It was the middle of a sweltering NYC summer when I woke up for work with my eyes unbearably puffy and red from yet another night of crying inconsolably about my relationship falling apart. My identity was wrapped up in her, and hers in mine. Her mental health was teetering on my fragile emotional support. Our relationship was a taught string that neither of us dare pluck: For fear of not only our relationship crumbling to the ground, but also both of ourselves breaking to pieces like the glass I threw against my cement backyard patio just days before in a fit of bubbling over emotions.
Codependency is a multi-headed monster that stirs up dark storms often unbeknownst to the lovers its attacking until it’s far too late. At first, it feels like that can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t breathe without them kind of love — the stuff that makes up romantic narratives fed to us from birth. Love is supposed to be addictive, we’re told. Love is intoxicating, we’re told. Love is all consuming, we’re told. And if it’s not all of the above, then is it even true love worth fighting for?!
I’m a hopeless romantic at heart. I’ve tried to kick it out of me, from the pit of my stomach I can feel where these butterflies root but I can’t seem to get rid of them. While I’ve grown more confident in my romantic leanings now — as a young woman, romanticism was sold to me as a commodity where I learned to sell my soul in exchange for True Love™. Where I sign on the dotted line to give away my entirety to a lover — yes, even in queer relationships. Because if she doesn’t have access to all my free time, what am I in it for? If her needs don’t supersede my own, why am I even in this? If I’m not her lover, her mother, her best friend all wrapped in one — how can I call myself a Good Girlfriend™?
It’s terrifying for me to admit that codependency warped my brain and my conception of love for so long. But it’s my truth — and now that I’ve dug myself out of the massive hole I was wallowing in after my last relationship, I’ve come to understand that hindsight is truly everything. I was choosing emotionally unavailable people in hopes that they would someday see how good my love was and give me their everything in return. But the thing is, when codependency goes unchecked, one partner ends up with more control in the relationship. The equation worked something like this, for me: I give my everything, she begins to expect that from me, when I don’t give her what she expects (i.e. drop everything when she calls), then I’m gaslit into thinking I’m the worst girlfriend ever.
These unhealthy relationship dynamics went on until I found it in me to stand up for my needs. And when I realized what my needs were, I realized it wasn’t something I could find in that relationship. I had only been focused on her needs for so long and it took genuine work to look into the mirror and discover what it was I wanted from future relationships. But I knew I needed to do this intentional work to ensure I didn’t fall into the codependency rabbit hole again.
Signs you, too, might be codependent:
You tend to love people that you can pity and rescue.
You feel responsible for the actions of others.
You do more than your share in the relationship to keep the peace.
You are afraid of being abandoned or alone.
You feel responsible for your partner’s happiness.
You need approval from others to gain your own self-worth.
You have difficulty adjusting to change.
You have difficulty making decisions and often doubt yourself.
You are reluctant to trust others.
Your moods are controlled by the thoughts and feelings of those around you.
Source: Willingway Addiction Center
So how do you heal from your codependent dating woes?
Dig deep into what you want from a relationship.
When you’re consumed by your partners needs in the relationship — it’s easy to forget that you also get to have a say in the kind of relationship you want to have. What kind of dynamic feels healthy and nourishing for you? Are your needs being met when it comes to your sexual desires? Do you feel like you can be emotionally vulnerable with your partner and they hold space for you? The healthiest relationships are those where you’re able to hold each other in hard times — while also not taking on the other persons emotions and responsibility for their happiness. You can support one another in life while also having your own individual emotions, reactions, and processes. Discovering what you want from your relationships will help you get to that point with your lovers.
Heal your resentments.
If you’re currently in a codependent relationship and trying to move away from that dynamic, the first step you’ll need to take together is healing past resentments. It’s likely that you both carry resentment towards one another — you need to work to find your own personhood again after you’ve both become so tangled in each other. When you are dependent on each other for everything and spend all your time together, this process of healing past resentments will take radical honesty with each other. In finding yourself as a person that is allowed to exist outside this relationship, you’ll become aware of things that hurt you that you weren’t aware of at the time. Talk about those moments as they come up, be honest with each other about how codependency hurt your relationship.You can heal codependency in a previously existing relationship, but it’s going to take a lot of vulnerable work together.
Schedule solo time.
Whether you’re in a relationship or not — spending time by yourself is so valuable. You learn more about yourself. You get to fall more in love with what makes you you. In navigating new relationships where I’m intentionally trying to not fall into my codependent ways, having time by myself is the most important thing. It reminds me of my own self worth and value that exists outside of what my date thinks of me. Don’t let your solo time only happen when you’re binging Netflix, take yourself out, treat yourself!
Keep in touch with friends and community! Have fun!
We’ve all seen a friend we love disappear into a new relationship — we lose touch with them and stop trying to make plans after they continually choose their lover(s) over us. It’s heartbreaking to watch your friendship slowly become undone. And not only does this really hurt, but disappearing into a relationship isn’t a healthy dynamic. You need time with your friends and community! They can help keep you grounded. Having fun outside of your relationship reminds you that you will be okay without your lover(s) because you have a support network and experiences that aren’t all tied to your relationship.
Pursue your passions.
If it seems like these are all connected, it’s because they are. Yes, you need alone time and friend time and fun in your life — but also, value your passions and dreams! You can simultaneously support your partners dreams as you chase your own. Be sure to spend time focusing on what gives you joy outside of work, friends, and your relationship. Breathe life into what makes your heart beat. You deserve it.
Establish boundaries for and by yourself.
Every relationship has boundaries, whether you’ve talked about them or not. But hopefully you and your boo are communicating about what your needs and limits are in the relationship. Even if you are doing this work together, it’s so important to spend some individual time thinking about this for and by yourself. If every boundary is created together, you might feel like you don’t have as much of a say in how this relationship functions.
Meet your needs. Focus on your own fulfillment.
There are going to be times when your girlfriend can’t be there. There will be times when you can’t be there for your girlfriend. When you learn to meet your own needs and find fulfillment in your life outside of your relationship, you’ll have a healthier relationship to how you rely on each other.
Have regular check-ins.
When you’re working to undo codependency after it’s become so normalized in your life and relationships, you have to constantly be checking in with yourself and your loves. You’re undoing narratives about toxic romantic behavior that have been drilled into since childhood — it’s okay that it might take some time, babes. When you check in with your lover(s) ask how they’re feeling about boundaries, be honest with them about where you’re at in the relationship. Not only is this a healthy practice, but it will build genuine trust between the two of you.
Find your voice.
Knowing that you can speak up for yourself in the relationship is vital. If you don’t have a voice — or if your partner consistently shuts you down — then you gotta get out, babe. Speaking up when something feels off or when you’re hurt is so important. You’ll start to feel more balance and equanimity in your dynamics.
The most important thing to remember in this process of healing is that codependency is something our society breeds. You aren’t alone in this and it’s not your fault. If I, the queen of codependent relationships, can find my way out to the other side and create healthy boundaries — then so can you.