It's easy to think that being in a codependent relationship means you that you spend too much time together or start to dress the same, but that's not really what codependency is about.
"Codependency has become a buzzword, and people sometimes misunderstand what it means to be codependent. It is important to remember that in a healthy relationship, it is absolutely OK to depend on your partner," Holly Daniels, PhD, LMFT, clinical systems director at Sober College, tells Bustle. "... In some relationships, however, one or both partners value the relationship much more than they value their own health and well-being. This is called codependence."
So it's more about putting the relationship above yourself — the need to protect the relationship at all costs, and getting anxious at the idea of it ending. Now, if that sounds like you, don't feel bad about it — it's actually something experts say is often related to our childhoods.
"Codependence isn’t something you just fall into — it is a dynamic that stems from insecure attachment — a pattern of relating that is formed early in our lives," Daniels says. If you had an unhealthy relationship with one or both parents, it may be the cause of your codependence now. So don't feel badly about it, just work to get past it. Here's what you need to keep in mind if you think you're in a codependent relationship.
The Most Important Thing To Do Is Talk To Your Partner About It
If you realize that your relationship is codependent, it's important to be honest about it. "Both partners in a codependent relationship are most likely struggling with insecure attachment issues that will keep them from forming and sustaining healthy, happy long-term relationships," Daniels says. "So, if you find yourself in a codependent relationship, the most important thing to do is talk to your partner about it! Set aside a time to talk away from distractions, and open up a dialogue about your concerns. If your partner gets super defensive or avoids having the conversation at all, this is a sign that you are indeed in a codependent relationship. Having an honest, open conversation about the state of your relationship may feel threatening for both of you, but the potential for growth and healing is tremendous if the two of you can sit with the discomfort and have a heart-to-heart talk. The goal is to come up with strategies for each of you to practice feeling secure in the relationship, while also strengthening your independence outside of the relationship."
Consider Professional Help
Don't be afraid to seek professional help either. Chances are, you're going to be opening up what might be some very deep wounds and looking at engrained habits, so you might need a third party to help. "Often, the discomfort for one or both partners is so intense that this kind of conversation needs to be had with a non-partial couple’s counselor or therapist," Daniels says. "Having a third-party who is trained to reduce the tension and help you both communicate openly and honestly can be very helpful." It can help make the conversation more measured and also give you some objective advice from someone not invested in the relationship. Codependency can make it difficult to see the forest for the trees.
Move On If You Have To
That being said, some people just won't be willing to confront or move on from their codependency — it's just too much of a safety net for them. If that's the case, you need to put yourself first. "Sometimes you’ll find yourself with a partner that refuses to have an open conversation in any setting," Daniels says. "In that case, you might have to cut your losses and move on. I strongly encourage you, however, to talk with a therapist on your own to help yourself work through the issues that made you prone to engaging in a co-dependent relationship in the first place. Humans are destined to repeat their relationship patterns until they can work through and heal their underlying attachment issues."
Dealing with a codependent relationship isn't easy — but knowing that you're in one is the first step. If you're willing to look at your own issues around attachment and work on your relationship, it can put you on track for a much healthier future — whether it's with your current partner or someone new.