Toxic Love: Recovering From a Codependent Relationship

Updated on November 14, 2017
Kaitlyn Lo profile image

Kaitlyn has a background in psychology and writes articles that teach you how to lean on your body, mind, heart, and on those around you.

By Odonata Wellnesscenter. CC0 Creative Commons.
By Odonata Wellnesscenter. CC0 Creative Commons. | Source

What Is Codependency?

Codependency is not to be confused with depending on someone. To rely on someone is part of a secure, healthy relationship. Codependency is an entirely different monster. The difference is when your entire life is centered around your partner where your identity and sense of self-worth is contingent on that person’s approval.

People in codependent relationships cannot survive without the other - a dependent behavior that is toxic to the mental and physical health of both individuals.

According to a study by the University of North Dakota, codependent men and women will remain loyal to their partners despite ongoing stress and lack of reward for their efforts. Controlling behavior, exaggerated sense of responsibility, and worth dependency are a few key characteristics of codependency.

So, How Do You Know If You're Codependent?

Ask yourself these questions.

Do you give all the support while sacrificing your own emotional, physical, and mental needs?

Compromise and even a little sacrifice is something you should be prepared for to strengthen a relationship. But it's not healthy when you’re the only one sacrificing and providing support while your partner is doing all the taking.

Do you feel lost when left by yourself?

Maintaining your individuality is crucial for developing healthy relationships. If you feel lost and not sure what to do with yourself without your “other half,” it may be time to re-evaluate who you are outside of the relationship. Who are you without your partner? Do you remember?

Are you always anxious and feel like you’re never doing enough to make the relationship work?

If you’re feeling anxious more often than not, something is wrong. It’s normal to have dips and lows in a relationship, but if you always feel stressed and like you're never good enough, that’s not normal. A healthy relationship should be a place of comfort, not one that’s giving you insecurities and sleepless nights.

Does your partner raise all your red flags but you stay anyway, thinking you could change them?

Everyone has their list of deal-breakers, and people don’t change. If you’re not content with who your partner is in the present and hope to change them into the person you "know" they can be, then it’s time to reassess your relationship. You have to love the person, not the potential.

Have you tried to be more independent but only feel more anxious when you’re not with them?

Take this as a sign that your identity is too tightly wound up in the relationship. Doing things by and for yourself is not selfish, it is essential to your well-being and will strengthen your confidence and self-esteem.

Poll: Are You Happy?

How happy are you about your relationship right now?

See results
By Tirachard Kumtanom. CC0 Creative Commons.
By Tirachard Kumtanom. CC0 Creative Commons. | Source

What Do You Do When You Are in a Codependent Relationship?

Here are a few things you should do to rediscover who you are and to build yourself back up. Once you’re comfortable within yourself, you’ll gain the much-needed insight into your life and your relationships.

Accept yourself

Learn to recognize your thoughts and become more self-aware so you’ll realize when you start changing who you are for someone else. Ask yourself: “Why am I doing this?”

You don’t need validation from anyone else but yourself. Everyone has flaws, but your imperfections are what make you who you are. You deserve to be with someone who accepts you - flaws and all - but first, you have to accept them yourself.

Once you’re comfortable with who you are, you’ll be able to build healthier relationships as a result.

Recognize and satisfy your needs

Put yourself first for a change. If you’re naturally the supportive type, understand that you can’t take care of others if you’re burnt out yourself. You have needs as well and don’t be scared to make them known. A healthy relationship goes both ways, and you deserve just as much support and care that you’re providing for others.

Also, the more comfortable you are with expressing yourself, the more comfortable you will become with openly communicating with your partner and loved ones. This is key to building healthy, secure relationships.

Know when to protect yourself

According to a report by Jaffe and Burris, a woman will be assaulted by her partner on an average of 35 times before her first report to the police.

If you feel abused or disrespected, it’s important to know when to walk away. Yes, easier said than done, but recognize that you’re your own person and deserve to have your boundaries respected. Don’t waste time trying to get them to change. Realize that you’re not responsible for another person’s behavior, and nor should you be. But you do have power over what you do so you can leave, speak up, or seek help. Protect yourself.


Remember to laugh and have fun. Studies have found that laughter breaks the cycle of negative thought and is a very effective stress-reduction technique. Laughter is even used in cognitive-behavioral therapy to facilitate healthy relationships.

So, enjoy life because it should never be a burden. There are responsibilities, sure, but you need to allow yourself to play, be creative, and recharge. If you’ve been isolated from your friends and family for a while, make sure to reconnect by spending more time with them. They’ll help ground you and remind you of who you are.

Pursue your passions

Nobody and nothing can make you happy but you. Do something that excites you every day. Don’t give up before you’ve even tried. It’s natural to feel depressed and like you’ve failed, but just focus on recovering. Keep moving forward and listen to your heart. Your passion in life will return.

Poll: What Makes You Happy?

