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  • Writer's pictureChrissy Barlahan

ACTUALLY, You're the Problem Too.

We should do anything for love, right? We should make great sacrifices, accept our partners unconditionally, and ride out all the waves of life’s bullshit surprises. At least, that’s what we’ve been told for so long. Every love story seems to have this incredible resilience to it that resonates with us beyond our human level. Love for the history books with our one, true soul mate is almost spiritual.

But we know life is not always like that. Some of our lovers might not be so great, with real life problems like addiction, giant egos, or a general disconnect from affection. What does that mean for you, the loving spouse who was always told to stand by your partner, no matter the problem? What does it mean if you can’t picture a world without your honey… And without your honey’s problems? What if you can’t see where they end and you begin? Worst, what about all the drama that comes from you needing to be with them and taking care of them when they simply don’t want that? What happens when it’s getting toxic AF for you both? Let’s get into it.

Being codependent used to specifically mean that you were an enabler of a person who was dealing with drug and alcohol issues. If your husband was a fall-down, blackout drunk on Thursday night, the old definition would mean that you were the person who called into work for him and said he had the flu. Many therapists, even ones who were educated into the 2000s still use this definition. However, therapists and researchers who began to conceptualize a little more recently have expanded their definition of codependent to describe far more situations.

Generally speaking, now therapists recognize that codependency exists in couples regardless of substance abuse or personality type. Codependency only requires that at least one of the partners continues to make tremendous self-sacrifice at the expense of their own needs. A codependent person is more than a people pleaser. They latch themselves on to another person, reflecting and shaping themselves to be a perfect fit for what that person needs. Tending to another person feels like more than just a purpose or the foundation for a strong relationship. It feels like a divine calling. In codependent relationships, the person who has the codependent style operates from a place of deep fear of abandonment. They tend not to have an independent sense of self beyond the other person. They’ll suppress their true emotions to be more likable to their partner or to be a better support to them. In an attempt to keep the other person close, the codependency within them urges the person to try and control their partner. Many partners interpret this as suffocating, and will frequently act out to get a little bit of breathing room. Of course, this feels like total rejection to the person who is codependent, which makes them want to control more. It’s a vicious cycle.

It’s important to note that codependency, like many personality traits, is a spectrum. You can have just a sprinkle of these traits or a big, heaping spoonful. The most important factor to consider if you think your codependence is a problem is if it seems to be really damaging to your relationships and if it is ruining your self-esteem. Codependency as a personality trait and within a relationship can be treated with talk therapy. Some medications may be prescribed for the anxiety that emerges related to abandonment fears or low self-esteem.

Below is a short list of codependent traits. If they sound familiar to you, you may be a little codependent.

Signs of Being Codependent

You put their needs above your own

In certain cultures, you’re expected to put your spouse’s needs above your own- Always. But there is a difference between your grandma who makes sure everyone else is fed before herself and a person who doesn’t even let herself eat without someone else’s approval and is willing to stop her own eating to serve someone else. You should be able to identify your own needs, address them, and then decide how to move on accordingly. You should never feel that you need to jump into direct action under threat, real or imaginary, of not being loved.

You idealize partners to the point of maintaining relationships that leave you unfulfilled

Naturally, at some point in relationships, the butterflies in the stomach wear off and you start to notice the weird and off-putting stuff your partner does. You then have to decide for yourself if you want to put up with it or end the relationship. But in codependent relationships, the need to be close and attached overrides the signals in your brain that tell you that you don’t want to be with that person anymore. Your intuition might scream that your partner is kind of a jerk but your fear of abandonment tells you that without a partner, you’re no one. It will then keep pushing a narrative that your partner is so hot, interesting, and takes good care of you. You’ll start to experience an unsettling feeling of being unhappy despite everything telling you that you are.

You try to manage your partners

The core belief in a codependent relationship is that your partner needs you, at any cost, because at the end of the day, your partner cannot handle the world if they do not have you. You also do not want them to leave you because taking on the world for them is your calling. So in an attempt to keep your partner from the dangers of society and getting their ego bruised, you step in. You may feel the need to control your partner’s diet to prevent them from getting diabetes. You may feel that you need to make appointments for them because they will never remember to do it themselves. And in more extreme cases, you may feel that you need to confront people who cause your partner stress. In some ways, it’s closer to a parent and child relationship than an equal partnership.

You feel guilty about doing things for yourself or saying no

You like direction and structure, that’s not a crime. But when it comes to saying no to your partner or taking some alone time to get a mani-pedi or hangout with your friends, it makes you feel sick. Sometimes you don’t know what you want without your partner swaying you in a certain direction. Other times, you know exactly what you want, but the idea of asserting yourself makes you afraid that your partner won’t love you anymore. We all have a little bit of shame regarding certain topics, but if every time you think about doing something for yourself or asking your partner to change, you spiral into a panic attack… You might be a little bit codependent.

If you think you may be in a codependent relationship or have a tendency towards a codependent relationship style, contact us here.

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