End a Codependent Relationship the Healthy Way

by Melissa Karnaze

move forward in a healthy wayIt’s not a good idea to label yourself codependent, unless you plan to do something constructive about it.

Because labels don’t empower you; they reinforce the undesired effect.

Codependency is, however, a label of our time. So many facets of society are codependent. It’s usually synonymous with romance, too.

Codependency is so ubiquitous that first of all, it’s hard to recognize. Secondly, it’s hard to end it — the healthy way.

How to determine if a relationship is codependent

You need to do three things to determine if a relationship you’re in is codependent:

    1. Educate yourself on codependency
    Learn about what codependency is, and why it’s so fatal. If you’re looking for helpful books on the topic, I recommend Codependent No More by Melody Beattie, and Co-Dependence: Misunderstood–Mistreated, by Anne Wilson Schaef. You need to educate yourself until you have a working definition of codependency in your own words that you understand and cannot misinterpret. So that you can then measure your life experience against that definition, in step #2.
    2. Be honest about how you relate to others and yourself
    Understanding codependency at an intellectual level doesn’t do you much good. You have to be willing to see traces of it in your own life and behavior. And you have to be willing to acknowledge all of your emotions, even if you’ve trained yourself to stuff them for years. You need to recognize your codependent behaviors so that you can choose more functional and healthier ones.

It’s natural to go back and forth between self-education and self-honesty; each informs the other.

    3. Be mindful of how you use the label
    The whole point of using the label “codependency” is to quickly identify dysfunctional behaviors and assertively reprogram them. In other words, the whole point is so that you take care of yourself. It’s empowering to refer to the label only when you’re ready to move on from it. (We’ll cover how to determine when you’re ready in a later section.) Keep in mind that codependency can have strong connotations that can easily place you as powerless, bad, victim or weak. If you label yourself as such, it will only cause you more grief and prevent you from taking care of yourself and getting in touch with your true power — which is essential for ending a codependent relationship.

You need to use the label wisely to ensure that you’re being constructive with it. Step #3 impacts both #1 and #2.

Hints for determining if a relationship is codependent

Codependent relationships are virtually everywhere. (Especially in Disney princess movies and cheesy chick flicks.)

Here are twelve signs that you’re relating to someone in your life codependently:

    • You feel like you cannot live without the other person. As in, you’re certain you wouldn’t have any reason to go on (even after recovering from the heartbreak).
    • You’re convinced you need the other person to be happy. Yes, we all need to be connected to people in order to be happy (that makes us human). But there’s no one person that you absolutely need in order to breathe (unless it’s a rare and extreme situation).
    • You feel trapped by the relationship, and that if you do something for yourself (like change or grow), you’ll be horrible for abandoning them.
    • You feel guilty about moving on from the person, because after all, they’ve done so much for you in the past. And they’d crumble up and wither away with you.
    • You want to save the other person in some way. You’re certain that you’re the best person for the job of savior because you love and truly understand them. But the person doesn’t want saving, is resistant to your help, or acts like they care but then continually sabotages all your efforts.
    • You tolerate mistreatment or abuse from the other person because you love them too damn much, and you’re stronger than this, better than this. It’s a royal rationalization.
    • You repeatedly tell yourself that if you hang on long enough, they’ll change, take your advice, see the light, and finally love you the way you deserve. And boy when that happens, it will have been worth it, because they will be gold. In the meantime though, it’s back to living hell.
    • You feel as if you can never stop the other person from hurting you — that you have a life sentence of pain and betrayal. And you might even make excuses for why you deserve this treatment, or at least have to put up with it.
    • You feel like you can never get out of the relationship. Meaning, if you tell the other person to leave you alone, they will pester you and try to leech themself back into your life until they’ve succeeded or made life so miserable for you that it ends in a volcanic emotional eruption.
    • You have mixed feelings about the person on a regular basis. You simultaneously love and hate them. Or you feel empowered yet disempowered by the relationship. That’s your being in denial of the bad times, and hoping that the good times will make them go away — which won’t happen.
    • You’re depressed or sad for no reason. That is until you’re off on your own or with other people who care about you and respect your boundaries.
    • You cry uncontrollably for no reason. You’ve gotten so out of touch with the pain that you can’t name it anymore and it violently thrashes your body.
    • You continually fantasize about life without the other person. Or you can’t stop from dreaming about it in your sleep.
    • You start to develop addictions that before weren’t an issue. And when you’re away from the person, suddenly it’s a non-issue.

What it takes to end a codependent relationship

Knowing how codependency manifests in your own life is not a good enough reason to end the relationship. In fact, knowledge will never be enough motivation to do so.

The motivation has to come from your gut, your pain.

You’ll need to be pushed and pricked and shoved so hard — that you finally recognize how toxic the situation is.

And the only way to recognize that, is through your anger.

In order to end a codependent relationship, you need to be intimately connected to your anger. Your anger gives you the fuel to reclaim yourself after you’ve continually given yourself away.

Why connecting to your anger is key

Codependency comes from a lack of boundaries.

Read the literature enough, you’ll see that all the symptoms trace back to lack of physical, mental, psychological, or emotional boundaries. Which usually originates from the family environment.

Codependency comes from believing that you need to be connected to a dysfunctional person that treats you in dysfunctional ways — for whatever reason. And it comes from being so sure that you can’t lay down a boundary because if you do, the sky will fall and you can forget about ever being happy again.

