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5 Steps to Freedom: How to Get Away From Co-dependence

22.08.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

“I have fallen in love with my future husband almost at first sight. We had a whirlwind romance, and very soon we decided to get married. A couple of months after that, when I was preparing for the wedding, I first saw him drunk – he got drunk at a friend’s birthday party. To be honest, at that moment I did not see this as a particular problem since it happened to everyone at least once in their lives.

We got married, and I got pregnant right away. A few months later, he got drunk again. Now I understand that I should have left him then and there, but I thought that I had nowhere to go since I was on the threshold of the maternity leave…

Since then, drinking has occurred regularly. He didn’t even meet me from the maternity hospital because he was “celebrating” the birth of his son with friends. All this time I tried to get him out of this state, although I needed support and help too. Instead of looking for baby boots and cribs on the Internet, I googled “How to help my husband stop drinking.” I tried to enrol him for treatment, to the AA Society and coding therapy. He, of course, resisted, saying that he was not an alcoholic, all the while not coming home several times a week and getting found by neighbors sleeping in the yard under a bench.

I fought for three years. In the end, I left – something in my head “clicked” and I realized that I was not living my life. I forgot about my family, my friends, work, and most importantly — about my son and myself. My whole life was focused on helping my drunkard husband. I don’t know where he is now or what’s wrong with him. I am learning to live without co-dependence again, to listen and to love myself first.”

– Alina, 32, was in a co-dependent relationship

Relationships like Alina and her husband’s are called co-dependent. The story of our heroine is known well to many women and men. At the same time, many want to change the situation, but it is difficult to understand how to get rid of co-dependence on their own, and not everyone is capable of it. This article is for you if you feel that you are losing yourself in a relationship, that you are not able to manage your own life, that you are dedicating your life to your partner. We will tell you how people get into dependent relationships, how to determine the propensity for unhealthy behavior pattern, and how to get away with co-dependence and regain your lives.


  1. What is co-dependence?
  2. Signs of co-dependence
  3. Co-dependence test
  4. Reasons for entering a co-dependent relationship
  5. 5 steps to get rid of co-dependence:

What is co-dependence?

codependent relationship

Most often, co-dependence means that one of the partners has some chemical or psychological addiction – to alcohol, drugs, gambling or even just a habit of being lazy – and the second one devotes his/her life to helping a loved one to get rid of this addiction, feels fully responsible for the partner’s condition. Recently, the meaning of this concept has expanded to mean pathological dependence on another person, such as financial, emotional, social or physical one. One way or another, in a co-dependent relationship a person loses their sense of identity, forgets about their feelings, desires, needs, and completely looses themselves in another person. Another person becomes the meaning of their life. He/she perceives problems, thoughts, feelings and needs of such person as their own.

Melody Beatty, one of the most famous co-dependence specialists, gives the following definition:

“A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior (another person may be a child, an adult, a lover, spouse, dad, mom, sister, best friend, grandmother or a grandfather, a client, he/she can be an alcoholic, drug addict, mentally or physically ill; a normal person who periodically experiences a feeling of sadness). ” [1]

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An important characteristic of such relationships: both people in them are prone to addiction. For example, one suffers from alcohol addiction, and the other — from love addiction, devoting his/her life to saving a loved one. This mode of relationship is supported by both partners; subconsciously it is beneficial for both, which makes it is so difficult to break the vicious circle and get out of co-dependence.

Most often relationship becomes co-dependent when one of the spouses suffers from alcoholism, and the question of how to get out of it is especially relevant. Therefore, in addition to this article, we recommend reading the material on how to get rid of co-dependence on the husband-alcoholic.  If you are faced with the drug addiction of a loved one, there is material in our blog about getting rid of the addiction.

Signs of co-dependence

low self-esteem

Here are some “symptoms” that make it clear that you are in a co-dependent relationship:

  • You see your partner’s problems as your own;
  • You feel dependent on your partner’s actions and moods;
  • You think that everything that happens in a partner’s life is up to you;
  • You have low self-esteem;
  • The meaning of your life is in a relationship with a partner;
  • You are sure that you can control the lives of others;
  • You hardly communicate with friends and family;
  • You tend to justify or deny your partner’s behavior or addiction;
  • You often feel anxious, guilty or ashamed;
  • You seek to hide from others what is really going on in your family;
  • you don’t remember the last time you did something for yourself, went out and had fun;
  • other people’s opinions are so important to you that you are ready to give up your principles for the sake of their approval.