Tell us what makes you happy!

See results

Focus on You First

Staying too long in a codependent relationship can leave you emotionally exhausted and can destroy your self-worth and sense of identity. But, breaking up and walking away is not always the only solution. Sometimes, a codependent relationship can be steered back on the right track.

But most importantly, focus on you. Reconnect with your family and friends. Meet some new people. Find new hobbies. Rediscover who you are and what makes you happy. And never hesitate to find help.

By Burst. CC0 Creative Commons.
By Burst. CC0 Creative Commons. | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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    • profile image


      7 months ago


    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Great article! It took me a long time to realize what true friendship and relationships are and that it is okay to end them and let go if they toxic.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Love this article!. It took for me to get to my mid 30's, to come to realize the best relationship is the one you can with self. Sometimes you have to either grow on hit rock bottom to realize the toxicity of being so much in need for someone else's approval, attention, satisfaction etc. We can only complete ourselves.

    • profile image 

      2 years ago

      4 years together with a person I thought I could not survive without! It was just an illusion now that's gone! interesting article, I have bookmarked it.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Was once in a relationship where we were both different from each other. There were plenty of coping to the point that everything starts to 'turn-off,' neither of us are bad, but I was blamed in the end for being too self-centered. The truth is, I was just not really happy anymore that I wanted to pamper myself often. Thanks for the post.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      That is a very good post about codependency. Not everyone can afford therapy or self help books. This post is very helpful at helping people reason with themselves. I liked Facing love addiction by Pia Mellody that talks about codependency

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Really good article. I think most of us have been in a relationship like this at some point, unfortunately though, we usually only notice after its over and we have space and time to get a sense of perspective.

    • Kaitlyn Lo profile imageAUTHOR

      KV Lo 

      2 years ago

      @Vanessa I'm so happy to hear that you've found the kind of love you've been looking for. :)

    • Kaitlyn Lo profile imageAUTHOR

      KV Lo 

      2 years ago

      @snpech I'm sorry to hear that and I can totally relate. But you've taken the first step in recognizing your issues so keep working on yourself and things can only go up from here.

    • profile image

      Alex Viglione 

      2 years ago

      Great post! It's awesome to read someone else's insight/perspective on this matter!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Good post. I was definitely in one of those in my marriage. My new relationship is like a 360 and now I know what a true partner is. Being happy is hanging with the BF, my sons and some wine.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Some great insights - definitely been in a scenario like this before and the constant anxiety was the major tip off to me that something was wrong. When you feel unease around another person, it's time to back off. Love should feel like home. Glad to have found that now.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I'm in a codependent relationship at the moment and we're happy enough but I can see how it can become a slippery slope!

      An interesting read!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      codependency has always made me wonder about people who are in that type of relationship... I'm not codependent at all... i'm actually very independent which has proven often that can bring a lot of problems in my relationships... I don't like to feel tied to someone, or controlled and if I get the smallest hint of it, I immediately feel smothered...

      Okay, maybe I have a little bit of commitment issues but that's not the point!

      I feel like these days society makes it okay for girls particularly to have the role of the "needy and very dependent" counterpart in the relationships and often times, that's not the case at all...It's easy to portray the jealous girlfriend that wants to keep tabs on her boyfriend at all times, but you rarely get to talk about the real problematic cases of controlling boyfriends - most of these cases even get physical at times....

      Anyway, I'm diverging! Great post and very important topic!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I struggle and have struggled with codependency issues for years. I think it all stems from my childhood- things that I’ve seen my parents go through when I was young has affected how I am in my current relationship. It’s a hard cycle to get out of.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Codependent relationships are so tough, particularly because you often don't know your in one until you're so far in, it's so hard to get back out. These tips are great though.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I use to be that girl who worried about everything to do with my husband and never took care of myself emotionally. I forgot who I was for awhile. It was not his fault. I didn't know how to be in a relationship. I finally figured out what the carp I was doing to myself and have continued to work on myself. Life has been so much better since. No relationship is perfect. My marriage is more than okay but not perfect lol. We are happy and now I know when I start to give more than I should. If that makes sense at all lol.

    • Kaitlyn Lo profile imageAUTHOR

      KV Lo 

      2 years ago

      @bizna Thanks for reading! :) The first step is recognizing that the relationship you're in is unhealthy. Often, that can be the hardest thing to do because who wouldn't want to believe that their relationship is anything less than perfect?

      Your points are very valid which is why I hope this article will help people identify red flags and to understand what they can do to help themselves.

    • bizna profile image


      2 years ago from NAIROBI - KENYA

      It's unfortunate that most people in codependent relationships are too reserved to learn from other people. Making changes becomes too difficult when they have lived like that for too long.

      I personally believe in asking questions for as long as it's from the right people.

      Being too reserved is like living in fear disguised as protection of one's name. We really need to weigh options and make decisions that add value to our lives.

      How I wish this article would reach out to do many.


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