Are You in a Codependent Relationship?

 Loving man apologizing resentful sulky woman feeling offended after conflict, boyfriend asking upset capricious girlfriend for forgiveness excusing to make peace, rejecting accepting apology concept

Are you addicted to your relationship? Do you feel needy and cling to your partner? Does your mate support and rescue you to the point where you’ve given up a lot of your independence and ability to make most decisions?

Or are you the one taking on the role of a supporter or rescuer? It takes two to perpetuate a codependent relationship. Whichever side you’re on, both of you may be breeding unhealthy relationship habits … habits that may have damaging effects on both your relationship and your individual lives.


Are You Dependent or Codependent?

There’s dependency and there’s codependency. So what’s the difference in terms of a relationship? You can spot codependency. A tell-tale sign is that both partners are getting something they feel benefits them.

Let’s say you’re playing the role of the dependent person and that dependency becomes your partner’s accepted responsibility. It’s a two-part arrangement that the two of you may not even be aware of. It usually isn’t acknowledged outwardly. As the needy partner, you’re getting your emotional needs met and your supporting partner might be getting the satisfaction of being the hero or enabler of your emotional – and sometimes physical – needs.

If your partner doesn’t buy into the neediness, doesn’t get any satisfaction from you generating your sense of self-worth based upon what he or she does for you, it’s not really a codependent relationship. It’s just you being needy. Still, the relationship isn’t healthy at all.

Codependency doesn’t lay a foundation of a healthy relationship, that’s for sure. The self-esteem of both of you is affected. While you might feel a loss of self-esteem from forfeiting your independence, your partner gains a warped sense of self-esteem or possibly even a feeling of control from sacrificing or tending to you.

Your relationship may be close and caring, but is that closeness really authentic? As the needy partner, you may struggle with disasters and your partner’s assistance deepens the emotional connection and feelings of intimacy. But love and intimacy should come freely and naturally, both of you with a good sense of who you are and what you want out of the relationship.

With a codependent arrangement, it’s almost as if you’re constructing a relationship solely based on need. You’re essentially “enabling” one another due to some dysfunctional personality traits each of you has.  See how this can perpetuate a cycle of codependency?


Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship

If you’re not sure you’re in a codependent relationship, ask yourself these questions:

·         You feel the need to keep your partner close because you’re afraid of being abandoned?

·         Do you feel that your desires, needs, or feelings are unimportant? Do you have problems recognizing or expressing them?

·         Is it difficult to say no when your partner makes demands on your time and energy?

·         Do you avoid disagreements or arguments for fear that your partner will withdraw their support?

·         Do you feel trapped in the relationship?

·         Are you or partner in a relationship that includes emotional or physical abuse?

·         Do you ignore your own morals or conscience in order to do what the other person wants?

·         Can each of you express and feel satisfaction about your emotions and needs with one another?

·         Do you enjoy outside interests, other friends, and hobbies without your partner?

·         Do you or your partner neglect other important areas of your life to please the other partner?

·         Do you feel worthless unless your partner is making extreme sacrifices for you?

·         Does your partner do anything to please and satisfy you, no matter what the expense to them?

·         Do you feel you must be needed by your partner in order to have any purpose in life?

·         Does the thought of not getting support or separating from your partner fill you with fear or dread?

·         Do friends, family or others close to you mention that they sense something is “off” with your relationship?

·         Do you or your partner believe you deserve to be mistreated, unhappy, or taken for granted?


Effects of a Codependent Relationship

Codependent relationships are often not sustainable. Eventually, tending to a partner consumes a lot of energy and interest may fade. A partner that keenly feels the other partner’s struggles can also feel guilty at the thought of limiting their help or terminating the relationship. That can lead to resentment.

You both may decide to stick together because of children, finances, the time you’ve invested, fear, shame, or inertia. A breakup can also cause extreme emotional pain to the needy partner; abandonment is often a big fear.


Effects on Your Personal Life

Codependency has effects not only within a relationship but outside of it: problems with other relationships, career, and everyday responsibilities.

·         It can be very difficult to extract yourself from the relationship because your own identity is so wrapped up in sacrificing yourself for your partner.

·         Codependency inhibits your maturity, life skills, and confidence.

·         It can reduce your motivation to change because it discourages normal functioning; you continue to need more love, care, and assistance from your partner. You are less able to cope with life’s challenges without them.


Breaking the Cycle of Codependency

Awareness and the willingness to change and grow are the starting points for breaking the codependency cycle and healing. Here are some pathways:

·         Recognize and stand up for your own wants and desires.

·         Know that you’re not responsible for anyone's happiness; just your own.

·         Relationships don’t shatter because of how you think your partner might respond and react. Stand up for and own your own feelings.

·         See yourself as reliant and capable of handling life’s slings and arrows yourself and act upon it.

·         Set up boundaries with your partner. Learn how to say no and accept when your partner says no.

·         Accept that your partner may not always agree with you. Try not to take that too much to heart.