Anger, on the other hand, is nature’s signal that a boundary has been encroached upon, or violated.

When you listen to your anger, form a bond with it, and work with it constructively — you naturally pay more attention to your boundaries or lack of them. And you set and maintain healthy boundaries to protect yourself.

And guess what? That kind of behavior is the complete opposite of codependency.

Codependency is all about boundaries

Relationships are only healthy when both individuals have healthy personal boundaries.

When the personal boundaries aren’t healthy, break down, or don’t exist — it’s a codependent relationship.

When the boundaries are healthy, breathable, and strong — it’s an interdependent relationship.

So the key to ending a codependent relationship is using your anger to set and maintain healthy personal boundaries that protect your livelihood and well-being.

How not to end a codependent relationship

But simply getting in touch with your anger and being cognizant of the boundaries you lack, do have, and desperately need — still isn’t enough.

Well, it’s enough to end a codependent relationship, but not enough to end it the healthy way.

Here’s how not to end a codependent relationship (unless it’s a life-threatening situation or you have no other choice), because it’s ultimately unhealthy:

    • Blaming it all on the other person’s dysfunctions before distancing yourself
    • Cutting the other person out of your life without first telling them how you feel wronged by them
    • Cutting the other person out of your life without warning, ultimatum, or giving them a chance to work with you first
    • Deliberately hurting them in the process of ending it; it can’t be about revenge and still be healthy
    • Not being direct with them about why you’re ending it, but trying to be nice to protect their feelings instead
    • Ending it in a passive aggressive way — that is, doing it in a roundabout but surefire way that’s supposedly less painful to them, you, or both of you (but not)
    • Having someone else end it for you
    • Simply running away

Why ending a codependent relationship — the healthy way — is tricky

Ending a codependent relationship in any of the above ways isn’t healthy and can actually do more damage than good.

That’s because it’s setting a boundary (i.e. ending the relationship) in such a way that’s motivated by fear. Like fear of sticking around and being continually let down.

You can’t set a boundary because of fear and expect for it to last. Or expect for it to be sensible or well-reasoned in the first place. Very rarely do fear-based decisions end up as constructive ones.

But there’s also a deeper fear that’s involved when ending the relationship in one of the above ways.

Don’t fall back into codependency at the last minute

Let’s back up a few steps.

Once you’ve educated yourself on codependency and noticed your codependent patterns, you’ve done something pretty amazing.

You’ve transformed your awareness and how you relate to yourself.

And as a direct result of this, you’ve transformed how you view the other person. You can no longer see them as your only hope for love and/ or happiness. You can no longer paint them as a saint, or a damsel in distress.

Instead, you see the other person as someone who is not very healthy in how they behave or how they treat you. Now you have to be very careful here. Because you can easily see them as the enemy. The reason that you got so messed up. The trigger for your pain. Guilty, while you’re innocent.

For a time, that’s the healthiest thing to do — early on. Not when you’re about to end the relationship. But when you’re still figuring things out and emoting.

You also have to be careful because you can convince yourself that you’re now above codependency. Which makes you see the other person as unhealthy with the disease — and you exempt.

This is the trap of healing from codependency — ending the relationship in an abrupt and emotional way in order to get rid of the “problem” (the other person, who’s codependent). Without acknowledging and taking response ability for how you co-created or enabled that problem in the first place. And possibly breaking your heart in the process. Or doing something that you won’t be able to undo later on and will regret for the rest of your life.

If you try to banish the trigger, you may have gotten rid of the person, but you haven’t healed the problem.

You’re problem. That you’re still codependent because frankly, you don’t know how to end it without doing it in one of the above unhealthy ways.

How to end a codependent relationship the healthy way

You end a codependent relationship, the healthy way, by transforming your behavior.

A relationship requires two people.

A codependent relationship automatically ends when you stop relating to the other person in codependent ways — regardless of whether you actually “end” the relationship, or if it naturally falls apart.

A codependent relationship automatically ends when you develop a healthy, working relationship with your anger (in other words, yourself) and use that relationship as a springboard for creating and maintaining sound personal boundaries that protect you.

If you’re trying to end it in a more dramatic way — by cutting things off — it’s actually codependent.

Avoid codependency relapse by staying with your pain

Because you’re trying to control the situation. You’re trying to end your pain with force.

The whole point of healing from codependency is to finally feel your pain! To finally listen not only to your anger, but the deep wounds that lurk beneath it.

So don’t get rid of the other person just to avoid being reminded of how much they have hurt you, how vulnerable you are, and how horribly you can be hurt — for the rest of your entire life. Just work on yourself instead. Keep your relationship with you strong, and your other relationships will naturally fall into place.

The gift of codependency

End a codependent relationship not by focusing on separating from the other person, but by reconnecting with who you are.

When you really heal from codependency, you see the frailty of humanity. You see how delicate you are, and how chaotic and dangerous that means life can be.

But in the end, that makes you stronger. And it gives you the power to love yourself and others with a strength you otherwise wouldn’t have.

This is the fourth article in the series, “Codependency and You.” (Not to be confused with the article category: “Codependency.”) Are there any other articles on the topic that you’d like to see?

