She should inspire, motivate and make you excited each time you hang out, but if you find yourself constantly putting her needs before your own and start dreading her company, you could be in a codependent relationship with a friend.
Codependency, while often used to describe romantic relationships can apply to friendship too. It is defined in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling as an “unhealthy devotion to a relationship at the cost of one’s personal and psychological needs.”
In every codependent friendship, there is a “giver” and a “taker” dynamic. The “giver” enables the other, making it easy for the “taker” to be dependent and needy. It’s a one-sided relationship in terms of who gives the support.
Chances are, you are the “giver” in the friendship, thus the distress you’re feeling. You feel the need to respond to all her messages immediately and be available to help at all times, such that her needs and plans supersede your own.
The “taker” on the other hand “may feel hurt and upset when the “giver” is not there for them when they need it, or feels entitled or oblivious to their sacrifices for the friendship,” notes Psychology Today.
As the “giver”, start by setting boundaries so that you can still keep the friendship and start living your own life. Here are five typical scenarios in codependent friendships that you may have experienced and ways to develop a healthier friendship.
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1. “It’s the weekend, I have no one to go out with – how can you even think about going on a date?”
They use guilt and self-pity to manipulate you into getting what they want. When you’re in a codependent friendship, you will feel compelled to keep her company whenever she doesn’t have plans. It is easier said than done, but build up the confidence to reject her, this will help the both of you head on the path to a healthy friendship, notes therapist Andrea Wachter.
2. “Oh no, I forgot my wallet again! I know you’re on the way to dinner with family, but could you meet me now to hand me some money?”
When you’re in a codependent friendship, it will seem like she only goes to you for help, which is very often, and no one else.You don’t want her to be stuck without cash, but you should not be the sole person she can turn to. Shawn M. Burn, author of Unhealthy Helping: A Psychological Guide to Overcoming Codependence, Enabling, and Other Dysfunctional Giving, suggests reducing your availability to help.
In addition, give her opportunities to help you, creating a more equal relationship. In a healthy relationship, one person does not benefit consistently at the expense of another.
3. “ I really need to talk, why aren’t you replying my messages?”
She’ll text and call constantly even when she knows you’re busy. In this case, you’ll be tempted to drop everything and respond. Remember that part of the problem in codependent relationships is that the “giver” enables the “taker” to be over-reliant. Practise self-soothing strategies like deep breathing when you need some time for yourself, but don't feel guilty for not responding.
4. “I really don’t like your new boyfriend and now that you’re attached, we don’t spend any time together at all.”
Even the world’s most perfect man will not be to her liking. She’ll be annoyed at anyone you date out of fear that you’ll prioritise this new person over her. A true friend cares about your feelings. Have an honest chat with her about the need to establish boundaries and how having other relationships does not mean that you care about her any less.
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5. “I don’t want to hang out with your friends from university. It’s more fun when it’s just us.”
She’s uncomfortable when you try and expand the social circle beyond just the two of you and worries that she will be left out. Remember that your life is enriched by not just a single person and we all need friends who have different interests and experiences. Make an effort to spend time with different people and also carve out time for yourself.