Research-Backed Advice

Can a Codependent Relationship Be Saved?

Highlights

  • There’s no easy answer to the question, “can a codependent relationship be saved?”
  • Codependency is a pattern of learned behaviors rather than a disorder, so changing your codependent tendencies is possible.
  • It can be challenging to end a codependent relationship, but doing work to change your codependent tendencies could help to save the relationship.

If you’re in an unhealthy codependent relationship, you might wonder: can a codependent relationship be saved?

The answer? Yes. But it’ll take some hard work. 

The first step is identifying whether you’re even in a codependent relationship. Once you’ve figured that out, you can focus on healing yourself and work on avoiding trying to fix, control, or change the other person. 

What does codependent mean?

There’s a good chance your relationship is codependent if it’s with someone who requires extra care or attention, like someone with a substance use disorder (SUD). 

You might also be in a codependent relationship if:

  • You regularly put your partner’s needs over yours, often with negative consequences.
  • You get your sense of worth from the relationship rather than from within.
  • You’re overwhelmed by your partner or family member’s problematic behavior.

Signs of a codependent relationship

Codependency is a pattern of behaviors rather than a disorder. No diagnostic checklist that can label your relationship as definitively codependent. 

But some signs you can look for include the following:

1) You know the relationship is dysfunctional, but you’re unable or unwilling to end it.

If you feel “stuck” in your relationship with someone with problematic behavior, this could signify a codependent relationship. 

Or, if loved ones are expressing strong concerns and encouraging you to end the relationship, and you’re unable or unwilling to entertain this idea, this could be a sign of a codependent relationship.

2) You’re overtly or covertly supporting the other person’s problematic behavior.

In a codependent relationship, one person exhibits problematic and dysfunctional behavior, and the other is the “caretaker” or the “enabler.” 

If you catch yourself supporting the other person’s problematic behavior, it may be a sign you’re the caretaker in a codependent relationship. You may overtly support their behavior, lie for them, or covertly support them. For example, you may know they’re lying and play along with the lie.

3) The other person’s problematic behavior makes you feel anxious and overwhelmed.

If the other person’s problematic behavior is becoming all-consuming for you, this could be a sign you’re in a codependent relationship. 

You might feel anxious, worried, overwhelmed, or wish you could set firm boundaries. 

This could look like being extremely anxious when you haven’t heard from the other person for a few hours, regularly canceling your plans to accommodate what the other person wants or needs from you, or having trouble being comfortable alone because your thoughts and energy are always focused outwards, on the other person. 

You might know that you need to set firm boundaries but are unable or unwilling to do so.

4) You’re sacrificing your needs and wants in favor of the other person’s.

Self-sacrifice isn’t always a bad thing — putting other peoples’ needs ahead of your own can be a compassionate thing to do in many circumstances. But when self-sacrifice means ignoring your own needs, this could be a sign of a codependent relationship. 

When you’re ignoring your needs in favor of the other person’s, and it has negative consequences for both of you, self-sacrifice is unhealthy and might signify a codependent relationship. For example, you might constantly cancel plans with friends to take care of your partner when they’ve been drinking. In this case, you’re sacrificing your desire for social time while enabling your partner’s destructive behavior.

5) You get your validation and worth from your relationship.

If you struggle to find an inherent sense of self-worth and instead regularly look to the other person for validation, you may be in a codependent relationship. Other signs of codependency include having a sense of self-worth tied up in the relationship or a need to be needed.

6) You experience life in extremes. 

You have difficulty finding balance in life. You tend to go from one extreme to the next. For example, isolating yourself and then going out a lot.

Can a codependent relationship Be Saved?

Whether you have a codependent relationship with a romantic partner or family member, you might wonder how to “fix” the relationship. 

The first step is to understand that codependency is a part of you – it’s an individual characteristic. You’re most likely wired to behave codependently, and you can’t fix this specific relationship without altering your behavior.

Here are some steps you can take to improve a codependent relationship:

Do the work on yourself to understand why you have codependent tendencies.

Finding the root of your codependent tendencies is an essential step in healing. They might stem from:  

  • childhood trauma
  • childhood abandonment
  • a lack of sense of self
  • a caretaker personality that was never nurtured properly

Getting to the root of the “problem” can help you change. You might find therapy helpful for identifying the why of your codependent traits. 

Seek support and help from outside of the relationship.

Therapy can help you hone the skills necessary to save your codependent relationship. 

But looking to the people around you for support can also be beneficial. Consider finding a trusted loved one who can listen empathetically and help you to center and rebuild your self-identity.  

A solid support network can give you the validation you need to support your self-worth. These people can also give you an outside perspective on the reality of your situation, helping you identify whether it’s time to call it quits for good or move forward and build a healthier relationship.

Let go of the idea that you can change or “fix” the other person.

Free yourself from the idea that codependency is specific to this person or this relationship. Give up any idea that you can control or change them, and instead focus on what you can control –  yourself and your behaviors.

Set strong boundaries within your relationship.

Most codependent relationships can significantly benefit from boundary setting. 

This might involve:

  • learning when it’s healthy to put another person’s needs above your own
  • developing the ability to say “no” 
  • behaving in a way that prioritizes your health and happiness

The final word

Before you can work on your relationship, you need to heal yourself. Working on your codependent tendencies is crucial to save or fix your relationship.

Let go of what you can’t control and focus on the things you can. You can’t change the other person, but you can work on yourself, giving you a better chance of ditching codependency and building a healthy relationship with the person you love.

Olivia Kelava
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