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Miranda Cruz July 9, 2010 at 3:45 am

It’s just hard ending a relationship. The emotional attachment is just too much.

Anon July 9, 2010 at 3:52 am

Yes, I have had these relationships and ended them. I kept finding more of them because I was never able to get to the source of what trained me to be like that in the first place (a horrifically abusive childhood). This is why I get so irate when people bash ‘negative’ emotions like anger. I had to embrace my anger, feel the RAGE and understand on a very deep level what happens to someone inside when they are not allowed to maintain boundaries. When I did that, I developed a sort of ‘radar’ to spot and avoid violent and manipulative people. I don’t like passive aggressives and encountering them can sometimes set me off and then I become kind of foul-mouthed and offensive (but I’m very direct about it and not in the least bit wishy-washy). Because I want them to know they can’t use that kind of dishonesty with me lest I get all up in their face with the facts. For some reason, what I have written here makes me think of your post ‘Crass Before Class’. Right on!

Melissa Karnaze July 9, 2010 at 8:35 am

Miranda, I hear you. That’s why sometimes “ending” the relationship isn’t the best aim. Ending your own dysfunctional behaviors really is the issue, and it just may be enough to transform the relationship or make it easier to end, if that must be done.

Anon, crass on. :P

“I had to embrace my anger, feel the RAGE and understand on a very deep level what happens to someone inside when they are not allowed to maintain boundaries.”

Yes, it’s a very disturbing discovery. People who bash negative emotions have no idea how destructive they are being not only to those around them — but to themselves.

The hardest part is taking that first step — beyond all the guilt that comes with being angry. But after you work at it, you become increasingly resilient over time, with radars and contingency plans at your disposal. Thanks for sharing your experience!

Chris Edgar July 11, 2010 at 7:16 am

Hi Melissa — I like that way of putting it — labeling the other person a “toxic person” or an “energy vampire” and pushing them away doesn’t heal the underlying problem, which is your own lack of respect for your boundaries. One exercise I’ve found very useful, when my own boundaries are feeling shaky, is to practice saying “no!” loudly, and get reconnected with that fiery part down in my stomach. :)

Melissa Karnaze July 13, 2010 at 8:40 am

These terms are powerful because they get our attention — but for what? I think the people who use them in a repeatedly aggressive or attention-getting manner haven’t really come to terms with those kinds of people in their lives. In a way, they want to recruit others to judge the aggressors as bad.

But the whole point of the labels is to get perspective on the problem — to like you said, realize “your own lack of respect for your boundaries” and then take response ability for yourself.

I’ve used that exercise too, it’s a great way to remind yourself that you have the ability to say no, even when it doesn’t feel like it!

June July 22, 2010 at 7:02 pm

I’m in the midst of a 5 yr codie relationship. We’ve broken up to many times to count.
He’s a recovery alcoholic (2 yrs) and I was in Al Anon.
I always want to run away when I can’t take it anymore and today, I am closer than ever to leaving. I feel like I’m becoming indifferent. But if I’m going to leave (again), I want to do it right and never come back.
Great article and great comments.

rhonda January 9, 2011 at 5:57 pm

this was the best article by far i found on ending a co dependent unhealthy relationships. i really appreciated it . i have been in a relationship for over 2 years, my boyfriend drinks heavily and it has caused us both numerous problems, dui’s for him, broken computer for me, and he almost killed my daughters dog also . very destructive unhappy behaviors. mostly he has made himself sick and almost died twice now. this last time he was out of the hospital 4 days and started drinking again. his family pointed out that i was actually helping him in his destructive behavior by always rescuing ,and right now i feel drained , tired , and lost , but after reading this article i feel a new hope too . that i can understand what our relationship was , and how to move on with my life. and if the relationship ends in the growing process then it was not meant to be.. thank you for this article

Samantha Brooks June 30, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Thank you ever so much, I found this very edifying. Today I had to let my lover go, I had a symbiotic and co-dependent relationship with him for 3 years. I am an artist and writer, and it was so bad, that if this person did not give me any endearments or show me they loved me and needed me, I could not write a sentence, or pick up a paintbrush. It was so very painful. I know it will get easier, but I know I am still a co-dependent, but the beauty is I am also self-aware, and that is what still keeps me earthed, but I have a journey ahead. This was very cathartic, I thank you.

Mary February 8, 2012 at 5:45 pm

This article was great. I wish that I had read it before I ended my relationship. It was a whirlwind, but I truly believe that my partner was emotionally unavailable from the beginning. I just didn’t want to see it. Sad, It would have been so much easier to just be honest from the start. There are certain things that I will definitely look out for next time…no more addictions, no more unhappy people, no more negativity. I will run run run away from that. I promise myself to take my time and take care of me. I thank God I found this article.

John February 29, 2012 at 5:37 pm

An outstanding article. Since so many of us have ended codependent relationships in a bad way, I’d like to point out how important that experience is for ending relationships in a healthy way. Without the pain of turning a codependent opportunity into “more of the same” when leaving ( blaming directly or indirectly the other and not seeing taking care of ourselves as the root cause), there could be no breaking of denial. More pain breaks denial. Doing it wrong is necessary to get to the gut level motivation.

Also, a better understanding of how a “romantic” partner is always a projection of a key figure that we haven’t left yet…from our family of origin.

Your writing on this subject is really good. You’ve been there.

