All relationships involve a degree of dependence. But if the dependence is one-sided, you may be in a co-dependent relationship.
A healthy relationship between two people involves:
- self-respect and respect for your partner
- being aware of your boundaries
- expressing your opinions, likes, and dislikes without fear of rejection or judgment
- finding solutions together with your partner, instead of using blame or shame
- encouraging personal growth for you and your partner through listening and trusting
People in a healthy relationship aren’t fully dependent on each other. If you are in a co-dependent relationship, you may be overly reliant on your partner and regularly put your partner’s needs above your own.
Are you in a co-dependent relationship?
The first step to recovery is recognizing that you’re in a co-dependent relationship. It can be difficult to recognize the signs. You may be in a co-dependent relationship if your behavior includes:
- letting go of your own opinions and feelings to cater to your partner’s desires
- covering up for your partner’s unacceptable behavior
- relying excessively on your partner for approval and decision-making while neglecting your own needs
- being in a relationship that lacks mutual respect
- feeling afraid to express your needs, but going above and beyond what’s expected of you, rather than affirming who you are
- blaming and shaming yourself instead of seeing the positive in yourself
- feeling angry and depressed at times, yet afraid to express how you feel out of fear of being rejected or appearing needy
It can be difficult to realize and accept that you are in a co-dependent relationship. If you suspect you’re in one, reach out to a friend for support. You should also contact your doctor to discuss how they can help you develop healthier relationships.
See your doctor if you suspect your relationships are co-dependent. Co-dependency can increase your chances for:
- low self-esteem
Your doctor may refer you to a specialist for psychotherapy treatment. The treatment may involve individual or group therapy. Therapy will focus on:
- past trauma
- relearning the foundation of healthy relationships
If you and your partner feel the relationship is worth saving, you may consider group therapy. If you have anxiety or depression, your doctor may prescribe medication to you.
Tips for recovery
Reaching out to your doctor for help is an important step towards recovery. Focusing on your emotional health and self-esteem will also be important for recovery. Some of the steps in your recovery may include the following:
Until now, your focus has been on pleasing others and seeing to their needs at the expense of your own needs. Focus instead on getting to know yourself. This will not be easy at first, but your doctor should be able to help.
Start small to make it more manageable. Is there a hobby you’ve always wanted to try or an activity you enjoy that you don’t participate in because your partner doesn’t share your enthusiasm? Try an activity that will make you happy. Over time you can build on these small experiences.
Learn to accept yourself the way you are, without the approval of other people. This will help you develop better self-esteem. As your self-esteem grows, focus on setting healthy boundaries, such as saying no.
It will take effort, but developing a sense of self-respect is important for your recovery.
Asserting yourself is an important step in recovery, though it may take a while to master. Asserting who you are will help rewrite the way you approach relationships.
Don’t be afraid to speak up. Your opinions are valid, and you should feel comfortable sharing them. The same goes for letting people know when you dislike something or when something makes you uncomfortable.
As you develop a healthier sense of self and have the courage to affirm who you are without fearing rejection, you will also learn to reflect upon your actions rather than be critical of yourself.
Join a support group
Your doctor may be able to recommend a support group. You may also find a support group through organizations such as Co-Dependents Anonymous International. Support groups offer a safe environment for you to talk about your experiences with people who have gone through similar things. They can also offer support if you find yourself slipping back into a co-dependent relationship.
Recovering from a co-dependent relationship may take a long time, but you can do it. By becoming aware of your behavior and choosing to commit to accepting yourself, you will be able to rebuild your self-esteem and change the way you see life.
What you can do today
If you suspect you are in a co-dependent relationship, contact your doctor. They can help you develop healthier relationships. You may also try:
- talking to a close friend who will not pass judgement
- practicing saying no to things that will not be fulfilling for you
- exploring your interests to help with self-discovery
- starting a journal to document your feelings
- joining a support group
Little changes will add up to big changes over time. If you’re persistent, you can learn to develop healthy, fulfilling relationships.