A codependent relationship is where one person has an excessive emotional or psychological dependence on another person. In other words, one person ends up taking too much responsibility for the relationship while the other person takes too little.

Detailing Codependent Relationships

Codependent relationships are characterized by vague or non-existent boundary lines. Instead of only taking responsibility for what is yours, there is a strong tendency to step over the line and take on added responsibility for some of what belongs to your partner. This is classic behavior for people who have addictive tendencies and those who tend to get into relationships with them. To put it property owner’s terms, it would be like cutting your neighbor’s grass for them because they do such a poor job of it. You rationalize crossing the property line by saying it will “help” them.

For example, suppose that you and your partner have a hard time resolving conflict. When there is tension between the two of you, he tends to shut down emotionally and stops talking. You, knowing he is not good at expressing his feelings, work very hard to “draw him out.” But, the harder you work, the more he punishes you with his dismissive silence. Instead of resolve, your efforts lead to increasing distance in your relationship. In this situation, you are being codependent because you are taking on the responsibility to coax emotion out of him.

Each person takes responsibility for sharing his or her thoughts and feelings in a relationship, even if they are not good at it. When you repeatedly step over the line, you send the message that your partner doesn’t need to assume responsibility for that part of your relationship because you will do it for him. This sets up a vicious cycle that is hard to break and leads to many similar types of codependent behaviors.

Avoiding Codependent Relationships

There are ways to avoid getting into codependent relationships or break out of a codependent pattern you may have already established. Here are five sound ways to begin:

  • Settle for nothing less than respect in your relationships: Don’t overlook or minimize comments or behaviors that seem demeaning or disrespectful, even if it is meant as “humorous.” A healthy relationship is one where you are valued. If you feel disrespected or dismissed, speak up and say so. You should also extend the same value and respect to your partner.
  • Be mindful of the relational boundary line: Here’s a good self-reflective question to ask: what in this relationship belongs to me and is my responsibility and what belongs to the other person? You should try to be as clear as possible of where that boundary line is and stay on your side. Asking yourself this question can often help you stay grounded and keep the boundary in place.

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