Jill Smith April 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Yes, it was a good article. But it’s not enough to read it. I’m stuck and I know I’m stuck. I feel powerless and yet know I have immense power. I’m a codependant person and I know exactly where it originates from and why. And the trick will be not wanting it anymore. Because right now, I do. How could I not. It’s all I know. It’s where I’m comfortable. Even though that comfort is incredibly uncomfortable. If that makes any sense. I would agree that you have to go about things in a healthy way. This will be tricky as nothing about this deal has been healthy at all. Particularly me. We shall see where my strenght takes me. So often it feels big, and then somehow just fades away.

SFtulip April 6, 2012 at 8:10 am

Great article… so enlightening on so many levels. You really talk to the heart of codependency… my journey has taken me 12 years to really understand all that you said, and the light bulb, so to speak just lit up a week ago. In my readings and beginning of this recovery stage, I’m worried about how to be a healthy parent (so as not to teach or pass on codependency generationally) _while_ recovering as a codependent. I know that sounds like a “codependent” thing to think about, but honestly, I want to recover and am working on it, but I feel like so many of my innate responses and habits in speaking really subconsciously pass on codependent behavior. I’m aware of it, so that’s step one, but any suggestions of workable phrases or behaviors to help me change my ways and not pass on codependent behavior would help me feel on the “right” route in the meantime. Thank you so much.

David April 7, 2012 at 2:00 am

I think I could spend my whole life trying to get to the root of the problem . after years in recovery for addictions including some time spent at coda (which I found could be unhealthy personally,) and a good therapist, i’ve learned a lot but I find myself in a deeply unhappy situation where the person i’m involved with won’t leave my house. I hope that re-finding my boundaries and trying to take care of myself could lead me out of these woods, along with some self-honesty. I’m really glad I stumbled across your blog, by the way. Your posts on mindfulness and listening to your anger are really helpful. All the more so because the so called negative emotions are widely misreresented in articles. As well as that, its really important to hear about the other side of mindfulness, something I could sort of see but needed your blog for the crystal clarity.

JLJ April 8, 2012 at 2:50 am

David Funny How we both Found ourselves on the same blog….lol

Mando Stevens May 18, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Yes,im pleased to read some helpful things on Codenpendecy.I have this listening ear for critical problems stemming from all sorts of behaviours,i was particularly pleased about affriming ourselves about this problem and identify that,so we delve deeper into its understanding for overcoming codependency,with ourselves to help deal with ander and pain.i was going through teenage life and parental relationships ,using a mindset i believed was a core believer in sight to hearing others shift their mindsets to achieve in life ,not knowing stages the effects it has on me emotionally as well as psycologically too.thnaks 4sharing,ms.,blessya

Sam July 16, 2012 at 6:34 pm

This is a very good artical. I was almost expecting to see the word(s) LOA coming up in the writing. Thank you for posting such an article – I assume that it will help me to get on my own feet. Many things I already know or knew. Other things I already did. It was hard for me to read about that I am the one who is also codependent(!) because I wanted to blame it all an my partner. Off course I know I am also in the same boat. But I kinda wanted to just leave the paragraph out…
I like in special how you the author say(s) to care for myself and to not just run away. It all makes very sense to me. Thank you very much for the reminder…

gem July 22, 2012 at 2:47 am

Thank you so much for this. I am in the darkest place in my relationship and I finally found some helpful advice. I can’t tell you enough how thankful I am for sharing your thoughts on this.

Lisa August 10, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Thank you so much for this article. It is very helpful for me as I am in the process of changing my own codependent behaviours and setting boundaries, which will inevitably change or end at least one of my significant relationships. I have not gotten in touch with my anger and rage; these emotions are difficult for me to access and actually frighten me when they do. I will try to do this, but I wonder also if it’s possible to simply move away peacefully, thanking the codependency for teaching you what you needed to learn, and committing to loving and protecting yourself in the future. I feel very peaceful and comfortable in where I am going; I am not currently angry at those who have been codependent with me because I take responsibility for what I have allowed the relationship to be. I am not blaming others; I am accepting responsibility and moving on. Again, thank you; this was so very helpful.

Ju September 23, 2012 at 8:33 am

This is just what I needed. It is what I have been thinking in bits and pieces but to see it altogether in black and white is so helpful. I need to remember that it is my lack of boundaries that has led me into such a dysfunctional relationship. It is so easy to criticise my emotionally unavailable partner but looking at his faults leads to thoughts of him changing which is one of the sickest parts of my codependent behaviour. I want to focus on myself and loving myself and building up my boundaries. I’m sure my partner will leave me then in the way you mention above, without all of the ‘am I doing the right thing’ doubts that I am currently having. I have always taken responsibility for the relationship, at least now I know that I don’t have to take all the responsibility for the break-up as well. I am so happy that I can concentrate on me and things should come to a natural end. Thanks so much for this :)

zee October 18, 2012 at 6:07 am

My goodness Melissa!!
What an article that was!!
It has every little bit down to a precision..
loved reading it..
God bless you :)

