yoga & exercise, therapy, getting the right amount of sleep, having a creative outlet, spending time with family/friends, etc.
If you need a little extra support when it comes to relationships and communication, you can check out our free relationships toolkit which is loaded up with killer content to help you make better, more meaningful connections with others. We also have a number of Indigo practitioners who are experts when it comes to relationships. Find them here.
This post was written by @ashking – Indigo’s Content Manager and resident horror movie fanatic. If you’re keen to do a little more work on your inward relationship, you’ll love our online course, Get Your Shit Together! Or you can get customised guidance by booking a one-on-one session with one of our Indigo practitioners.