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How to overcome codependency: breaking an unhealthy cycle

by eharmony Editorial Team - November 22, 2023

You may have heard it before. “You need to stop being so codependent,” or, “you guys are way too codependent, that’s not healthy.” But what exactly is codependence? Let’s explore the concept, the impact of it, and how to recognize codependent patterns. We’ll also look at how to overcome codependency and how to build relationships after being in a codependent one.

What exactly is codependence?

Codependency can happen in all kinds of relationships, whether familial, platonic, or romantic.  A codependent relationship is one where those involved are mentally, emotionally, or physically reliant on each other to the point where their wellbeing suffers.  

Codependent relationships usually involve excessive caretaking, low self-esteem, and relying on others for validation. While not all codependent relationships involve addiction or abuse, one or both is often a factor. Codependence is not a disorder in itself, but it does overlap with other conditions like dependent personality disorder.

What do codependent patterns look like?

Wondering how to overcome codependency in relationships? Step one is identifying it. Dr Seth Meyer, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert, has several examples of codependent behavior:

  • Pressuring your partner for sex even if they aren’t interested
  • Wanting to join all the same activities as your partner
  • Making your partner feel guilty when they want to do something without you
  • Getting jealous if your partner makes new friends
  • Convincing your partner that happy couples should do everything together

Sound familiar? You might just be dating a codependent woman or man.

How does codependency affect relationships?

Being in a codependent relationship can have a major impact on your physical and mental health. People in put so much time and effort into taking care of their partners they have none left for themselves. It eventually becomes difficult to have a stable and healthy relationship.

Codependency can also affect your connection with other people and your ability to do your job. More concerningly, a study showed that people in codependent relationships with people with substance abuse issues were more likely to develop similar problems themselves1.

What causes codependent relationships?

There is no one cause – family dynamics (growing up with a codependent parent), childhood experiences (people with a history of neglect or abuse are likelier to fall into codependency), and past relationships all play a part. Often, a parent is either over- or under-protective which leads the child to become dependent.

Feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem can push people into codependent relationships. It’s also possible for biology to play a part – some people’s brains are not good at suppressing empathetic urges, leading to an excess of empathy and a greater likelihood of becoming codependent.

Why is it so hard to break out of codependency?

One of the biggest issues with how to overcome codependency is to identify the toxic factors. Trying to maintain an emotionally destructive or one-sided relationship can destroy a person.

For people who grew up in codependent families, the relationship dynamic feels natural and normal. In fact, taking care of people feels good, making it even harder to walk away. Even the most codependent relationship isn’t bad all the time. Often, women sacrifice their own wellbeing, which makes it harder to stop dating a codependent man.

6 Tips how to stop being codependent

When it comes to codependency, how to overcome it can be hard. Some useful tips:

  1. Practise self-assessment and reflection
    Identifying the codependent patterns in your behavior, or your partner’s, is the first step towards breaking them. This quiz from PsychCentral is a good starting point for anyone wondering where to get started.
  2. Set personal boundaries
    Saying no and setting boundaries is key to a healthy relationship. Identify things that are important to you and work with your partner on establishing, and maintaining, boundaries around them. Hold firm even when they try to push and do your best to respect your partner’s boundaries, even if it’s hard.
  3. Build self-esteem
    Since codependency is often linked to low self-esteem, work on yours. Therapy is one way, as is saying positive things to and about yourself. Resist the urge to compare yourself to anyone else and lean on your support network.
  4. Practise self-care
    Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally helps you build resilience and be compassionate with yourself, both of which help with how to overcome codependency. Examples of self-care include getting enough sleep, eating regular meals, staying connected with friends and family, being gentle with yourself and taking time to do things you enjoy.
  5. Work on your communication skills
    Communication is a vital part of a healthy relationship. Try active listening with your partner, as well as being direct and assertive rather when you talk rather than expecting them to read your mind.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
    There’s no shame in leaning on other people, especially when it comes to how to overcome codependency. If you have access to professional help, a therapist can be invaluable. If you don’t, Melodie Beattie’s excellent Codependent No More offers an in-depth look at codependency and tips on breaking the cycle.

Rebuilding relationships after codependency

One of the side-effects of a codependent partnership is the toll it takes on your relationships with everyone else. It’s important to build these connections back up once your relationship is less codependent, or you have separated. Reach out to your family and friends and make a point of connecting with them often. Even when you get into a new relationship, make sure to carve out time for friends and family – and dump anyone who objects.

Types of relationships – Which one fits you best and how do you find it?

Dating can be a variety pack so we explore types of relationships, how to define yours and the general notion of a romantic relationship.

Move past codependence and into a healthy relationship

While leaving a codependent relationship is difficult, you deserve to be with someone who supports and encourages you as much as you do them. Breaking free is worth it and when you’re ready to give love another try, there’s always eharmony. Our unique Compatibility Matching System helps you find people who match your interests and values – and want the same things you do. Sign up for eharmony and take your first steps on the path to real love today.

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