Co-dependence test

To define your propensity for a co-dependent relationship, we offer to take a test developed by Barry and Janie Weinhold, well-known psychotherapists and authors of books about co-dependence. [2] Answer if you agree or disagree with the following statements:

  1. I am inclined to take responsibility for other people’s feelings and/or behavior.
  2. I find it difficult to identify my feelings, such as happiness, anger, embarrassment, despondency or excitement.
  3. It’s hard for me to express my feelings.
  4. I feel fearful or anxious at the thought of how others will react to my feelings or behavior.
  5. I minimize problems and deny or change the truth about the feelings or behavior of the people I communicate with.
  6. It is difficult for me to establish or maintain a close relationship.
  7. I am afraid of being rejected.
  8. I try to achieve perfection in everything and judge myself harshly.
  9. It’s hard for me to make decisions.
  10. I tend to rely on the opinion of others rather than act on my own.
  11. I tend to put other people’s desires and needs first.
  12. I tend to value other people’s opinion above my own.
  13. My sense of self-esteem comes from the outside, depending on the opinion or actions of other people, who, I think, are more versed in it.
  14. I find it hard to be vulnerable and ask for help.
  15. I am always subject to control or seek control, or, vice versa, I always make sure that I will never be the one responsible for anything.
  16. I am too loyal to others, even when that loyalty is not justified.
  17. I have a habit of looking at situations based on the all-or-nothing principle.
  18. I am very tolerant (able to bear) to inconsistency and mixed errands.
  19. There are a lot of emotional crises and chaos in my life.
  20. I try to look for relationships where I feel needed (necessary) and then try to keep them.

The more statements you agree with, the more likely you are to be in a co-dependent relationship or have a high chance of entering one. We recommend paying attention to this issue and starting to solve it, for example, with the 7Spsy behavior modification technique.

Reasons for entering a co-dependent relationship

parental behavior

Tendency for co-dependence develops in childhood. Most often, it’s people who have learned similar pattern of behavior from parents or immediate relatives, who fall into unhealthy relationships. That is, if the girl observed co-dependence in the relationship of parents and grew up with an alcoholic in the family, there is a high probability that she would fall into the same co-dependence in the relationship with her drunkard husband. Alas, such situations are common.

If your parents have not been able to build reasonable boundaries in communication, if they have not been able to be responsible for their own lives and your upbringing, there is a good chance that you would assimilate this pattern of behavior. In such families, responsibility for the well-being of adults is often passed on to the child. For example, the child may be appointed as an intermediary between quarrelling parents. The mother may say: “Tell your father to stop acting like this.” An alcoholic father can ask his son or daughter to hide a bottle from him – or, conversely, to drink with him. There are easier situations, for example, when a mother tries to become a better friend for her daughter and tells her about her problems at work or in her personal life. She also may manipulate the child: “When you come home so late, my heart hurts.” Either way, the responsibility rests with the child, which is not feasible for his/her age and status. Growing up, he/she continues to feel that he/she has to take care of everyone around him, to control the situation, that the health and condition of loved ones depend on him/her.

This is an illusion; obviously a small child does not have such power over adults. Even one adult cannot have power over another. A person himself is responsible for his/her life.

By the way, co-dependence can exist in a relationship not only with a man, but also with children or parents, and a separate topic is devoted to getting out of it.

A person prone to co-dependence has the subconscious mindset that makes them build such a relationship. Here are some examples of such a mindset and you will most likely find some of them very familiar:

  • you need to help people;
  • a person should not be left in trouble;
  • any person can be reached if you choose right words;
  • true love will endure everything;
  • there are no ideal families, we must endure;
  • the important thing is that the other person feels comfortable;
  • it is better to suffer in a relationship, than be alone (single);
  • something bad will happen to a person without my help, he/she won’t be able to cope or live without me.
  • I live for his (her) sake / for the family;
  • together we can handle it;
  • he will change for the sake of love;
  • I can’t do it alone.
  • he (she) has problems because of me;
  • I’m doing everything I can to make him (her) change.

Finally, the influence of gender stereotypes is an important reason people build unhealthy relationships. In popular culture, there is a set of “perfect” relations where a male is a breadwinner and a woman is a preserver of the hearth. In this model, people’s roles are relegated to the functions they are supposedly obliged to perform. Society encourages it when woman does not work, instead dealing with the house and children and inspiring her partner to work “feats”. A man must be the head of the family, earn money, and make all decisions alone. In this paradigm, partners lose themselves as individuals and begin to depend on each other so much that they perceive themselves only as part of the family. The woman forgets about her self-actualization and perceives her husband’s success as her own, devotes herself to her husband and children, living and breathing their problems. A man in this situation requires complete subordination. Even if the family is prosperous, relationships in it can still be co-dependent.

