How to Exit a Codependent Relationship

Disengaging from a codependent relationship is very diffficult
Disengaging from a codependent relationship is very diffficult

One of the most difficult things for codependent people to do is to extricate themselves from toxic relationships. Codependents don’t want to leave relationships because they think they can “fix” the problem by working harder, talking more, or “helping” the other person solve the “problem” (usually addiction, but sometimes refusal to treat physical or mental illness) that they believe is making the partnership unhealthy. Here’s how to begin this difficult process and put yourself back on the road to emotional health.

Realize that if your significant other is satisfied with the status quo and refuses to address the issue, you’re the one with the problem, whether she or he is an alcoholic, drug addict, or suffers from untreated schizophrenia, because you’re the one who is dissatisfied and wants the relationship to be different. The sooner you accept this, the closer you’ll be to extricating yourself from the situation. Stop trying to get your significant other into treatment and start working on yourself.

While still in the toxic relationship, start building your own life. Codependent people are so preoccupied with their significant others’ “problems” that they neglect their own existences. Reconnect with friends and family members who support you as an individual (if one or more of these individuals isn’t a compassionate person with a positive attitude, stay a safe distance away; this is about taking care of you). If you’ve been ignoring them while you focused on your partner, you may need to apologize and make amends. Be honest about your circumstances; they don’t have to forgive you, but many people will.

Make a list of activities you enjoy and start participating in them regularly. Perhaps you used to paint; you can take an art class. If you love the water, try to walk on a beach or around a lake once a week or more. If you were playing in a bowling league when you met your significant other but abandoned it so you could “take care” of her or him, join again.

The point here is to reconnect with the people and activities that are outgrowths of who you are as a person. Often, codependent people are so out of touch with themselves that they have trouble even making a list of activities they enjoy, but don’t give up. Just do one thing at a time.

When you are feeling a little more “yourself,” it’s time to start dealing with your codependent issues. One way to do this is through counseling sessions with a psychologist or social worker. Look for someone who specializes in codependency. If you can’t afford therapy or you refuse to go, attend Codependents Anonymous or Al-Anon (for family members of alcoholics) meetings. (If there aren’t any Codependents Anonymous meetings in your area, you can attend most Al-Anon meetings even if your significant other isn’t an alcoholic; just look for an “open” meeting.)

Supplement your therapy and/or meetings with plenty of codependence literature. Try a variety of authors to find one or two with whom you truly connect. Try to read a little about codependency every day, but don’t overwhelm yourself. Accepting that one is codependent is an extremely difficult process. Give yourself time and don’t judge yourself; self-improvement is very worthwhile, but it is a long journey.

By now, your significant other will have noticed that you are changing in many ways. You aren’t nagging her or him to enter treatment and you are spending time with friends and family. You’re having fun again and you are becoming emotionally healthy. At this point, your partner will feel threatened and will exert some pressure on you to give up your new life and go back to the way things were in your relationship. She or he may act out in different ways: by promising to change or threatening to end the relationship, by refusing to accompany you on outings but expressing feelings of abandonment when you leave, by insisting that your reading or therapy isn’t working or that it has made you “worse” in some way, or with some combination of these methods.

This is a very difficult time for a codependent person, and many codependent people stop the growth process and reenter the relationship at this time. You may want to give the relationship “one more chance” because your partner seems to be doing “better,” the financial and emotional costs of ending the partnership seem too high, or you’re afraid of being alone. If you decide to stay, that’s your choice, though in all probability you will be returning to exactly the same situation from which you were just trying to escape.

Pugs are adorable, but they snore when they sleep....and sometimes when they're awake
Pugs are adorable, but they snore when they sleep....and sometimes when they're awake

The next step is to physically leave the relationship.  If you and your partner are cohabiting, you’ll need another place to live.  This could be your own apartment or house or staying with friends or family, but it’s important that it be a relatively comfortable long-term solution.  If you end up sleeping on someone’s futon with their snoring pug for two weeks, after which you move to another friend’s trailer in a town that is a 90-minute drive from your place of employment, after which you have no plans, you are much more likely to return to your codependent relationship.  Remember that unless you have completely cut off contact from your ex, she or he will probably call, write, or visit to ask you to come you back; you were keeping this person’s life together while she or he refused to take responsibility for an addiction or illness.

When you have your own place, even if it is a tiny studio apartment, be sure to decorate it and make it your own.  Consignment stores, thrift stores, dollar stores, and garage sales are good places to pick up gently-used furnishings and accessories on a budget.  Your family and friends may be able to offer hand-me-down linens and dishes.  Display your favorite books and mementos.  If your apartment or house looks like “you” and feels like home, you’ll be much more comfortable there.  