Sandy October 21, 2012 at 10:12 am

I found this site after searching for ways to end a codependent relationship. After truly understanding what codepedency is, I know I am codependent in my relationships. I find men that I think I can fix, or that will change, and in the meantime, I am absolutely miserable. I have sacrificed all aspects of my life for my current relationship, my finances, my emotional well being, my physical being. The reward is so little and yet I stay. Why? I tell myself there are no men out there without issues but maybe that is only because I have experience with men with issues. I don’t know other people in normal healthy functioning relationships, where are they? This article was informative but I will have to become more knowledgeable about this topic because I want my relationships to be better. My therapist says I should try like the movie and get a plant. If I can keep it alive for a year, I am ready. I have never been able to keep a plant alive. So maybe there is some truth to that.

jaquie October 24, 2012 at 8:56 am

I have just come from a 20 year relationship and trying to build a life now without the chaos is so daunting and i have been questioning myself why I miss him so much, I definately feel like a baby starting to walk. when someone mentioned codependency I decided to google it and found this website. I really think this will help me on my road to recovery along with Al Anon. Thank you

Kate November 5, 2012 at 1:40 am

I am co-dependent. My therapist mentioned it sounded like me and my partner were codependent and I thought, well isn’t everyone reliant on others to a degree. Then I researched what it actually meant and was so shocked and surprised at what co-dependency actually means. I tick all the boxes. To be honest, I am so scared because I am so sick of hurting and feeling all this pain. I look back on my life and see failed relationship after failed relationship – funnily enough, those failed relationships are friendships. My romantic relationships are okay in the sense that people like me romantically but friendships I struggle to maintain. I still can’t work that one out. As much as I try, that is something I don’t quite get. My romantic relationships leave me feeling unsatisfied and resentful. Some guys try to “fix” me and tell me how to live my life. They pin me in a box where I feel timid and trapped. Like I can’t solve my own problems without them – I realise that I allow them to behave like this by not setting boundaries. Co-dependence is new to me so I really have no idea what is going on but I am here reading and researching almost non-stop because I want to live a life of happiness. I don’t feel like I will ever be happy but I would rather keep searching for inner peace than feel like this all the time.

Ava November 11, 2012 at 8:04 pm

This was a new way of viewing codependency for me. I’ve been in one on and off for 10 yrs now. Like others, we broke up innumerable times but I finally ended it after 3 1/2 yrs when I went abroad. But it was the unhealthy way of ending the relationship – I blocked him, didn’t tell him I was leaving, and just ran literally to the other side of the world to stay away from him. However, on returning home we got emotionally involved for a year… then I left again to another country for work and managed to numb myself to him for 3 years but gave in to his constant messages last year and now… I feel so stuck. He’s the only one I’ve ever been in a relationship with – growing up I always wanted my first to be my last just like my mom and maybe that fuels it? But I know I have so many other issues personally and it’s just difficult finding help for it apart from the net. Asia doesn’t really offer counselling like the US does and where I am right now, they don’t even speak English. Anyway, thank you for the article. Hopefully I’ll find the strength to end the reltp in a healthy way…if ever I really do. And funnily enough – we’ve been long distance 95% of our 5-6 yrs of being together. I don’t know anymore if he’s really at fault or if I really am responsible for the pain he’s been through.. Anyway, sorry long msg. Thank you though. :)

411 November 19, 2012 at 2:42 am

I went from this”You want to save the other person in some way. You’re certain that you’re the best person for the job of savior because you love and truly understand them. But the person doesn’t want saving, is resistant to your help, or acts like they care but then continually sabotages all your efforts”
to this:”You feel like you can never get out of the relationship. Meaning, if you tell the other person to leave you alone, they will pester you and try to leech themself back into your life until they’ve succeeded or made life so miserable for you that it ends in a volcanic emotional eruption. ”
and now to this…
“So the key to ending a codependent relationship is using your anger to set and maintain healthy personal boundaries that protect your livelihood and well-being.”
and now this..
” codependent relationship automatically ends when you develop a healthy, working relationship with your anger (in other words, yourself) and use that relationship as a springboard for creating and maintaining sound personal boundaries that protect you.”

I have said no more to someone who has used me to dump on and not care at all how it affected me. I desire to stay firm in this decision and get on with my life.

Lu December 16, 2012 at 8:14 am

Dear Melissa

What an excellent article. Thank you. The facts written with understanding. The truth not sugar coated. The purpose not to give information but to effect change. This was so clearly stated in the opening sentence. Dont label yourself co-dependent if you are not prepared to do something about it.

You article is very empowering. It gave me insights and ways to move forward – 1) to realise one’s role in enabling inapproprate behaviour because we (I) tolerate it. 2) To set boundaries to protect the “spontaneous” you, 3) to channel the emotional energy into something constructive – instead of crushed helpless victim’s cry “why me” to boundary bouncer’s war cry ” how dare you!” 4) That the focus should not just be on leaving , but healing the problem (and Me) 5) that co-dependency (not necessarily the realationship) ends when you set your boundaries. But also that heathy boundaries may end the relationship.

Desiring a healthy happy marriage and/or emotional life, is not selfish. But I have to face nothing will change ( not even he!!!) unless I do so do first , nobody else will “rescue” me or is responsible for behaviour changes required for healthy relationship. It is up to me. Going from empowering articles and insights will require taking responsibility for protecting myself and my children and perseverence, patience, persistance, practice. I wish I had read this article 18 years ago…

I don’t know where taking responsibility for my emotional well-being will lead. Will it eventually pave the way to a healthy marriage? That will be worth a shot.
Or will it sink the ship? At least then I will not be sinking with it.

