Relationships are a crucial part of living as a human, but the experience you derive from each one is different. Regardless of how close you are to a person, compromise is the basis of a functional and long-lasting relationship. So, what happens when one person is willing to bend over backwards, but the other person only takes advantage of the fact? Co-dependent relationships can be emotionally draining and psychologically exhausting. To build a deeper understanding of the subject, let’s examine why co-dependency is bad, how these relationships work, they can be fixed, and much more.
What Are Co-Dependent Relationships?
To start, let’s discuss what a co-dependent relationship is. The precise definition of co-dependency is extreme emotional reliance on the other person. In many ways, co-dependency is like being addicted to a certain person. However, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a natural phenomenon, but something learned from our childhood experiences.
What Are The Roles in a Co-Dependent Relationship?
There are two roles to classify as a co-dependent relationship. There are givers and takers. In the relationship, givers completely lose themselves to please the other person. It means that the needs and feelings of the ‘taker’ have a higher priority than their own. Consequently, givers can’t care for themselves, and much of their time goes towards looking after the other person. In a way, you lose your sense of identity because you’ve never perceived yourself as ‘without’ the other person. Therefore, the thought of losing them meant you’d also lose yourself.
In contrast, there are ‘takers’ who take advantage of the giver’s care, which could be intentional or unintentional. Due to this pattern, the relationship becomes a constant cycle of the caretaker continuing to provide care and the taker exploiting that care, which leads to a dysfunctional relationship.
Co-Dependency and Self-Abandonment
If you notice a pattern in co-dependent relationships, it’s that one person is giving too much while the other gives none at all. This happens because a giver is raised in an environment where they need to prove their significance in order to develop a meaningful connection with their caregivers.
The implied message from their parents, teachers, and other elders was that they would remain significant as long as they behaved and were good. And when they were significant, they would be rewarded with connection and love. From a young age, a giver learns to over-give in an attempt to prove their worth. And who decides this worth? Others – the people around them.
And if you don’t realise that you’re looking to build self-worth and happiness from something outside yourself, you carry that mindset into adult relationships. Now, you have a person who can’t reassure or validate themself.
When you think that people besides yourself can decide your importance and give you happiness, you’ll seek it by trying to please others. Once again, you abandon yourself as you put others’ needs before your own, and the cycle of self-abandonment, which existed in childhood, is reactivated.
Co-Dependent Relationship Signs
As someone inside a co-dependent relationship, the signs you perceive will be different from what your partner perceives. Signs that you’re the giver in the relationship include:
- You can’t dedicate time or energy towards your needs
- You feel guilty about pursuing hobbies or spending time with other people
- You think that you can change or control the other person
- Your feelings depend on the other person’s approval or presence
And if you’re a taker, i.e., someone who takes advantage of the giver’s energy and care, you may notice the following signs:
- You blame your partner when there’s an issue
- You’ve noticed that your partner stays with you regardless of what you do to them
- Your partner meets all your needs before you’re even aware of them
- You find it easy to lash out at your partner
Of course, it’s not easy to reflect on your relationship or your behaviours without feeling triggered. Nevertheless, doing so is crucial in taking the first step towards addressing co-dependency.
What’s the Cause of Co-Dependent Relationships?
The underlying cause of a co-dependent relationship is that both people are dealing with internal discomfort, and they need a way to deal with it. This applies to the giver and taker, as both people have developed different ways to cope with feelings of internal discomfort. One has learned to need someone and cater to their every need, while the other has learned to ‘feel needed’ by someone.
A co-dependent relationship is formed because these two types of people look for specific traits in another person, hoping to find someone who meets these needs. Once they see that the person is capable of meeting their needs, they become dependent on them. It’s clear that both people are mirroring feelings toward each other – one wants to be needed, and the other wants to need someone completely.
A Habit That Helps You Cope
Because of the internal emotional discomfort you feel, you think that finding the ‘right person’ will help. Unfortunately, that’s not true – finding someone with those specific traits will only develop a habit of excessively depending on them. In the process, you’re disconnecting from yourself on a spiritual level because you misunderstand who you are.
The Illusion of Happiness
When you’re in a co-dependent relationship, you’re relying on something outside of yourself to feel happy. However, this isn’t true. You don’t need an external trigger to experience happiness, and you certainly can’t find it in a relationship. The key to fixing a co-dependent relationship is to realise that you can only find happiness inside yourself.
Co-Dependency vs Support
It’s common to confuse a co-dependent relationship with a supportive one. After all, what kind of partner would you be if you were not supporting your significant other? But are both people getting support and appreciation? Can both members find happiness in their lives through hobbies, interests and friends? The answers to these questions make all the difference in determining if your relationship is based on support or co-dependence.
Can Co-Dependent Relationships Work?
