The honeymoon phase is a beautiful beginning stage of a relationship when two people feel intrigued, thrilled, and infatuated with each other. Frequent quality time, intense physical touch, overflowing words of affirmation, ongoing acts of service, and thoughtful gifts contribute to the intense emotional and physical connection early into the relationship. All is seemingly going well until your best friend hasn’t heard from you in months, and you miss your brother’s birthday dinner to spend time with your partner other again. It’s easy to overlook signs of codependency, especially at the beginning of a relationship when there is much excitement, expectations are high, and boundaries are nonexistent. Although your relationship may appear healthy to you, there are warning signs that you may be codependent in your relationship.
Codependency is being overly dependent on your partner for your well-being and self-worth. There is often a shift in the power dynamics leading one partner to be the caregiver and the other to be the taker. Codependent behaviors include:
- People pleasing
- Neglecting your needs for your partner
- Taking on responsibility for your partner
- Difficulties with being alone
- Trouble communicating emotions/feelings
- Lack of boundaries
- Intense anxiety when your partner is away
- Low self-esteem
- Unstable sense of identity
The emotional and behavioral components of codependency can also be present outside of intimate relationships and in relationships with a parent, best friend, or even siblings. Codependency may stem from troubling relationships with parental figures during childhood or adolescence. Codependency leads a child to ignore their needs to be the saver for others due to a lack of emotional maturity within parents, abandonment, addiction in the household, untreated mental health struggles, or living in an abusive environment. Over time these behaviors are reinforced, leading the child to prioritize others’ needs over their own, especially within intimate relationships in adulthood.
Codependency doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed or cannot reach a healthier place. Recognizing codependent habits involves internal reflection of your behaviors and connection with yourself. Below are a few tangible and effective ways to begin the healing process with self and move towards a more secure attachment within your interpersonal relationships with others:
- Personal development
Take time to reflect on the individual you are without the presence of others. There is always room for growth and personal improvement. Dive into personal development by reading a book, listening to a podcast, or writing in a guided journal. Personal development will facilitate growth in your character, values, interpersonal relationships, and mindset. A few personal great development books/podcasts include “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself” by Michael Singer, “Power of Purpose” by Les Brown, and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. Immersing yourself in personal development will allow you to appreciate your value and belief system, eventually leading to higher security with yourself. Higher security with self leads you to be more assertive, feel confident with setting boundaries and place more value on self-worth.
- Spend time with family/friends
Be intentional with spending quality time with friends or family without your partner. Quality time without your partner may feel challenging initially but breaking the cycle of needing your partner around as a safety net is an integral part of independence. Quality time will nurture your relationship with your family/friends and allows you to feel supported. Your family and friends may be able to offer insight and perspective that is absent when your partner is frequently around. Quality activities may include watching a movie, getting coffee/dinner, going to the park together, hiking on the weekend, etc. Consider common interests between you and your family/friends to engage in meaningful time together. Quality time with family will demonstrate your ability to connect with others outside of your relationship and express how much you value your relationships with your family and friends.
Take care of yourself in all areas, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It’s easy to lose yourself in your relationship when you are not meeting your needs are not met, so when you prioritize your wants and desires, you are practicing self-care. Take care of yourself physically by getting checkups at your doctor visits, which may be overdue. You may even have underlying issues you want to resolve; therefore, feel inclined to visit your therapist or seek a new one. You may want to go back to attending Pilates classes every Tuesday and Saturday like you did before you entered a relationship. Consider grounding yourself in nature to recharge and reset. These are all different ways to immerse yourself in self-care outside of the home and independently. Practicing self-care forces you to spend time alone, challenging you to promote self-esteem growth. You are forced to make your own decisions based on your needs, values, and wants, which is the ultimate goal.
- Find a new hobby
Your interests and hobbies may change over time, so it may feel intriguing to re-evaluate what piques your interest. Try new activities like singing, dancing, cycling, racquetball, painting, pottery, archery, kickboxing, reading at a cafe, walking in a new part of town, etc. There are endless activities to try that you may find motivating. You can redefine these activities when you are doing them for the first time without your partner. It allows a new opportunity for self-discovery when you try a new hobby independently. Be open to taking that chance on yourself; you may be surprised with what you learn.
Giving back to others and your community is a selfless way to spend your time while building your independence within your relationship. Spend time in an animal shelter, soup kitchen, Red Cross donation center, domestic violence shelter, political campaign, etc. Explore different organizations that best align with your intrinsic values and motivate you to help others. You will feel a sense of internal fulfillment and gratification after volunteering. Offering your time to volunteer by yourself or with friends will help you redefine your purpose while helping others in need.
- Take a Trip
Travel solo safely or take a trip with friends. See the world through a new lens and what it means to travel without your partner. Traveling may include a weekend trip to the countryside or a week-long trip to a new island/country. Consider returning to your native country to reconnect with your roots if born outside the US. Wherever you go, you will rediscover what it means to spend time outside your relationship and nurture new parts of yourself. Being away from your partner for a few days gives both individuals much-needed space to breathe and miss the other. Traveling alone is an essential part of the journey of building yourself while remaining independent within your relationship.
Ultimately the responsibility falls within to practice mindfulness of unhealthy dependent behaviors and meet your emotional and physical needs. While the process takes time and intentional effort, it’s safe to say personal autonomy is at an all-time high once you achieve a healthier balance and interdependence within your relationships.