Everyone makes sacrifices in relationships, romantic and otherwise. Maybe you love peanut butter but made the switch to almond butter because your partner is allergic to peanuts. Maybe you despise exercising but go on weekend bike rides with your outdoorsy girlfriend. This is all fine and dandy, until sacrificing your wants and needs for your partner’s goes too far.
“I had a long-term relationship when I was in college that was massively codependent,” says Joshua, 27. “He was about nine years older than me, and I was entirely infatuated with him. The relationship was completely one-sided in that he really did whatever he wanted while my choices revolved entirely around him.”
What They’re Like
In codependent relationships, there is a lack of mutual love and respect. Let’s say you dedicate a disproportionate amount of your time and energy to “fixing” your partner. You put their needs before your own. Maybe they suffer from a mental illness or addiction, and you feel it’s your personal responsibility to save them. You find yourself constantly making sacrifices and excuses for and worrying about them. This becomes extremely unhealthy, almost like an addiction on your end.
“[In] a codependent relationship, one or both partners engage in behaviors that enable unhealthy characteristics,” says Amie Harwick, LMFT. “Another sign is enmeshment, or when two people are so intertwined that the boundaries between them are hard to define.”
WJ, 25, recalls a codependent relationship for which he sacrificed many of the things he cared about. “As I was trying to please her in everything, I lost a lot of my own self-identity,” he says. “She told me not to cut my hair so I ended up with an unmanageable blob on my head. She didn’t drive, so I did that for her all the time. She didn’t like my friends, so I stopped hanging with them. My fashion, clothes, and spending habits were all directed toward getting her approval.”
This kind of dysfunctional relationship often results in the codependent person suffering from mood issues such as anxiety, depression, and lack of motivation. And while you may think you are helping your partner, you are actually hurting both of you.
“Neglecting yourself and focusing on the other person leads to poor self-care, personal development, and self-esteem,” explains Harwick. “When one person in the relationship suffers [in these areas], the relationship suffers. So by focusing so much on the other person, you essentially are harming the relationship.”
Identifying The Signs
She says the first step to getting out of a codependent relationship is to identify that you’re in one. This may be difficult, because it’s common to be in denial about your situation.
“Look at the signs and assess whether or not these are present in your relationship,” Harwick advises. Mental Health America has a helpful questionnaire for identifying the signs of codependency. If you respond affirmatively to several of the questions, it is a good idea to consult a professional.
”You can seek support by seeing a licensed therapist, finding a support group, attending a Co-Dependents Anonymous meeting, or even reading a book about it, such as ‘Codependent No More,’” Harwick adds.
Joshua, for one, didn’t understand that he was in a codependent relationship until well after the relationship ended.
“I never realized that my addiction to pleasing this person who barely cared about me, as well as my inability to walk away, was the cause of all of my problems,” he says.
Even once you do understand the situation, it can be challenging to actually get out of a codependent relationship because your emotional survival seems to depend on the other person. The grieving process may be so intense and severe that it feels debilitating. This is, again, why it’s important to enlist professional help.
“When she was sad, I was devastated,” WJ says. “When she was happy, I was elated. When she was worried, I tried to fix it. The last few months were like a funeral — somber and orchestrated [because I knew she was planning to move away].”
Remember that it’s important to examine how a partner makes you feel and feel about yourself. If there’s a lot of distress, you feel mistreated, or you start to lose yourself, it’s time to walk away. A relationship should be mutual, empathetic, and supportive.
“Years later, I’m in a healthy relationship and couldn’t be happier,” Joshua says. “My partner and I have both learned many lessons in past relationships, and although it’s tough, I’m grateful for those experiences so that they will never happen again.”