PS A note for other readers – Boundaries in Marriage and Changes that Heal by Dr Henry Cloud has given me insights into what boundaries are and healthy effective ways to respond when they are not respected.

Rob January 9, 2013 at 10:42 am

Hi, Melissa,

Thanks so much for this article and others. I have found them to be revelatory and wonderfully helpful for coming to terms with my own tendency toward engaging in codependent relationships.

I am currently coming to terms with “friendships” that no longer make sense to me. I have been experiencing resistance to them in ways that are surprising me because the relationships were never a question before. In getting in touch with the resistance, I’m realizing how much of the so-called friendships–there are three that I can think of at the moment–were based on a desire to please the other person, or for feeling sorry for the other person. I can’t say for sure that the friendships were based on mutuality.

I’m not quite sure how to approach the relationships now in light of this realization, and the resistance I’m feeling toward them. You mention that when we start being true to ourselves the relationships naturally ‘fall apart.’ Yet I feel as though a conversation with the other person may be in order, as well. I’m not sure how to be true to myself without distancing myself from the other person, which you seem to suggest is another form of codependency. And I don’t know how to distance without having a conversation.

In dating relationships, I’ve always been big on writing long letters (often by e-mail) that then involve a painful follow-up conversation in person or on the phone, wherein I struggle to honestly express myself (though I ultimately do so through the stuttering and stammering to say what it is I mean to say). This has often been followed by a string of further correspondences (often by e-mail and text) that finally lead, after some faltering and wishy-washiness, to me saying, “No more,” and essentially cutting the other person out of my life altogether…

But as for friendships… It feels almost more difficult because there is a long-established bond that’s been established. I feel like I am betraying the other person. That I have in a sense lied to the other person. A lot of shame and guilt tied up in the process of ultimately letting go–of the person and the shame/guilt.

All that said, to return to my basic question: How does one end a friendship that no longer feels authentic? Does it require a conversation? What does it look like practically speaking? Do I stop contacting the other person? Do I tell the person how I feel?? Your article is helpful, but I feel as though you could say more to what ending a codependent relationship the healthy way looks like concretely…

I’d appreciate any insight you can offer.

Thank you!

Rob

Sydney January 13, 2013 at 1:17 pm

This article was extremely helpful to me. For the past two years I’ve been in a very unhealthy relationship. Co-dependent… I put all the blame on myself. I felt like I couldn’t live without this person. He was my life line. If he didn’t respond to me or say “I love you” I would crawl in bed until I finally heard from him. My happiness depended on his behavior. I wanted to make it work so badily, that I stuck it out. We broke up a few times and would get back together. Since I thought he was everything I could ever want, (successful, good looking, charming, wealthy etc) , losing him was the end of the world to me. Where would I find someone else like that? This relationship had brought out my weaknesses instead of strengths. I feel vulnerable and weak . I go along with things he wants to do to make him happy, and end up resenting him later on. I know it’s time to finally break away. I need to focus on myself now. And learn to love myself and set boundaries so this doesn’t happen again.

Toby March 4, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Enlightening article to say the least. Your insight is greatly appreciated as I am working on my issues after a breakup. I’m working on my self in terms of discontinuing drug & alcohol abuse, new found motivation to take care of personal issues affecting my life, positive thinking etc. My concern is that I still have the illusion that I love this woman (I do) and wish to spend the rest of my life with her. I can’t afford professional help and can only hope these feelings will diminish as time progresses. We’ve been separate for 4 months. Perhaps I’m delusional in the hope that we can reconcile at some point.

Hank Coats March 7, 2013 at 9:58 am

This was the most helpful article on codependent relationships I’ve ever run across. Thanks to the author(s) for such a thoughtful, real-world, and frank article. I don’t know the outcome of the course I have set in motion, but I will say that this article gave me inspiration to begin a process that I have needed to begin for years- in a constructive, rather than destructive, manner. Honesty, especially in regards to yourself, is a lot harder than you’d expect.

Again, heart-felt thanks.

Sarah March 12, 2013 at 1:06 pm

I am going to re-read this article again and again until it all sinks in. I have been re-living a nightmare over and over again because of my childhood. What a frank and honest narrative.

Thank you,
Sarah

Jasmine March 31, 2013 at 10:48 am

Can somebody explain what the “boundaries” are exactly. I don’t quite understand when we speak of boundaries. I have just become aware of the co dependency relationship that I am in.
Thanks

A friend April 1, 2013 at 8:01 am

This is an incredible article that helped me tremendously. Thank you for writing it.

LetsSayJohn April 2, 2013 at 9:22 am

I’m a taken aback by this. Why is there no section on “how to fix a co-dependent relationship”? If the person you’re with is independent and is trying to encourage independence in the one that is co-dependent, then why is that not brought up?

Mia April 22, 2013 at 6:45 am

Hello LetsSayJohn,

I read your reply with interest. For me the reason there is a “how-to-fix-a-codpenendent-relationship”-section in this article. It is the part about healthily ending a codependent relationship by not acting as a codependent anymore. From what I read in the last few months about this matter and by exploring myself I came to the conclusion that there is rarely a relationship where one is co-dependent and the other totally healthy or as you say interdependent. The co-dependent is basically in the relationship cause s/he got a complimentory (co-)dependent person in it whose needs the co-dependent can try to “fulfill” by care-taking.

