couple reaching out towards each other representing love is respect

Independent Vs. Codependent

As a dating and relationship coach, I have couples seek help around codependency tendencies. Usually, either one or both partners in this situation are experiencing intense feelings of disruption and “loss of control” within the relationship because either one partner (or both) is not meeting the other’s expectations. These expectations aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are approached and managed in an unhealthy way. 

Falling in love, building a bond, and caring for your connection doesn’t mean that you have to give up who you are. Your way of being and relating to the world may shift because now you’re incorporating another person into your life – but it’s essential not to lose yourself in your relationship and allow your partner space to be themself.

What Healthy Independence Looks Like in a Relationship

If you are like many of my couples clients, you love your partner, and the relationship is generally good. The struggle you may be running into is that either you or your partner lean on the “independent side” while the other partner tends to be more “dependent” on the relationship. This dynamic in a relationship (if not appropriately addressed and understood) can cause tension and resentment among one or both partners. 

It’s common to both desire a healthy relationship while being concerned that being in a partnership would negatively affect your ability to live life the way you enjoy. While it may seem that to be in a relationship, you have to sacrifice your independence; it is actually that same independence that will allow the relationship to grow in healthy ways and thrive! What you bring to the table, and likely what your partner will fall in love with, is unique to who you are, and to give that up would be detrimental. 

Healthy independence in a committed relationship looks like individual hobbies, personal growth, and personal goals and dreams that you continue to pursue and support one another in. Healthy independence also looks like keeping a self-care routine focused on your individual health and happiness needs. 

[Here’s more on: How to Develop Your Self-Identity and Experience Personal Growth in a Committed Relationship]

Communicating Your Needs

When you communicate your needs, boundaries, and concerns, you give your partner space to feel comfortable doing the same.

Relationships may require compromise, and talking through what’s important to both of you is the first step to getting on the same page. This conversation may feel uncomfortable at first, so consider these helpful talking points when addressing the topic of independence in your relationship to get you started:

  • Communicate with your partner about why certain aspects of independence are important to you. 
  • Talk to them about the ways you both can still identify as individuals while also creating a relationship together.
  • Set healthy boundaries within yourself and between others.

Sometimes, what we need to hear is what our partner loves about us specifically. Reminding your partner of the unique characteristics, hobbies, and personality traits you love about them can encourage personal growth and a greater understanding of where you are coming from. When you communicate your needs, boundaries, and concerns, you give your partner space to feel comfortable doing the same. Once you’ve communicated your needs, encourage your partner to do the same. This may require time and an on-going conversation, but with practice, you’ll both feel a little more comfortable having this conversation each time. 

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Letting Go of Control

Suppose you find yourself struggling with codependent behaviors in your relationship. In that case, it’s important to remember that you are not inherently bad and that you have the power to choose to do things differently moving forward. At the root of codependency, attempts to change or control your partner usually stem from care for both yourself and your relationship. 

However, in an effort to control the other person, you yourself often wind up feeling let down, exhausted, and desperate for a true connection with your partner.  If you are struggling with codependency, you’re not alone. It’s actually quite common. The first step in repairing and creating greater trust in your relationship is introspection. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What events or people have caused me to feel out of control in the past? What emotions did this cause me to feel?
  • How am I benefitting from attempting to control my partner?
  • What am I afraid will happen if I give up my control attempts?
  • In what ways does my effort to have control actually end up controlling me (emotionally, mentally, physically)?

You may not be able to control your partner, but what you are always in control of are yourself and your decisions. Exploring these questions’ answers with a mental health professional’s help is an excellent start to getting the relationship you desire. 

Common Codependent Signs

As you are getting to know someone, it’s important to keep in mind that we are all human. We all have bad days, feel difficult emotions, and handle these emotions in various ways (that we may not be proud of every single time). However, witnessing these isolated events looks very different than viewing repeated patterns of behaviors. 

Everyone is unique; therefore, codependent behaviors show up in many different ways, but here are a few common signs that someone may be struggling with codependency: 

  • Blaming their current circumstances, emotions, or mood entirely on others or completely on themselves
  • Taking on the feelings of others as their own and allowing it to affect them deeply 
  • Spending time searching for unwarranted answers to other people’s problems or having a “fix it” mentality out of fear that others will leave them
  • Attempting to control situations or others through helplessness, guilt, coercion, advice-giving, manipulation, domination, or threats
  • Looking to their relationships to provide all of the “good feelings” they experience

Building Trust in Your Relationship

By starting the conversation and keeping it open, your relationship can grow through this challenge and come out stronger on the other side.

Just as your partner can’t change you, you can’t change your partner. If your partner exhibits codependent behaviors, it’s crucial that you have a solid concept of your boundaries and what is/isn’t your job. While neither partner is responsible for the other person, BOTH partners are responsible for seeking solutions that make their relationship a healthy and safe one. If you notice within your relationship that your partner exhibits codependent behaviors, here are some tips to help support them on their journey:

  • Model what healthy boundaries with others and yourself look like.
  • Do not attempt to “fix” your partner, but rather focus on how the relationship can be improved with the addition of boundaries. Have conversations about what you each desire out of the relationship-it’s likely that you both want to have a healthy relationship, but you may have differing definitions of how to get there.
  • Encourage your partner to process the previous events and people in their lives who made them feel out of control with a professional.

By starting the conversation and keeping it open, your relationship can grow through this challenge and come out stronger on the other side. Many relationships that struggle with codependency and work through the challenge, developing healthier communication, boundaries, and understanding, actually experience happier, healthier relationships (professional, friendships, family) and are more likely to feel satisfied and successful in life. 

[Want more on “How to Have Difficult Conversations” – Check out this blog here: How to Have Difficult Conversations]

How to Not Lose Yourself in a Relationship

“You complete me” is considered among the most romantic phrases that can be exchanged, but it’s also confused many people regarding what a good, healthy partnership looks like. Each person brings unique, vital elements of themselves as individuals, and to give up oneself would be a detriment to the relationship! At the same time, it’s normal to worry about what it will look like to take another person’s preferences, characteristics, and habits into account, especially when they will likely clash with your own. Here are some helpful questions to ask both yourself and your partner when you find yourselves in this very situation:

  • What areas of my life am I willing to compromise on vs. areas I am not willing to compromise? Why are these areas important to me?
  • What are some ways I can continue to show up for myself and my partner?
  • Is showing up for myself hurting my relationship or my partner? If not, how can I release any feelings of guilt I may have for honoring my own needs?  

At the end of the day, each partner’s independence allows for the relationship to grow in healthy ways and thrive!

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