Don’t discontinue therapy, meetings, or your reading program now that you’re on your own.  Your continued recovery is more important than ever, both to reduce the risk of backsliding and to lower the chances that you will choose to participate in other codependent relationships.  Recovery from codependency is a lifelong process, but the more you work on yourself and maintain a high level of awareness about your issues, the quicker you will be able to recognize and eliminate toxic relationships from your life, and the happier and healthier you’ll be.    

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Comments 41 comments

kj8 profile image

kj8 6 years ago from Australia

Thanks for this hub it is useful information for me and helps me to realise that I am not alone


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 6 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

You are most welcome, kj8, and trust me, codependency is so widespread that you are NEVER alone! Take care.


Bob Mons 6 years ago

Nice piece Rachaelle!!


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 6 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Thanks, Bob! :)


Jun 5 years ago

I've been struggling with a difficult relationship for a while now. I've been confused and frustrated or months. So now that I've read this, I feel that I have a new look on things. So hopefully I can be on the road to a new happy and healthy life. Thanks for sharing.


meeshee 5 years ago

Great practical advice, with thoughtful insight. Step by step! Beautiful piece!


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 5 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Thanks Jun and meeshee - so glad this piece was helpful to you!


Cat 5 years ago

What a waste of my life! I'm looking for help...seein a therapist..looking for a meetin in my area but feel so sad and want to know why???


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 5 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

I am so sorry you are feeling sad, Cat; that's an entirely natural emotion following the end of any relationship, even one that's not good for you. In fact, codependent relationships can cause even more sadness when they end because of their addictive nature. Being honest about your feelings with your therapist, supportive friends and family, and in meetings will help you get through this. Hang in there and please be extra kind to yourself during this difficult time.


Maxi 4 years ago

Wow, this is me, my life, my relationships; I thought I was better because my partner stopped some of his addictions. But I am still very sad, dissatisfied and just plan unhappy with my life. This article has re-opened my eyes/mind to my continued journey, Thank you


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 4 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Thank you for your post, Maxi. One of the most difficult times for us codependents is when a partner gives up one or more addictions - that takes the focus off the partner and puts it back on us! It can be a rude awakening. But it sounds like you are working on yourself and that is what important - we are all works in progress. Hang in there and thanks again for writing!


LaLa 4 years ago

I believe I am in a co-dependent relationship and I don't know how to leave. I am always unhappy and know I want to leave but don't know how. I have been with an alcoholic for 15 years.


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 4 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Hi LaLa: I am so sorry to hear that you have been in an unhappy relationship for 15 years, whether codependent or not! Beyond "unhappy," I'm not sure you need to define it; your life is passing by as you live in this unhappy relationship. But the fact that you mention that your partner is an alcoholic is significant; many codependent relationships are with people suffering from addictions. I encourage you to attend meetings at Codependents Anonymous (CODA) and/or Al-Anon and to read the recommended resources for this article, and then make your decision. I know you will make the right choice for you and encourage you to move forward in this journey towards knowing yourself and what you need to be happy!


schoolgirlforreal profile image

schoolgirlforreal 4 years ago from USA

I did all that and I still miss him over a year later. I feel like I'm going crazy if I don't call him at least every two mo. (used to be every three days.) but he doesn't want me to call and I try not to, but can't . what do I do?


schoolgirlforreal profile image

schoolgirlforreal 4 years ago from USA


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 4 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Unfortunately, schoolgirlforreal, healing does take much longer, leaving us in pain longer, than we expect or hope that it would. It has taken me longer than a year to get over some of my relationships too. Try to be realistic about what you actually get out of those phone calls...write out the pros and cons. They probably cause you a lot of pain and aren't really worth the short-term gratification you get from hearing his voice - though only you can decide that.

Thank you for the book recommendation - it's kind of you to help others during this difficult time!


jordan 4 years ago

i am definitely in a co-dependent relationship. i'm unhappy and lonely. i moved to another state about two years ago, trying to make things better. we've bought a home and really established ourselves here. but i've been unhappy majority of the time. he and i have been together for 9 years, we have two kids together. i'm thinking it's time to put my arms up and walk away... but i'm scared. i'm scared to be alone, and i'm scared to hurt my kids. they love their daddy. i want to move back to iowa, where i'm from. i feel as if i've forgotten who i am. i feel so lost. thanks for this article, it has helped some.


