The warning signs can be hard to find, but there are ways to reclaim your love life
Love. We’re trained to look for it from a young age, and it’s something our lives are measured against as a success indicator. If you’re in love, you’re winning at life, right? But sometimes ‘love’ isn’t all it seems.
What if your relationships are masks to help you cope with negative self-judgement? Or a coping mechanism to assess your value and self-worth? Indeed, what if you subconsciously choose certain types of people because you want to care for them, or try to fix them in some way?
If that sounds familiar, it’s possible you’re caught in a pattern of codependency.
Even healthy relationships have some level of codependency to some extent, but it becomes a problem when one person is continually over-compensating for the other
For example, you might be reliant on another person for your happiness. You might also find yourself regularly making sacrifices for your partner’s happiness, without getting much in return. Or you might forget who you are outside of the relationship, to the point where you ignore your own self-care.
Although codependency traditionally relates to substance abuse and addiction, the nature of codependency is much broader. It can refer to any relationship where one partner seems endlessly committed to making a bad relationship work, while the other is endlessly committed to making it worse, or simply does nothing at all. The relationship is dysfunctional, but the codependent has an excessive reliance on it (and their partner), emotionally, physically and psychologically. It has the potential to destroy a person’s happiness, health and personal relationships.
However, being in a codependent relationship doesn’t mean you are intrinsically weak. Being codependent is an emotional condition and anyone can find themselves becoming codependent.
Some research suggests that people who have experienced rejection, neglect, or abuse at some point in their lives are more likely to enter codependent relationships. Particularly if, during childhood, you have been made to feel that your needs should be sacrificed for others. This behaviour can last into adulthood and transfer onto romantic relationships. Here are some of the danger signs:
1. You sacrifice things for your partner
We’re not talking now and again; we’re talking all the time. When your sense of purpose in life is centred around making extreme sacrifices to satisfy your partner's needs, you’re probably in an unhealthy relationship. Learn to say ‘no’. The next time you think about making a sacrifice for your other half, stop and consider if it’s fair on you. If it’s not, tell them.
2. You’re over-committed to the relationship
Are you consistently giving your partner another chance, accepting excuses, or fixing all the problems? You don’t have to do everything in order to prove your self-worth. Give and take is important. You can’t make this relationship work on your own. It’s important to set boundaries - for both of you. Talk to each other and set relationship goals (both big and small) that satisfy you both.
3. You’re unable to find joy in your social life
When people find themselves deeply in love with someone, it’s common to question what their life would be like without them, or even if they could live without them. It’s time to allow other people into your life. Developing your own sense of identity is important. Having a healthy relationship with yourself is the first step to having a healthy relationship with another person. Remember to make time for yourself - do things with friends or social groups that you enjoyed before you became so caught up in the other person.
4. Your partner isn't pitching in
It’s natural to want to take care of your partner, right? But what are you getting back in return? If you’re giving support to your partner 24/7 then it could start to affect your mental, emotional, and physical health. Your partner should be able to lean on you when life gets tough, not rely on you to solve every problem in the world. Stop trying to solve all their issues or complete all the tasks they should be completing themselves. They need to develop the skills to deal with their own lives.
5. People are saying you’re too dependent
Think of the last time you spent time with family or friends on your own. If you can’t remember, why is that? Do you find yourself turning down opportunities to socialise in order to spend time with your partner? It’s important to spend time with relatives, friends and family to broaden your support circle. Pick up the phone or drop a text to someone you’ve distanced yourself from. You’ll be surprised how happy they'll be to hear from you.
6. Deep down, you recognise the red flags
You find yourself regularly denying or excusing your partner’s manipulative or abusive behaviour. You continually apologise for things you know aren’t your fault. Your empathy and compassion are taken advantage of. You feel isolated and alienated by your partner, but at the same time their 'unavailability' makes you crave their attention more. It’s time to listen to your intuition. Do what you can to make your relationship work for both of you, or accept that this relationship is unhealthy. Your mental health and happiness are what’s most important here.
What to do next:
To repair a codependent relationship, more than anything you must remember to examine your own behaviour and prioritise your own happiness. The first step to getting back on track is understanding how, and why, you are being codependent.
Experts believe that codependency happens from one person’s need to seek approval about their self-worth and identity. But a healthy relationship should be interdependent. You should feel comfortable and confident together as well as separately. Getting your relationship to a point where you enrich and support one another is the ultimate goal here.
Try talking to one another truthfully and honestly about the issues. Or you could try counselling. Talking to a trained professional could help you to rebuild your sense of self-worth, and understand why you rely so much on the other person.