Codependent or caring? how to avoid a relationship catastrophe

Have you ever found yourself in a codependent relationship—in which you sacrifice yourself for someone who is emotionally immature, addicted, or underachieving?  Codependency goes beyond just caring for someone; it can become an unhealthy relationship pattern in which you give up your own needs to try to fill your partner’s needs (which can’t be met).    Here are some ways out of a codependent relationship:

*Establish Boundaries and Practice Direct Communication:  Make your partner know that you won’t tolerate substance abuse, addictions, or emotional/physical abuse in the relationship.  You will not allow your partner to use shame and guilt into pressuring you to do things you don’t want to do (“If you loved me, you would do this). Also, communicate directly.  Codependent people tend to “beat around the bush” instead of saying what they really feel (they don’t want their partner to dislike or disapprove of them). When you say what you really think and feel, you are authentic with yourself and your partner, and you feel better as a result.

*Be Like a Visitor At a Mental Zoo:   Recognize that you’re not responsible for your partner’s negative emotional reactions (anger, fear, sadness).  You can be compassionate and empathetic to a point, but you also need to protect yourself from their negativity and attempts to manipulate your feelings. To do this, imagine that you’re a visitor to a zoo, and you see a lion who is roaring.  Instead of feeling fearful, you are relaxed because you know the lion is in its cage, and you are safe. In the same way, when your partner roars at you and tries to intimidate you, visually imagine that there is a solid steel cage that protects their negativity from entering you—you are entirely safe and comfortable.

*Practice Self-Compassion:  Love yourself and you can love others in the right way.  Instead of making your life revolve around your partner, rediscover your passions in life—what makes you happy. Maybe, it’s writing, art, crafts, science, psychology, exercise, travel, caretaking, being with animals or children in nature, a spiritual practice. When you do what you love, you will rejuvenate yourself and recognize that you don’t have to rely on someone else to make you happy—you can find contentment within.

Caring and compassionate people can fall into the trap of being in a codependent relationship in which they try to “change” or “rescue” another person. This usually leads to emotional pain and turmoil because the other person may not want to be rescued, and you waste your time, energy, and spirit trying to change someone else.  The key to having a healthy relationship is to extend loving energy to yourself, directly communicate your needs and desires, and set up psychological boundaries to protect yourself from someone else’s negative energies. When you do these things, you can be caring without being co-dependent; compassionate without being stuck in a bad, emotionally draining relationship. You can be free and loving and the same time.