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 4 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

I'm sorry you are going through such pain, jordan. Coming to terms with being in a codependent relationship and deciding whether and when to leave is extremely scary. And the identity crisis you're dealing with is common too; when I left my first codependent relationship, I felt almost as if I had ceased to exist. Fortunately I knew the warning signs and was able to walk away the next time with my identity intact - and that's the value of learning from our mistakes, of course - we're able to avoid them the next time.

I wish you the best in choosing your path. It's true that should you leave your relationship, your life and your children's lives will change. I think it's important to consider how, if at all, these changes might be for the better.


schoolgirlforreal profile image

schoolgirlforreal 4 years ago from USA

Don't forget this very helpful and important book: Codependent No More by Melody Beattie!


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 4 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Absolutely - I love her books too schoolgirlforreal!


schoolgirlforreal profile image

schoolgirlforreal 4 years ago from USA

:) :) :)


Tig 4 years ago

I'm just 6 weeks out of a codependent relationship. I've cut all ties, moved to Vermont for the summer and am pressing forward. It was our third attempt at being together. All the signs were there, but finally I am out. I'm hurting and lonely, but, this is MY time.

I'm trying to remind myself that I cannot fix him or take care of him; he's an adult. The longer I am away and the more I read, I can see my patterns. It's hard as hell...but for anyone going through it...stay strong!!!!! It will get better. Love yourselves first.

Tig


liberrytech 4 years ago

I think I am in a codependent relationship. I am the codependent one and I want to leave. I can't seem to explain clearly why I want to leave. What do I say to my significant other?


schoolgirlforreal profile image

schoolgirlforreal 4 years ago from USA

@liberrytech,,

I noticed your comment.

You don't have to explain why you want to leave. That's a temptation you have because you want him to approve- am I right?

Best thing to do is force yourself to leave him, but find some strength first- religion, friends, family, support, etc.

Extracate yourself from his life, and break all ties- cell phone agreements, don't keep any of his stuff in your place etc.

It may break your heart for months, but if you really want to be free from it and grow as a person, it has to be done.

:)

Good luck!


Headingout 4 years ago

I have been in a codependent relationship for 20 years. I can so relate to losing your own identity. I don't have a single friend, and have pretty much ignored my family for this whole time (other relationships were strongly discouraged!). I'm 51 years old now with a 15 year old daughter and I am on the verge of stepping out of this marriage with absolutely nothing - no job, and no home. Frankly, it's terrifying. I've tried to leave many, many times over the years, but he always manipulated me right back in.

My daughter has helped me to step back out of the situation and see it for what it is. Any time my husband feels that I am thinking about leaving he has a sudden revelation of how horrible he is and "changes". Of course, it's only temporary. I can actually see now that what he's saying to me is just manipulation. My daughter can see it. I don't know why it took me so long to see it myself.

I feel like I've wasted the past 20 years of my life. I'm too old to start a new career. All my time and energy has been wrapped up in helping my husband with his businesses and his needs.

Right now it looks like my daughter and I will have to start out in a shelter until I can find a job, and even then things will be very difficult. I only pray that I can resist him and not end up back in that toxic relationship again. He's a very, very good manipulator.

Any advice would be more than welcomed!


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 4 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Hi Tig:

Glad to hear you are successfully moving on with your life! As you said, it's a difficult path, but it will be so worthwhile as you gain strength and wisdom. It sounds like you put many things in place to assist you on your journey - cutting off ties, moving, reading the right books, acknowledging but not giving in to the pain and sneaky co-dependent thoughts, and most importantly, viewing this time as an investment in YOU. Congratulations!

Rachaelle


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 4 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Hi Liberrytech:

I second schoolgirlforreal's comment that explaining your reasons for wanting to leave your significant other is unnecessary and will probably only cause more frustration.

First, your SO is probably well aware of the issues, whether they've been articulated or not. Second, discussing those issues will simply open the door to empty promises of change if you stay. You may have heard those before and not seen results, so you're looking for yet another way to finally make yourself heard.

Unfortunately, most codependents must leave their relationships without feeling completely understood by their significant others. Understanding means changing, and your significant other evidently is not willing or able to make those changes right now.

As schoolgirlforreal said, make your plans to leave without involving your SO. Taking care of you right now is the most important thing you can do to ensure the success of leaving the relationship and achieving some measure of peace.

Best,

Rachaelle


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 4 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Hi Headingout:

It sounds like you are ready to leave psychologically, but not quite logistically or in a practical sense. Before you make your move, it would be wise to lay the groundwork for being out on your own with your daughter.

