I love my boyfriend, but whenever I am in a relationship, my sense of insecurity heightens. It’s because there’s suddenly something to lose, and someone who can take it away from me. I can’t control his feelings towards me, and my abandonment complex rears its ugly head. To cope with all this insecurity, my brain tells me that I should try to spend every second of every day with my boyfriend so that he doesn’t have an opportunity to find anyone better. However, this is unsustainable and we would probably get sick of each other. I want to avoid being codependent in a relationship, but my brain tries to push me into it to avoid abandonment.
“Codependency can be defined as any relationship in which two people become so invested in each other that they can’t function independently anymore.” (Source)
A healthy relationship is one where you can function well without the other person, but you are happier and more fulfilled when the two of you are together. This seems like a given in a relationship where both parties are mentally healthy, but, as always, mental illness makes everything more complicated. When you are mentally ill, your partner is usually your first point of contact for support when you are struggling. They help you through the down times and are there to celebrate when you are thriving. However, this support can easily bleed into codependency if you don’t take conscious steps to avoid it.
These are some ways of how to avoid being codependent in a relationship.
Make time to have physical space away from each other.
In past relationships, I panicked if I couldn’t see my partner or ring them for hours every single day. I felt lost, out of control, and worried that they were already sick of me. I clung so tightly that I never had the opportunity to experience life away from my partner.
My current boyfriend and I make a point of spending days apart. This was terrifying at first because I wasn’t used to men setting clear boundaries with me and saying that they needed space. I worried that I had done something wrong and that I was ruining the relationship. The truth is, my boyfriend is an introvert and he likes to have his own space.
Since making a point of having time apart, I have felt so much more comfortable in my relationship. My feelings of abandonment are lower, and I don’t panic every time my boyfriend goes out with friends. It means that I also get time to myself to work on my interests: writing, reading, working on my website, and socialising with my own friends.
Making time away from your partner is so important, because it also gives you something to miss. When you come back together, you have more experiences and stories to share, and you feel recharged from taking a small break from their company. Your partner has time to focus on their own life, and you have time to focus on yours.
Devise strategies to deal with distress on your own.
This can be a really difficult thing to cope with when you have severe mental illness and you are used to relying on your partner for emotional support. However, there are times when your partner will not be able to support you. For example, when I was travelling in South America, I was on an opposite time-zone to my city. My partner and I were only awake at the same time for a few hours of the day. He was often asleep during my night time, which is when I am most easily distressed. I know that he will not always be available when I need him. Therefore, I have strategies in place for when I need to handle distress on my own.
- Temperature control: having a freezing cold shower or holding an ice-cube in your hand can distract you from distressing feelings and shock your body back into reality.
- Self-soothing: sitting in the shower, stroking your arms gently, and relaxing your breathing can help to reduce your heart rate.
- Distraction: loud, energetic music, watching a comedy, or going out for a walk can help you to escape from your thoughts.
There are going to be times when you need your partner for comfort, guidance, and support, but it is important to manage initial distress on your own.
Avoid being codependent in a relationship by travelling alone.
At the extreme end of how to avoid being codependent in a relationship is travelling alone. As well as giving you space from your partner, it also pushes you into situations where you need to problem-solve, be confident, socialise with strangers, and test your limits. You will realise that you are so capable of doing anything that you set your mind to, and that you don’t need to be afraid of being alone. Travelling without your partner will test your relationship, but you both will be stronger for it.
It doesn’t need to be as extreme as a few months away from your partner. If you try a weekend trip, or a couple of weeks overseas by yourself, then your sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency will already increase. Travelling without your partner also gives you the opportunity to explore activities that you are interested in but they aren’t. Having time apart from each other is a good time to strengthen your own personalities and interests.
Being codependent is not the same as being emotionally close.
A healthy relationship is one where you can be open about your emotions and support each other. I would never suggest that you should try to sever emotional ties with your partner for the sake of independence. However, you should feel comfortable about being alone with yourself, as well as loving the time that you spend with your partner. It should feel like two whole people coming together to create something more than the sum of two halves. It’s important to nurture your relationship, but it’s also important to nurture yourself.
What are some conscious steps that you take to avoid being codependent in a relationship?