Setting Boundaries in a Codependent Relationship

What is a Codependent Relationship?

“Excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner”.

Most commonly, a codependent relationship is mutual. Without healthy boundaries, both partners enable each other to overly involve themselves in the other’s emotional worlds.

There are generally (but not always) two types of people in a codependent relationship; there is the caretaker and the patient. Both enable each other to continue their dysfunctional, overreaching behaviors.

Signs of a Codependent Relationship

  • Your relationship goes back and forth between amazing and horrible, no in-between
  • You break up and get back together every few months
  • You spend a lot of time defending yourself for things you believe aren’t your fault

Both caretakers and patients are prone to anxiety in their relationship. Read my post “7 Steps to Deal with Anxiety in Relationship” for more help on this!

The Caretaker: 

  • You think you love someone because they “need you”
  • You try to control your partner
  • You feel unloved when your partner doesn’t need your help
  • You try to make your partner’s decisions for them
  • You start arguments out of thin air, and will argue for hours with no end-goal or resolution
  • You get involved your partner’s problems, feeling like you have to take care of them
  • You have a hard time saying no when your partner asks for help
  • You struggle to honor your partner’s boundaries

The Patient:

  • You get anxious when you’re apart
  • You’re always worried about what your partner thinks
  • You have a hard time leaving emotionally or psychologically painful situations
  • You lose sleep and stress over your relationship
  • You have no clear boundaries or struggle to honor them
  • You betray yourself to get your partner’s approval
  • You stop doing things that are important to you in fear that it will cause an argument
  • You ask your partner how they feel so you can know how you’re supposed to feel

The list goes on…but you get the idea. Overall, codependent relationships involve a lack of healthy boundaries and the belief that you need to take on all of your partner’s problems and emotions, or that they need to take on yours.

Overcoming a Codependent Relationship and Becoming Interdependent

The keys to becoming more interdependent are changing your unhealthy beliefs and setting healthy boundaries.

Creating Interdependent Beliefs

In order to overcome codependent beliefs, start exploring who YOU are.

Here are some questions to explore to challenge your codependent beliefs:

  • What are my needs?
  • Do I have hobbies and interests? What are they?
  • What other relationships do I value?
  • What are my values? 
  • What are my personal goals?

Try this:

  • Ask for what you want 
  • Make time for hobbies 
  • Spend some time with friends and family (without your partner)
  • Tell your partner about your values
  • Tell your partner about your personal goals

Read my post “How to Find Yourself in a Relationship – The 10 Do’s and Don’t’s” for more insights in individuality in a relationship!

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How to Set and Keep Boundaries

1 – Decide What Your Boundaries Are

Think about the load you’re carrying. Why? Do you only trust yourself to handle things the right way? Or do you not trust yourself at all and rely on your partner to tell you how to feel and what to do? 

Read my post, “5 Ways to Build Trust in a Relationship” for more insight on this!

Consider setting boundaries that keep you from becoming overly involved in each other’s emotional worlds. 

The questions I listed above can be your guide to creating healthy boundaries.

What do healthy boundaries look like? Here are some examples:

  • I am capable of solving my own problems. When I have problems with family, please do not become involved. I will ask for emotional support if I need it
  • I can leave this situation if it’s too emotionally painful for me. If you start yelling or I start feeling overwhelmed, I will take a break from our conversation until we’re both calm
  • I have my own emotions and they are valid. I don’t need to feel how my partner feels right now
  • I can put my needs first. I can say “no” and not feel guilty about it
  • When you ask me to make a decision for you, I will offer you emotional support and encourage you, but I will not make the decision for you
  • We will not blame each other for our actions. My actions are my responsibility, and so are yours.

Boundaries aren’t the same for everyone! Create boundaries that bring YOU the most peace.

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2 – Vocalize Your Boundaries

The second step to setting boundaries in a relationship is making them known. Boundaries can only be honored in a relationship if they’re understood.

It might seem easier to just create them in your head and tell yourself you’ll take a step back if they’re broken, but this can cause more confusion and hardship for you and your partner.

Your partner needs to know what you will and won’t accept and vice versa.

3 – Enforce Your Boundaries

Enforcing your boundaries is crucial. You need to follow through for your own sake.

The less you follow through on your boundaries, the more shame and resentment will build up inside you. Consistently staying true to your boundaries will free you and bring you peace.

If you don’t follow through on your boundaries, you, nor your partner, can become more interdependent. It can be difficult, but you will thank your future self for honoring your boundaries.

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4 – Acknowledge Contribution

Codependent relationships are no one person’s fault. You both contribute to the unhealthy patterns in your relationship. Enabling your partner is just as damaging as allowing yourself to be enabled.

Instead, recognize your own contribution (instead of focusing on your partner’s) and take responsibility for it.