The first thing to do is consult an attorney. If you've been helping your husband with his businesses, you're entitled to income from them, as well as to marital assets. You also need to protect yourself as much as possible from debts your husband incurred from those businesses. Many divorce lawyers offer free first-time consultations; do your due diligence and visit several for advice on what you can expect given the laws in your state.

Second, if you don't already have one, open a checking account in your name only and get a credit card, if you can. You need to establish some credit on your own, although you shouldn't overdo it by opening up too many accounts or running up large balances that you can't pay off the following month.

Work up a resume - don't worry about making it look fancy at first. You just need to list the business for which you've worked (no need to mention that they were your husband's businesses), the dates, the work you performed, and your accomplishments. If you didn't have formal titles, use a job board like salary.com or monster.com to determine which fit best. You won't be starting a new career; you'll be building on the one you've had.

Next, work on reestablishing relationships with your family and friends and on making new friends. If you need to make amends, do so, but bring some positive, supportive influences back into your life. CODA meetings and church, temple or other religious services are also good places to meet people who will be supportive of your move and understanding of what you've been through. They may also have leads on jobs and/or inexpensive rental apartments, as well as other ideas.

The more you do to set yourself up for success before actually making a move to end this relationship, the better, for you and for your daughter.

Take care,

Rachaelle


Unhappy 4 years ago

Hi, i have been in a 22 year relationship, i have two children and my partner is very jealous and controlling. I am no longer attracted to him, my feelings for him have died in many ways. I don't even know who i am anymore, i am totally dependant on him. Would leaving the relationship be selfish? I don't want to hurt my children, they are my life.


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 4 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

It's possible that leaving your relationship would be the least selfish thing you can do; they must be struggling with watching your partner treat you in a "jealous and controlling" manner and knowing (and kids always know) that your "feelings for him have died." And keep in mind that your children will carry what they see into their own adult relationships; you are modeling this for them. Showing them how to be healthy and take care of oneself is a great gift.

But only you know the truth of your relationship and what will be best for you and for your children. I encourage you to seek out a counselor and/or a Codependents Anonymous to help you sort this out, and I wish you the best of luck!


Reese's Mom 2 years ago

Thank you for writing and sharing this. My daughter is in a very destructive co-dependant relationship and it is effecting our whole family. She provides this boyfriend with everything to the point of neglecting herself. She has now taken a car form here without our permission and a gas card to provide him with transportation after he tore up the fourth car provided to him by his addicted enabling family. He is a grad school student of music in Mississippi (another state). She is there with him most of the time to the detriment of her own studies. After reading this I realize that we are enabling her to enable him. No more! The card is now reported lost and the car is not in the driveway by tonight, it will be reported stolen. My daughter is 23 and she is now on her own. No more financial help or tuition. ( She has lost three scholarships). My husband and I are getting off the hamster wheel. Enablers no more!


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 2 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

You are very welcome, Reese's Mom! I'm so sorry about your daughter and the toxic relationship she refuses to leave. It sounds like she is hurting herself as well as your relationship with her.

I'm glad you have moved into a new phase of taking care of yourself and your husband and not allowing your daughter's mistake to become your own. Stay strong!


Relieved 2 years ago

Great article . I was trying to understand how a co dependant GF could possibly have 2 men in her life. Seemed contradictory but you have explained it well.

I was in this type of relationship for 18 months. My (ex) GF is attractive and smart and we were intellectually and physically close.

She was on pain killers (opiates) because of a long term back and neck problems and she was living at home with her parents when I met her.

I broke up with her 6 months into the relationship because she interfered in a friends relationship and caused issues between my friends with her unsolicted advice.

4 months later I got back together with her because I missed her.

About 6 weeks ago she started putting pressure on me to move out with her . I told her it was a big move and that I was content with living in my own place . The fact is that she doesn't work , is a Vegan and has an abnormal sleeping pattern . So there would be financial dependance, eating ( I like meat eggs etc) and sleeping issues.

So for the next 2 weeks she is quiet and withdrawn . When I do see her she is being protective of her mobile , making excuses why we cant catch up, critical and the sex is dropping off.

When I drop her home one night she tells me that her ex BF has seperated from his wife and is in Sydney to live and work.

She met him while she was living in Itally 4 years ago and had a 1 yr relationship before she found out he was married. I knew that she kept in contact but didn't object or feel concerned because of the distance although I wasn't impressed that she continued to interfere in the marriage by staying in contact.

