Recognising yourself and who you are is important to having a healthy relationship or marriage

If you’re wondering whether you’re co-dependent or believe that you’re in a co-dependent relationship, then it’s time to recognise why you’re behave like this and put a stop to it.

Asking yourself, “Am I co-dependent?” means you’ve witnessed choices or actions you made that lead you to believe you’re behaving in an unhealthy manner. And now you want to know how to stop being co-dependent, either to fix your relationship, or to feel better about yourself, or just be happier and more confident in life overall.

What started out as good intentions can create strain in your relationship

Learning how to recognise and meet your own needs rebalances the harmony and creates more fun, confidence and spontaneity in your marriage.

When living in a co-dependent marriage, you didn’t set out to diminish the other parts of yourself and become tunnel-visioned toward the relationship; it happens slowly over time.

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Perhaps when dating, you were smitten with your partner and didn’t want to create tension, so you went along with everything. Or at least you didn’t mind so much doing things that you would otherwise prefer not to do.

It could have been the other side of the coin for you. You found someone who could take care of you, who had their life together, and you were so delighted when they came in to save the day. Dynamics don’t happen in isolation, so your partner found it easy to be with you because you seemed to be on the same page. Or they enjoyed the sense of purpose they served in your life.

In the beginning, it served a purpose, yet over time, this dynamic came to be frustrating and stifling for one or both of you.

Co-dependency comes from a relationship dynamic that was imbalanced when you were growing up

As children, you need your parents’ relationship as an example of how to be both autonomous and vulnerable.

Yet when your parents weren’t very good with one or both aspects, you learn to favour helplessness or over-competence. You then take these aspects into your relationships growing up.

While they may have served a purpose when you were younger, chances are they no longer serve you and the relationship or marriage you’re in now is suffering because of it.

The more you experience the world of two separate yet equal people within a relationship, the deeper your capacity to know the person you’re in a relationship with, and the richer your unique sense of ‘self’ becomes.

Recognising yourself and who you are is important to having a healthy relationship or marriage. You need to know your own strengths and have a sense of yourself so that your relationship is greater for it, not weaker because you’re dependent upon someone else’s contribution in order to feel whole.

Couples in co-dependent relationships have trouble figuring out where they end and their partner begins

Here are 10 things you can do to start forming your own autonomy or vulnerability:

1. Recognise who and what you’re responsible for

You’re responsible for yourself. For making sure you can maintain your daily life effectively.

You’re responsible for treating your partner with respect, love, honesty and dignity. You are not responsible for them.

2. Discover and stay focused on your interests

If you can’t think of any, it’s time to start exploring what you like. Start by looking at any hobbies you enjoyed while growing up. Look into any groups that you can join in your local area.

Be inquisitive and experiment with different activities until you find one that’s for you.

3. Learn what your needs are and how to ask for them

More importantly, learn how to meet your own needs if your partner can’t.

This will make you feel stronger and more self-sufficient in the long run.

4. Get comfortable with saying ‘no’ and hearing ‘no’

If you have difficulty saying ‘no’ to your partner’s demands, come up with ways in which that you can say ‘no’.

For example, “Yes, I can help you, but it will have to be after I go to the gym.”

Establishing boundaries is imperative to freeing yourself from co-dependency.

5. Understand that saying ‘no’ will feel very bad at first

Once you start to say ‘no’ or you hear ‘no’, you’re going to be hit with some feelings. Depending on which side you are on, you might be feeling guilt, anxiety or fear of abandonment.

It’s time to have a list of positive self-soothing activities you can do – not destructive ones, like binge-eating or drinking.

Practice activities like yoga, tai chi or meditation, or taking walks when you’re feeling down. This will not only help you work through those feelings in a positive way, but it will actually be healthy for you, too.

6. Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability

If you’re the partner who’s usually ‘together’ and often takes responsibility for your partner’s feelings, try to be vulnerable to them.

Open up and ask for help. This will make you feel closer, help you bond, and make you feel safer in knowing you can depend on your partner to be there for you while still being your strong self.

Figuring out ‘you’ and your role in the relationship, as well as your own needs, will greatly help improve your viewpoint and feelings on being co-dependent

7. Establish a ‘support network’

It’s time to find a great support network. You can join a support group for people in co-dependent relationships, or if you’re not inclined to do that, find up to five people you feel comfortable with, to talk about your struggle with co-dependency.

Ask them to help keep you accountable and to change, without judgment. This may help open your eyes to behaviours you didn’t even realise you were engaging in.

8. Do some research on boundaries

Couples in co-dependent relationships have trouble working out where they end and their partner begins.

Figuring out ‘you’ and your role in the relationship, as well as your own needs, will greatly help improve your viewpoint and feelings on being co-dependent.

9. Sign up for couples therapy

This is to help identify what your triggers are and what your co-dependent behaviors are, too. They can be very subtle, and you’ve been using them your whole life to get your needs met.

10. Be gentle and understanding with yourself

It takes time to change behaviour, so don’t expect to stop being/feeling co-dependent overnight. This is a behaviour you learned at a young age, to meet your needs as a child, so it’s been with you your whole life.

It’s served a purpose before, but now it’s time to let those co-dependent behaviours go so you can become the strong, independent person you long to be.

You might be worried that you will never feel as close to your partner again if you give up being co-dependent. However, you will gain a greater sense of self, leaving you feeling calm, grateful and more joyous than ever.

Julia Nowland is a relationship therapist and founder of Whole Heart Relationships. She specialises in helping couples gain the independence and healthy relationship they need, while createing a sense of fun so they can grow closer than ever.

This article was first published on YourTango.