And as you state in your question, I think that the independent person can’t “fix” the co-dependent one cause the fact that s/he tries to fix somebody else by default means the person is not really independent. That realization sucked worst for me, I think. You cannot fix somebody’s problems including somebody’s co-dependency. You can only fix your own problems. The co-dependent person has to learn himself. Can you help? Yes, by ending your own (co-)dependent behaviours in the relationship. If the co-dependent person tries to do something for you, you can do yourself? Say: Thank you. Nice offer. I will do it myself though. If the co-denpendent is worried about your business? Say: I appreciate your concern. But I can handle the situation myself.

For a co-dependent these things are hard to heae. Like “What do you meannn you don’t need my help???”. For them it is like rejection. To face that I’d prolly say: You know, I am sorry you feel rejected. That is not my intention. I am glad I have a caring friend like you. I do think though it is better when we each mind our own stuff. If I need advice, I will ask you.

You can say it gently and with a nice voice. It does not have to be like all abrupt and “brutal”.

That is just my personal opinion. I am still learning myself though. And it is hard.

Mia

anoushka May 14, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Great article!
I would love to read an article on just the opposite of codependency: fear of commitment – how do I recognize if I have commitment issues? What is under that fear? Do I really need to live in a relationship/couple or is it just an other social expectation?
I love your website, thanks for your effort!

L.

Alfred May 24, 2013 at 3:30 am

This is soooo true. Nailed me. Fell in codependent love and didn’t see all this coming. So wanted this relationship to work and here’s the reason it’s over, in black and white. I can see I’ve got work to do. I’m hurting, and I have influcted hurt. Booked myself in with a therapist, and I can see by reading this, there is a long road ahead.

Shirley June 19, 2013 at 5:30 pm

I just ended my marriage of 23 years- half of which was laced with codependency and alcoholism. Most days it’s wonderful to come home to a peaceful home and be at ease with what my new life looks and feels like. Other days it’s filled with sadness over the losses. But everyday I focus on taking care of me and getting healthy again. I just attended my first Codependent Anonymous meeting, and tomorrow I meet with a counselor. Though it’s not covered by my insurance, I made the decision that I was worth the hourly fee to get healthy. For those separated or divorce, I recommend DivorceCare which is a 12 week class to help with the emotional side of divorce. I attended the class and it gave me the foundation to put myself on the path to recovery. Without that class, I would be a mess.
I saw one article online that said something like “if you can imagine your future and how good your life will become again, you can overcome the sadness you feel today.” Carry on and you’ll make it too.

Margaret August 20, 2013 at 6:32 am

I love this article. My teen daughter was an addict. After 5 years of trying to “fix” the problem, my husband and I decided to be codependent no longer. We were in a fight to save ourselves and our other children. We realized the best way we could show our love for her was to allow her to “live in her own reality”. We took the chance of never seeing her again. We had her move out and after 6 months of doing whatever she had to do, she decided that she wanted a better life. We practice our Al-Anon training daily. She is committed to her recovery, and we applaud her for that. We live and breath: We didn’t cause it, we can’t control it and we definitely cannot cure it.

Someone September 9, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Reading this article has helped me make some peace and hopefully soon will bring strength for me to end a friendship that I realize isn’t good for me. I am hurting way too much and slowly realizing that the guy I thought was a true friend, never was one. My emotions and feelings for him (crush) made me have blinders on and miss many red flags.

Joyce September 10, 2013 at 11:58 am

I am just now trying to get out of a codependent relationship.It is so hard because he is like an addiction to me. I realize it is an unhealthy relationship and have left. I have not cut all contact from him but am setting boundaries as far as how I will be treated if he wants to have me in his life at all.

Sydney September 10, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Hey everyone – a great way to end codependency is to get involved in your local SLAA organization. (Sex, love addicts ,aneorectics, anonymous). For years I kept wondering why counseling never helped me stop codependent behavior . This program has been a life saver and its worked better than any therapist I’ve gone too. If you are codependent , than you are most likely a love addict. It all goes together. Addicted to the feeling of love, intensity, and even the negativity. A cycle that repeats itself over and over until you understand your love addiction and work the 12 steps to improve yourself. http://www.slaalosangeles.org/currentmeetings.html

jeff October 10, 2013 at 5:19 am

Took me a harassment charge and 90 days in jail to realize the relationship was toxic. For 6+ years I put up with a lot of abuse. I’ve always been attracted to people who have been abused. It stems back to us trying to save my mom. She was ill for most of our lives and we always tried to save her and my dad.

