If your definition of “co-dependent” involves someone who is married to an alcoholic, you get partial credit. While the term was originally coined to describe those who enabled alcoholics, these days, we view codependency in a wider context.

It now includes anyone who allows the negative behaviors of other people to affect them, and who spends a lot of time and energy trying to manage the other person’s behaviors. That broader definition can include a whole host of behaviors, including drug abuse, overeating, compulsive spending, “workaholism,” or any other behavior that has an addictive potential to it.

Your partner does not have to be codependent to you, either. Your partner may be codependent to their parents, siblings, children, friends, or other people they feel close to. When that happens, this will still have an impact on your relationship because much of your partner’s time, energy, and focus will go towards helping that other person.

What can you do to prevent your partner’s codependency to someone else from affecting your relationship?

  • Remember that your partner likely didn’t become this way overnight, and that their behaviors won’t change overnight either. Chances are, your partner has been a “helper” all their life, and these behaviors run deep. They may not even realize the extent to which their behaviors are affecting your relationship because to them, how they are acting is “normal.” This may be the first time someone is pointing out that the relationship is unhealthy. Be prepared for pushback.
  • Talk to your partner about what codependent behaviors you have noticed, and how these affect you. For example, if your partner is constantly on the phone with the other person, or canceling plans with you because of needing to care for the other person, or is losing sleep over what the other person is/is not doing, first validate to your partner how hard it must be to see the other person struggling, and then gently explain your perspective.
  • If your partner acknowledges that they need help separating from the other person, ask what you can do to support them. Does your partner need help in setting boundaries? Would it help to discuss together how your partner can talk to the other person about the problem? Does your partner need a reminder to turn off their phone and not respond to calls/texts from the other person as quickly as they would have before?
  • If your partner is unwilling to recognize their codependency role, you may have to put some boundaries of your own in to your relationship. That might look something like requesting that no phone calls (incoming or outgoing) be allowed when you are eating dinner together or out socializing. Or that your partner not cancel or postpone plans with you because of something coming up and needing to “rescue” the other person. Setting boundaries in your own relationship serves two functions: one, it models for your partner how to do it in a loving way, and two, it shows your partner that you are unwilling to let their behaviors interfere with your relationship.
  • Recognize that your partner may resist changing their behaviors because of a belief that the other person will not be okay without their help. Your partner may also fear losing an important piece of who they are if they are not in the helper/caretaking role. Encourage your partner to develop other interests and devote more time to those, and less to “saving” the other person.
  • Depression is common among people who are codependents. If you notice signs of depression in your partner, suggest that they seek therapy to help break free of this pattern.