Tips for Breaking the Codependent Cycle

How to Create Healthy Boundaries When Your Relationship is Feeling Codependent

Many people know about codependent relationships in the context of addiction and substance abuse. In these cases, one partner is usually battling an addiction while the other tries to help them through it in ways that are not actually helpful or sustainable to either person. However, codependent relationships can exist even when there’s no addiction present.

If you’re noticing that you’ve set aside your own needs and wants beyond what is sustainable and you’re starting to feel resentful, hopeless, or burnt-out, then you might be struggling with codependent cycles in your relationship.

Oftentimes this can happen on both sides of the relationship – both people may overcompensate for the other’s struggles while not prioritizing themselves.

Your partner may be dependent on you for emotional or practical support or you may take on more household labor or overall anxiety in an attempt to keep things running smoothly. You may feel micromanaged by your partner or like you can’t get anything right. This likely leaves both partners feeling undervalued and used.

Creating healthy boundaries is key to changing this dynamic. This can be difficult, but it’s important to do if you want to break the cycle of codependency.

Here are a few tips:

Wait before you act

It’s common to want to fix things or make them better for your partner. However, this often means that you don’t take the time to assess what the situation actually is and whether or not your actions will be helpful. If you can, wait before you do anything and allow yourself time to think through the situation. Set a timer if it helps. You’d be surprised how quick two minutes passes when you distract yourself with something like a video or favorite song.

Don’t assume

You may assume that people want and need help based on your perspective. If someone is struggling, of course they must want help, right? Remind yourself that this isn’t always the case. If you’re unsure if someone wants or needs help, ask them directly instead of assuming. Be ready to take “no” for an answer.

Set boundaries with yourself

There’s a myth that boundaries are all about big verbal announcements or ultimatums. However, healthy boundaries can look like small day-to-day choices to slow down and put yourself and your needs first. In order to create healthy boundaries in your relationship, you need to start with setting boundaries with yourself. This means taking care of your own needs even when you’d rather do something else or feel preoccupied with your relationship. Do you need to floss? Eat some lunch? Set aside some time for a doctor’s appointment? Get the pile of laundry off your chair? Make a list of two to three things you need to do for you, and don’t take on anything else until they’re done.

Set verbal boundaries when needed

Verbal boundaries are still sometimes useful. For example, you might need to set a boundary around how much time you spend talking about your relationship or what topics are off limits for now, like: “I need a break from talking about this for a few days.” Other boundaries might be around how you spend your time or energy. “I need some time alone to read/take a bath/watch a movie” or “I can’t do that project with you right now, I’m already feeling overwhelmed.”

Watch out for your inner “yes, but” phrases

“Yes, but they need me,” or “Yes, but if I don’t help, something bad might happen.” These phrases often prevent us from setting boundaries because we feel guilty, unworthy, or overly responsible. When you give into “yes, but…” phrases, you’re avoiding temporary discomfort, but in the long term, little is likely to change.

Practice saying “no”

Start small by saying “no” to things that you’re not interested in or committed to. This can be difficult, but it’s an important skill to learn if you want to set healthy boundaries. Remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you’re saying “no.”

Choose your battles

You can’t set a boundary around everything, and you shouldn’t try to. If it’s not a big deal or if it won’t make a significant impact on your life, let it go.

Remember that boundaries are not about control

A boundary is not about controlling another person or the situation. They are not even about feeling good or comfortable all the time. It’s simply about taking care of yourself and setting a limit. The other person may or may not do what you’re hoping for, but that’s not your responsibility.

Communicate directly

When you’re communicating a boundary, be as direct and clear as possible. This can be difficult, especially if you’re worried about how the other person will react. However, it’s important to give specifics, timelines, and details.

Welcome hard feelings

It’s possible that your partner will react negatively when you start to set boundaries. They may feel hurt, rejected, or like you don’t care about them. You might feel anxiety, hurt, or confused. This is normal. Often, people avoid setting boundaries to avoid these feelings, the more comfortable with them you get, the easier it becomes. If you’re feeling hard feelings, you’re doing it right!

Be prepared for it to go well

It’s also possible that your partner or loved one will react positively or be relieved when you set a boundary. They may not even notice that you’re doing anything differently. Either way, remember that your goal is to take care of yourself, not to control the other person’s reaction to your boundary.

When you have healthy boundaries in your relationship, you create an atmosphere of respect for yourself and your partner. This allows for more honest communication, trust, and intimacy in the relationship. If you find that you’re struggling with codependent dynamics in your relationship, it can be tough to admit and even tougher to change. Seek out support from friends, family, recovery groups, or a qualified therapist if you feel like you can’t do it alone.

Change is possible; I hope these tips have helped give you some guidance on your journey.

If you find yourself continuing to struggle with the codependent cycle, therapy for codependency can help provide the support and guidance you need to have more fulfilling relationships. Please feel free to request a consultation to see how I can help.



Hello, I’m Miriam. I’m a psychotherapist with an online practice in California and Illinois.

Learn more about me and how I can help you here.