The 6+ year relationship was one of wild roller coasters. At first, I was very independent, but then in the last 2-3 years I became codependent. Trying to please her and rescue her. Her father left her at a young age and her mom was narcistic (used the kids to better herself).
We danced the perfect narcisstic-codependent dance in that she would blow up (punch, kick, bite, yell, scream and/or sucide notes) then I would come back like a little puppy dog rescueing the relationship. I became very dependent upon this cycle, but after a while I stopped fighting. I turned my back when she wanted to fight, this seemed as though I was ignoring her. The relationship broke down horribly.
I felt lost and abandoned. The walls were high, but I still managed to jump over them for the past 8 months. We would get together then she would blow up. I would rescue the relationship. Then the big wall went up, she called the cops. I still jumped over the walls, but got in trouble. Big trouble.
I’m now really really really scrwed if I try to jump over this enormous wall to rescue her.

codependency is such a powerful powerful thing… the need to rescue others.
Arggg, so very frustrating and detrimental.
(can lead to jail time, record, illness etc…)

Someone October 22, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Hi Jeff, I wish you peace and hope you are healing well so this woman and that unhealthy dynamic don’t ruin you. Are you in counseling? You have much pain and confusion from your childhood so I do hope you can deal with that, put it to rest so one day you can be in a happy and healthy relationship. You deserve happiness and love and peace!

Jaydee November 7, 2013 at 11:40 pm

I have known for a while I am in a co-dependent relationship for a year. I started off being a strong independent woman, but, he couldn’t cope with my strong personality. To prevent a breakup I changed, being totally submissive. Now, he finds me too clingy. Just can’t win. It’s his way or no way. What made it worse was he would jump from one thing to another, one minute he wanted me around, then he would want his space, he wants to move in together, then runs when I start talking about it.

I really want to change how I think and feel. I want more control over my emotions and I don’t want to lay in bed crying all day because he refuses to call me or take my call.

I want to say to him that this is not acceptable and that I am moving on…. One day I hope this will happen.

This article has given me some insight.. Thank you..

Cynthia December 30, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Hi Melissa,

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to end a codependent relationship in a healthy or nice way. Simply setting (new) healthy boundaries ended the long-time codependent relationship with my father. But now he is so angry and bitter that I “changed the rules” of our relationship that he is acting out in very spiteful ways towards me and my daughter. He is being manipulative and passive-aggressive to try and make me feel guilty, hoping that eventually I’ll cave in. I’m NEVER going back to the way it was and he isn’t willing to accept this new reality. At 73 years old, I don’t expect that he will change. Sadly as a result, both my daughter and I no longer have a relationship with him because, I (rightfully so) refuse to have a relationship on his dysfunctional terms.

I’ve also had to deal with the fact that all of this has made my family and friends very uncomfortable. He lived with me and I supported (enabled) him for years even though he was and still is quite capable of taking care of himself. And now that I focus on me and my daughter’s needs, everyone around us witnessed a mark-able decline with everything that involves him. So instead of getting support, many express how they feel sorry for him. He’s been playing the sympathy card and some have even put pressure on me to take him back. I’m on to him and have to frequently remind my family and friends that he is personally responsible for his life and consequences for his often poor decisions.

I had to conscientiously accept and not be afraid of this very outcome before I set forward my healthier boundaries. It can be very challenging at times – stay strong fellow recovering codependents!

Stay strong,
Cynthia

Jerry January 23, 2014 at 10:38 am

Melissa,

Thank you SO much for this article and the related ones on this subject. It is by far the most direct and sesible description of dynamic of a codepent relationship and how to do someothing about I have read (and I’ve been reading a lot of them lately).

I was recently in a mutally codependent relationship. We really were not right for each other from the start but so hopelessly in need of each other we fell right into a relationship. We met in AlAnon meetings and were both coming out of relationships with Alcoholics. We should have known we were both pre-disposed to enter another codepent relationship.

We stayed together for almost 2 years and it included nearly all of the aspects described in “Hints for determining if a relationship is codependent”. Because were both acting in codepent ways different aspects were displayed by one or the other of us at different times and in different ways.

To her credit she did end the relationship, although she did so exactly as descibed in “How not to end a codependent relationship”. No surprise it actually took 3 tries at ending this way by her before we both were hurt so badly there is no hope us ever forming a healthy relationship with each other again. The last time she broke things off abruptly, by email, blaming everything on me and has since refused any and all conctact from me to discuss things.

At least the pain I am experiencing has opened up my eyes to see that the relationship was unhealthy from the beginning and in fact most of my relationships in my life have been that way. I am sure it goes back to my abusive relationship with my father. (likewise she had an abusive mother)

I am now committing to working on my self esteem so I can form a healthier relationship in the future. I have started seeing a therapist and hope he can help me through this all.

I am printing this article out as a handy reminder to read.

Thanks!

Phillip March 25, 2014 at 3:27 pm

I wish I would have read this earlier. I think I ended mine in a healthy way except for the fact that I lobbed a few insults because I was so angry which I regret.

My problem was entering into a relationship with a married woman. If not for the fact that I knew her previously I would have never done that. It pretty much turned into a typical codependent affair.

It really hurt to end it but I actually feel liberated somewhat. One great piece of advice I got was to take the good and start dating again as soon as possible. I sulked for years after my first codependent relationship ended and it did not do much except make me lonelier.

Live life while you can.

Phillip March 25, 2014 at 3:39 pm

I should mention the irony of telling this woman she was codependent early on which is something she hated to hear. I couldn’t resist though. Relationships can be so complicated due to the emotions which often trump logic. Logic won eventually though.

delia March 31, 2014 at 6:30 pm

I am wondering about the dynamic that can happen between a codependent and a narcissist or psychopathic narcissist.
Are there some people we codependents choose who simply are not capable of loving others and can be sadistic. In those particular cases it’s necessary to have no contact in order to avoid endless manipulation is it not?

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