·         Get help through counseling to learn communication and coping mechanisms in your relationship and how to be more independent.


 Healing Breakthroughs

When you can successfully achieve some healing breakthroughs, you will begin to see your relationship for what it is or what it can be. At that point, you can more honestly assess if what you two have together is good, feels right, and is a source of joy and happiness for you both. 

If you don’t see a light at the end of the codependency tunnel, it might be time for some relationship counseling to learn how to better understand yourself and how to walk away, if the relationship is not serving you.

How to Exit a Relationship Gracefully


Have you discovered that it’s time to go your own way? Exiting a relationship is probably one of the hardest things you’ll ever do … harder still, if the feeling isn’t mutual. Putting some careful thought into the process can save both of you some grief. Then you can walk away feeling good that you’ve made your intentions known, expressed your true feelings, and acted gracefully.


Show Some Heart

Just slip out the back, Jack

Make a new plan, Stan

You don't need to be coy, Roy

Just get yourself free

Hop on the bus, Gus

You don't need to discuss much

Just drop off the key, Lee

And get yourself free

          – from 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, by Paul Simon


Paul Simon probably wrote these lighthearted lyrics to his song in jest. Simon’s suggestions make for a catchy song, but when you’re dealing with matters of the heart, you’re much better off showing some “heart.”



Think about what your partner’s reaction might be in advance and prepare some gentle, heartfelt responses. If they’re totally caught by surprise, expect a lot of questions. The big one will be “Why?” Expect emotion. Expect tears. Expect rants. Expect drama. Expect bargaining. Expect the unexpected.

·         Prepare what you’re going to say but don’t deliver it like a script. Talk naturally.

·         Have the discussion somewhere where you can leave separately. A busy restaurant might seem impersonal and too public. A park or uncrowded coffee shop might be a better choice.

·         Have the discussion at the end of the work week or early in the weekend so your partner will have a day or so to recover a bit before having to go back to work. Give them some time to be able to function and act normally before they resume business as usual.

·         Let your partner be the first to know. Don’t discuss your intentions with anyone, as close as you might be to them. Your partner deserves to hear it first.

·         Design a strategy for separating your belongings, if you’re living together. Make arrangements to get your things out (or if they’re leaving, to get their stuff out) quickly. Have a friend with you.


What to Say

·         You’re opening statement will set the stage. Do it thoughtfully. Don’t accuse. Don’t be argumentative or rude.

·         If it feels right, begin with an expression of appreciation and love. You might say, “You have been a very special part of my life. We had some wonderful times.”

·         What NOT to say: “I can’t do this with you anymore.” “You’re horrible and I’m leaving.” “You caused this.”

·         Be clear about what’s not working in the relationship. Make neutral statements and “I” statements rather than “you” statements … something like this: “I haven’t been happy in our relationship in a while and I want to go my separate way.” Take responsibility.

·         Express your needs. Tell them you’re making a difficult but necessary decision to leave, that your decision has been carefully thought out, not something at the spur of the moment.

·         Let them talk. Listen. Don’t interrupt. Give them their say. Listen to their response sympathetically, but don’t get dragged down emotionally. Don’t turn the breakup into an argument. If they start name-calling, don’t take the bait and fight back.

·         Don’t agree to take a temporary time apart – unless you’re still not sure you’re making the right decision and might consider giving it another try. Otherwise, be determined.

·         If you’ve made a firm decision, don’t let your partner manipulate you into changing your mind or become rattled and unsure of yourself with a “guilt trip” or other emotional lures.

·         Don’t make trite statements like “Let’s stay friends.” Don’t give them false hope. Make a clean break.

If you have a new lover, don’t hide it, especially if they ask. Fess up. They’re going to find out anyway eventually.


How to Say It

·         Act with compassion. Don’t send an email, text, or phone call. Meet face-to-face. You owe it to your partner to look at them, eye-to-eye. Your eyes will also express your intent and determination.

·         Be honest but not blunt. Kindly state how you feel, in a positive way. Don’t bring up unnecessary remarks that might hurt their feelings. Don’t be mean or cruel.

·         Keep your voice soft and calm. Don’t turn it into a drama or a fight.

·         Accept that they will be hurt and may be angry. Understand their hurt; don’t add to it.


After the Breakup

Don’t trash your ex when talking to your friends, family, or anyone. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her singer/songwriter ex-husband Chris Martin made an amicable split a while back which made the news. They called their divorce a “conscious uncoupling.” They always say nice things about one another in public. They’re good role models for treating your ex with respect and honor.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t air your “dirty laundry” or share details or private feelings about your ex or the breakup on social media.


Give It Thought

Before you start the wheels in motion, give your decision to leave a lot of thought … not just about how you’re going to break it to your partner, but whether you’re making the right decision. If there's still a smidgeon of hope of recovering the relationship, look for ways to mend the breaks in the relationship. Talk. Suggest couples therapy.

Does Retirement Change the Relationship?