That was my out . I told her that she had broken the trust by not telling me that he was coming . I have been NC for 4 weeks and I feel so relieved that she is no longer my problem. She sent a text recently from a different number asking "So is that it ?" I didn't reply . I still have feelings for her but can never go back .


wus377 2 years ago

I've just woken up and realized the mess I'm in. His issue is no work and no money. I've been helping him, to my detriment, for the past 2.5 years. I almost lost my house this past summer. I need to end this and have him move out. Not sure how to begin. I'm so confused.


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 2 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Hi Relieved:

I'm sorry that you are suffering through the end of a relationship, but your signature as "Relieved" says it all, doesn't it? It sounds as though the drama of your relationship with your girlfriend was exhausting to you.

I wish you the best in recovering from this change in your life, being happy on your own, and eventually finding your way to a healthy, balanced intimate partnership.

Thank you for your comment!

Rachaelle


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 2 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Hi wus377:

Thank you for your post. I'm sorry for the struggle you are experiencing over how to end this relationship. Since your partner is benefiting from it financially as well as emotionally, he will probably resist your efforts to end the relationship and have him move out. Use the tips in the article and the other resources listed (read through the comments in this article for more great tips from readers) to build your own support system and to design a plan for ending the relationship. This is work that you will do on your own, without involving your partner, so that you will be stronger when you talk to him about what you want to happen. Once you feel more confident about the direction you are taking, you can let your partner know that it's time for you to separate.

Please let me know if you have other questions, and in the meantime, take care of yourself as you prepare to make this change. I'll be sending good thoughts your way!

Rachaelle


Gilian 20 months ago

I just read your blog The Shattering and it made me recall an epidose in my life quite similar. I was 23 yrs old, 7 months pregnant with my second child and just had the millionth fight with my then husband about his addiction, inability to keep a job, and total disregard for his family responsibilities. I was in hysterics, crying, ran out the door, ran four streets away to a small park, sat on a swing and sobbed uncontrollably(in the pouring rain). I thought the rain drowned out my sobs, but a nearby neighbor came out, invited me into their home, a complete stranger, to calm down. I sat awhile, then calmly returned home and continued to live in hell, until I got the strength to leave 5 yrs later. I guess something just snapped inside me thank God for that. I, too, survived, and so did my daughters who are now 37, 33, and 31. Keep on keepin' on life will get happy and you will be loved!


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 20 months ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Gilian, I'm so glad things got better for you. Thank you for your inspirational post!


Jon 17 months ago

Here is an interesting one - together for 1.5 years, cohabitating for the last half. Both realized something was wrong, I moved out. Two months later, I entered individual therapy for a few sessions, then a local CoDA group as a result of that. I see drastic tangible improvements in myself, and still find myself attracted to my ex, who now through CoDA, individual therapy, and reading a handful of codependency books, I can see has codependency struggles herself. I still love this person, and want to be with them, albeit with a very different approach and perspectives on my life and hers. She has seen my improvements and we have become much closer as friends as a result - much more intimate understanding of one another. No more counter codependent behavior as I would also have been known to do while previously together.

Do you think there is a chance this could work? Is this a recipe for disaster? I recognize that my improvements do not precipitate any change in her behaviors, and she has not sought out help, and may not ever seek out help potentially. She has also been actively dating, while I have been uninteresting in doing so. Thoughts?? Thank you for the great article!


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 17 months ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Hi Jon:

Congratulations on seeking help for your codependency! I know how challenging it is to take that step.

I am not sure whether or not this relationship has a future, but at this point it doesn't sound as if you are very happy, and that might mean that you have more work to do.

Sometimes when one partner changes in a relationship, the other partner has the patience to adjust and move forward within it, even if s/he isn't in therapy. However, since your desired partner is dating others, it sounds like she is moving on to new romantic entanglements, though she may very much appreciate your friendship.

The fact that you are "diagnosing" your ex's codependence is a concern, though it's terrific that you recognize that your changes won't necessarily precipitate changes in her.

I encourage you to continue therapy, CODA meetings, and reading while you work on determining the scope of this relationship. If you and your ex decide to try again, it will help you establish the new dynamic you seek. If you go your separate ways, it will help you feel more content, even if you don't have an immediate interest in dating. Regardless, working on yourself will offer long-term benefits, including healthier, happier relationships.

Best of luck,

Rachaelle


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Rachaelle Lynn 17 months ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Darlene, thank you very much for your positive review of this article!

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