When you ask if co-dependent relationships can work, it’s important to stop and consider what ‘work’ means. The meaning of ‘work’ is subjective to everyone, so here’s how I consider it best to explain. Here, the term ‘work’ refers to ensuring that our minds remain in their natural state. What is the natural state of mind? Peace and calm are the equilibrium of the mind, and it’s what we must return to after a period of emotional discomfort or conflict.
However, the dynamics of a co-dependent relationship make it difficult for your mind to remain in its natural and balanced state. Here’s why:
Self-Abandonment and Internalising Resentment
As the giver in a co-dependent relationship is constantly sacrificing their own needs for those of their partner, resentment will build up. When you’re constantly going the extra mile and doing things that weren’t asked of you, you may feel unappreciated or unseen. This takes a toll on how you feel about yourself, and it can develop into annoyance, irritability, and resentment.
Because of this emotional turmoil taking place internally, you’ll start reflecting on the other person. You’ll try to make them feel guilty for not fully appreciating you, blaming them for your unhappiness.
Conditional Love in Co-dependent Relationships
When our happiness relies on someone other than ourselves, the relationship with that specific person becomes conditional. Your love becomes conditional. How? We blame it on the other person when we go the extra mile. And when they fail to reflect the same level of sacrifice and over-functioning as we give, we feel angry. You’re essentially saying, ‘give me the same type of validation and appreciation, or I’ll be angry.’
Needless to say, this has a somatic effect on our bodies. Holding onto all this anger will keep your body in a constant state of fight or flight until you can’t take it anymore. Ultimately, we may become detached, self-isolating, and lonely. And while such feelings are understandable and acceptable from time to time, being trapped in a never-ending cycle can lead to negative outcomes.
Can a Co-Dependent Relationship be Saved?
Co-dependency, abuse, and any other type of conflict are examples of when you’re feeling something internally, but you’re pointing fingers at your partner instead. These relationships can be saved, but they can’t continue to function as is. That raises the question, ‘so how do we fix them?’ To make a change, each person much start at an individual level.
It means you should look at your experiences, feel them, and understand that they’re personal to you. Remember that no one else can perceive your experiences the way you do. And until you’re willing to look within, you won’t find anything meaningful in the relationship.
Can You Change a Co-Dependent Relationship with a Life Coach?
Pointing people inwards and guiding them to realise their experience is what saving a relationship should be all about. Whether you see a professional relationship coach, certified therapist, or both to resolve the issue, the key is to look inward at yourself. You need to be willing to go on a journey to understand yourself because it’s a fundamental aspect of understanding the other person.
Will a Therapist or Relationship Coach Fix the Relationship?
A common misunderstanding is that seeing a professional to address the issue will ‘fix’ things. But just like any other type of goal, achieving a balanced relationship requires effort from within. Contrary to popular belief, neither a therapist nor a relationship coach will give you instructions on how to save your relationship.
As a certified life coach and therapist, I use a holistic approach that combines both methods to address the issue. And before you can work on the relationship, you need to start with yourself. Instead of instructing you and giving you a list of things to do, I’ll guide you towards the potential and greatness that’s already inside you.
As you start to unlock this potential, you’ll become more aware of your abilities and feel confident. It’s such an important aspect of the coaching process because, when you start implementing it, you’re less likely to point fingers and blame the other person. When both parties aren’t chasing each other to be a source of their happiness – that’s when the relationship will start making progress.
How to Avoid Becoming Co-Dependent in a Relationship
I’m often asked how partners can avoid becoming co-dependent in the relationship. To avoid falling into such a cycle, you need to work on yourself. Specifically, you need to be aware of these things:
- Are you looking inward at your perceived experience?
- Are you looking for happiness outside yourself?
- Are you taking responsibility for your emotions?
These things aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they’re interconnected. And if you need to resolve your relationship with yourself before starting one with another person, seeing a professional is a good way to do so. As a certified therapist and relationship coach who has helped people in co-dependent relationships, my goal is to give you the tools that help you see your own potential and worth. As a result, you’ll be able to:
- Enhance your self-esteem
- Improve your ability to set boundaries
- Practice assertive communication
- Reflect on your feelings and experiences
- Build a spiritual connection with yourself
- Restore your natural state of calm
This can apply to various other co-dependent relationships – not just romantic ones. I’ve seen how people have co-dependent relationships with their parents, relatives, and even their closest friends. And it never develops intentionally – it all starts with failing to reflect on your innermost feelings and looking outwards for affection and appreciation.
Despite the fact that co-dependence affects your mind’s natural state and keeps you in a cycle of negative emotions, it can still be saved. The key to addressing a co-dependent relationship is to see a professional coach who guides you inwards to your inner potential. No matter how much it seems like the answer lies elsewhere, remember that it’s always inside of you.