Just about everyone past a certain age dreams of retirement … just you and your sweetie, holding hands on the deck, looking out at the sunset, not a care in the world. But are your retirement years together with your partner or spouse all wine and roses? Some of my retirement-age clients say the equivalent of “Not so much.”

You may have had a long run with your partner or spouse with many years together. You both may have had demanding careers, a family to support, a house, and a couple of pets. You worked hard for your newfound freedom – or your partner did, if they are the sole designated “retiree” in the relationship. The kids are grown and off living their own lives.

Now one or both of you may have more time on your hands than you know what to do with. Retirement is a major life change. It can affect your relationship suddenly overnight or gradually over time in ways you might not have expected.


Clashing Visions

Retirement can mean different things for each individual. Everyone has their own version of what retirement means … and different expectations.

You may see retirement as an opportunity to spend months traveling, maybe excursions to other countries; he/she may want to spend a lot of time basking under the sun on the beach or staying home to putter in the garden. She/he may want to spend more hours lounging in bed in the morning while you like to ‘get up and at ‘em.”

During your working lives, you had a system, a routine. You each had defined tasks, certain times for meals, grocery shopping, household chores. Maybe those duties were based on what worked best according to each of your work schedules, the amount of available time each partner had available and when. Now that they’re retired, do they expect you to continue as before or do they offer to pitch in?

The realization that you and your mate don’t see eye-to-eye about living a retired life can bring on conflict. You may feel pressured or coaxed into conceding to their desires. Sometimes there’s the expectation that your partner’s primary focus and attention should be on you … especially when you’re newly retired.


Is Your Retired Mate Driving You crazy?

Are you psychologically prepared for her/his retirement, yours, or both? Are you feeling angry or resentful about the realities of retired living? Do you feel pressured or expected to surrender more of your personal time than you’d like to? Do you need more space? Feel smothered? Is there too much “togetherness”? Are you finding excuses to make yourself scarce?

Are you ticked off that your mate is interfering with what used to be your exclusive domain … for instance household responsibilities, financial decisions? Maybe it’s out of boredom or maybe it’s a carryover from their role at work?


Retirement Aftershock

Some people identify so much with their jobs and career that they feel useless or unproductive, or experience a drop in self-esteem when they no longer have to get dressed and go to work.

Sometimes health issues crop up and plans and dreams of what you’ll be doing in retirement are dashed when one partner develops a health condition that changes that plan radically.

Financial situations may change. Maybe you’re now on a reduced or fixed income, have to get used to living on savings instead of earned income. Adding to that is the issue that you and your partner may have different attitudes about how and where to spend money and how much should be spent in retirement. Maybe you didn’t used to think twice about spending on luxury items before and now you do. This may put pressure on how you enjoy your retirement years together. All this breeds tension and division.



Retirement can be the ultimate compatibility test. Maybe you discovered after a couple months or so of retirement that you don’t actually enjoy the time you spend with your mate. Busy working lives may have delayed that realization. Maybe you’re discovering that you have little in common or once did and have grown apart?

It’s possible you’ve learned to cope with your mate’s personality or certain behaviors because you spent so little time together while you were working that you failed to see how unhappy you are now that work is out of the picture? What If you had relationship problems even before retirement?

You may have had many years together, have children and grandchildren, and a growing extended family. Should you remain together out of obligation to support the family, or to keep the family unit intact? Is it a better option just staying on opposite sides of the house and avoiding each other rather than divorcing?


Retirement Relationship Strategies

To most of us, the concept of retirement planning relates to practical matters, of getting your financial house in order. What many retirees and prospective retirees forget is that the relationship itself is a critical part of that planning.

I recommend advance planning, communication, schedules, and compromise to the retirees and retirees-to-be that come to my office.

·         Expectations. Understand and talk about what each of you expects and wants out of this new stage in your life and relationship.

·         Plan a “dry run” before either of you retire. Carve out some time to spend 24/7 with each other and see what happens. Then set some ground rules.

·         Have separate pursuits in addition to common ones. Don’t feel you must be “joined at the hip.” It’s smothering.

·         Set boundaries. Carve out separate “territories” in the house that are exclusively yours/theirs, a place each of you can go to be by yourself when you feel like it, when you need to think, plan, need space for when you get on one another’s’ nerves.

·         Plan time away from each other. Consider separate vacations or outings. Go on a cruise with the girls. Guys, plan a hunting trip, golf outing, motorcycle trip (If you haven’t watched the movies City Slickers or Wild Hogs, put them on your watch list). Time apart can clear your head. See how you feel being apart for a week or two. It can clarify your feelings for one another.

·         Have a schedule. It can be a simple routine. Nothing carved in stone, because that’s no fun. Adding some structure to your day or week can ground you and help you accomplish the things you said you wanted to accomplish in retirement – the fun stuff and not-so-fun stuff.

·         Plan household responsibilities. Decide who does what so there’s a clear understanding.


Happily Ever After

So what’s it going to be? Will you live happily ever after together long into retirement or will you wallow in misery wondering why all the hoopla about being retired? It’s within your power to make it a happy ending.