5 Ways To Break The Habit Of Codependent Relationships

Let's face it, we all have unhealthy habits, and many of those habits rear their ugly head in our relationships.

By Meghan Dillon3 min read
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One common habit is codependency in relationships. According to Jenny Skyler, Ph.D., director of The Intimacy Institute, codependency can be easily defined as “when you take on the burden of the other person's emotional state,” and “you feel like you have to be the caretaker of the other person's emotional well-being.”

This results in the relationship being unbalanced. One person tends to rely on the other excessively, and in some cases, it can almost turn into an addiction. The willingness to take undue responsibility for another adult can stem from many things, including trust issues, a lack of boundaries, people-pleasing, low self-esteem, and growing up with an alcoholic parent. Signs of a codependent relationship include frequent arguments, intense stress in the relationship, attachment anxiety, and a fear of being alone.

Though codependency can be very unhealthy, it’s a habit that you can break. Here are five ways to break the habit of codependency, whether you’re in a codependent relationship or want to avoid one in the future.

1. Improve Your Sense of Self-Worth

If you’re in a codependent relationship, there’s a good chance that you have low self-worth and self-esteem. Unfortunately, having low self-esteem can lead to unhealthy relationships. Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT writes, “When we’re self-critical, our self-esteem is low, and we lose confidence in our abilities. Our critic also makes us sensitive to criticism, because it mirrors the doubts we already have about ourselves and our behavior. Moreover, we imagine other people think what our critic thinks. In other words, we project our criticism onto other people. Even when questioned, they deny our assumptions, we likely won’t believe them.”

One factor of codependency could be not seeing your own value and knowing how to stick up for yourself. If you suspect this might apply to you, then take time for yourself and learn to improve your sense of self-worth and self-esteem. This could include practicing self-care and self-affirmation, training yourself to acknowledge your good qualities and abilities, and trying to find the root of the problem with a therapist.

2. Talk to a Therapist about Past Traumas

If you have a habit of these types of relationships, there’s likely something in a past relationship or something from your childhood that is influencing your current behavior. Codependency was first identified as a common behavior in the children and spouses of alcoholics. It’s not limited to this scenario, but if alcoholism is in your family tree, it could be a result of generational trauma.

Codependency was first identified as a common behavior in the children and spouses of alcoholics.

We often bring our past traumas into current relationships or believe that we’re not worthy of love after a bad breakup, which is why it’s important to discuss your past traumas with a therapist to get to the root of your codependency issues. Research shows that unresolved trauma negatively impacts relationships, so seeking out a therapist to help resolve them will not only be beneficial for your well-being but for your future relationships.

3. Communicate with Your Partner about Your Needs and Establish Boundaries

Good communication skills and setting boundaries are keys to success in any healthy relationship; therefore, it makes sense for those who struggle with them to be in unhealthy relationships. If you have a habit of codependent relationships, it’s even more important to communicate with potential partners and learn how to set boundaries early in the relationship.

If you have a tendency to be codependent, then the idea of explicitly communicating your needs, expectations, and boundaries will likely feel terrifying, if not impossible. But starting the relationship with clear boundaries will be easier than trying to go back and establish them after they’ve been violated. Remember that boundaries are healthy – for you, for him, and for the relationship – and that you’re worth it.

4. Look Out for Red Flags Early in the Relationship

Though it’s always a good idea to look for red flags in the early stages of dating, it’s even more important to do so if you have a history of unhealthy or codependent relationships.

Unfortunately for those of us with a history of crappy relationships, we’re more likely to be attracted to someone similar to our ex because we find comfort in what’s familiar. But the bright side of having a bad dating history is that you know which red flags to look out for when you're ready to move on from that pattern. Keep your eye out for standard and obvious red flags (like how he treats service workers) early on in a relationship before you’re in too deep, but it’s also important to recognize the sneakier red flags (like gaslighting or anger issues) from your previous relationship(s). If you have a history of dating narcissists, be sure to be on the lookout for those qualities.

Don’t do for other adults what they could and should do for themselves.

Also, pay attention for codependent-specific red flags: Does he expect you to be responsible for his emotions or actions? Does he ask you to take care of things that are his responsibility and that he’s capable of doing? Are you trying to save him, or fix him, or parent him? Do you find yourself making excuses for him? If you find yourself answering yes to any or all of these questions, then proceed with caution.

5. Recognize That It’s Better To Be Alone and Happy Than in a Miserable Relationship

A lot of us stay in a codependent relationship simply because we fear being alone or worry that nobody else will love us. Both of these issues are important to work through with a therapist, and it’s important for everyone to remember that it’s better to be single and happy than in a miserable relationship. Unhealthy relationships are bad for both our mental and physical health. You’ll also never find a healthy relationship if you’re stuck in a codependent relationship, making sticking around out of fear of being alone self-destructive.

Closing Thoughts

Many of us struggle with codependency in our relationships. Though it’s a bad habit and a tough one to break, the good news is that it is possible if you’re willing to put the work into breaking it. Whether it’s taking steps to improve your self-esteem, working on past traumas with a therapist, setting boundaries in your relationship, knowing which red flags to look out for, or recognizing that you’re better off alone than in a miserable relationship, these steps will help you break the habit of codependency and make it easier to have a healthy relationship in the future.

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