“I have been told from childhood that I was a future woman, and I must be soft, kind, obedient and house-proud; that a man was the head of the family, always knowing everything better, and that I should never argue with him. A woman should create comfort, smile and keep quiet. It was like this in our home: dad always sat at the head of the table, mother served lunch to him first, and he himself said what we would eat today, and the mother’s task was to cook everything according to his wishes. We could not leave the kitchen until he finished eating. I grew up with such beliefs. After university, I immediately got married, and did not work a day, gave birth to two children one after another. I had no friends, and my hobby was walking with children in the park. All the while, I hanged on to my husband’s every word, tried to be interested in his work, and when he gathered with his friends in the living room, I ran for a beer for them, since the men should rest after work. But that didn’t help. My husband left me anyway, saying it wasn’t interesting for him to be with me. Just like Julia Roberts heroine from the famous movie, I realized that I do not even know what I like to eat… In the end, I have learned a lesson for life: you should not lose yourself in a relationship no matter how wonderful your partner is. Now it’s like I’m getting to know myself anew, learning who I am, what I like and what I want. There will be no new relationships in my life until I finally get it.”

– Olga, 29

5 steps to get rid of co-dependence

codependency in relationships

So, how to “cure” co-dependence in a relationship? The main thing that is important to understand is that this is primarily your task. You should not wait in vain from another person that he/she will change, and your relationship will change with them. Yes, we always say that relationships depend on both partners. But this is exactly the case where you need to start with yourself. Because it’s not so much about relationships as it’s about getting your life back. Let’s figure out what it takes.

1. Recognize the problem

The solution to any problem begins with awareness of it. Recognize that you are in a “bad” relationship, that you need to change the situation as soon as possible for the sake of your own safety. It is also important to understand that it is not your fault; it is the destructive pattern of behavior assimilated in childhood. By acknowledging the problem, you will be able to move on.

2. Learn more about co-dependence

To get rid of an unhealthy relationship pattern, you need to better understand the reasons why you entered into such a relationship, your unconscious motivation, and in general to understand the problem of co-dependence. Books will be a good help for this: 

  • the works already mentioned by Barry and Janie Weinhold, such as “Breaking Free of the Co-Dependency Trap”,
  • American psychotherapist Robin Norwood’s book “Women Who Love Too Much”
  • Melody Beattie’s book ” How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself” 

3. Distance yourself from your partner at least for a while

Getting rid of co-dependence does not always mean a complete breakdown of relations. Of course, if there is physical violence or threats on the partner’s part, you need to leave immediately. But if the situation has not gone so far, there are most likely ways to “cure” unhealthy relationships. Nevertheless, in the process of your own healing, it is better to live separately for some time, if there is such an opportunity. This will allow you to switch from partner problems to your life and move on to the next step.

4. Think about yourself and your needs

In a co-dependent relationship a person forgets about their own personality, ceases to separate their emotions and needs from the emotions and needs of the partner. An important step in getting rid of an unhealthy behaviour pattern is to become aware again of yourself as a person with your own desires, feelings and dreams.

To pay attention to yourself, you can try the following methods:

  • attention to the body: set aside a few minutes (you can start with one minute) and during this time concentrate on the sensations of your own body and breathing. Mentally record what you feel: for example, pinches in some parts of the body or heart palpitations. Repeat such a ritual at least once a day;
  • pay attention to feelings: set some alarms during the day. When the signal sounds, stop and ask yourself what emotion you are experiencing right now. This will help you better understand yourself;
  • pay attention to your needs: take one hour to sit down and write your desires on a piece of paper – everything that comes to mind, from the smallest and most ridiculous to the seemingly unattainable things. Remember that you should write about yourself: not “I want Vasya to quit smoking,” but “I want to re-read my favorite book.” Hang this list in a prominent place and re-read it once a day, and also set yourself the task of fulfilling at least one of the desires within a week. This will help you restore your taste for life.

5. Turn to the behavioral psychology

As you have already understood, most often we get into a co-dependent relationship because of unhealthy attitudes, learned from childhood. It is not easy to get rid of them on your own – you’ll need the help of psychologists.

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Remember that it is within your power to find the right way to change your own behavior and build healthy relationships. 


  1. Melody Beattie, «Spasat ili spasatsya? Kak izbavitsya ot zhelaniya postoyanno opekat drugih i nachat dumat o sebe».
  2. Barry Weinhold, Janae Weinhold, «Osvobozhdenie ot sozavisimosti».