THE THERAPY ROOM: Relationships, Boundaries and Codependency

Posted on 15 February 2018 by LeslieM

This month, we celebrate Valentine’s Day as a significant cultural, religious and commercial reflection of romantic love.

As a practicing clinical psychotherapist, I meet with many couples who tell me that their romantic love has dwindled or even disappeared and they want my counseling to help them get back to feeling and expressing the love they experienced when they first met.

To recreate or restore a past romantic period to the present time is difficult, if not impossible, but, as a psychotherapist, I do help couples retrace the disappearance of their romantic love and help them rekindle it. I ask each partner to observe and discuss love as it relates to them individually and jointly. I usually get a confused look from the couple when I ask each to observe the love they have for self. I am not talking about narcissism, the insatiable need for constant attention and admiration, but I am talking about healthy love and care for oneself. Healthy love and care for oneself is part of the formula to be able to love another person.

Start with self love and self care. Take care of your own needs then serve others from that place of care and abundance. This way you will be giving the best of yourself, not the rest of yourself.”

What are some areas in a relationship that cause couples to go off track when it comes to romantic love?

One area is relationship boundaries. A boundary is any line that sets a limit. No one is born with automatic boundaries. They are developed over time and many enter adulthood with broken and damaged boundaries. Research shows that abuse, humiliation, shame and some mental disorders negatively affect the development of a healthy loving relationship. Our boundaries determine how we bond with others and, if we have broken boundaries, we become vulnerable to sabotage by others. It is our responsibility to develop boundaries and adjust them as needed throughout our lifetime.

One therapeutic exercise I use to teach people about boundaries is having them say “no” to something asked of them that they think or feel obligated to say “yes.” By saying “no,” it eliminates the role of victim and helps set a boundary.

Another area to examine is codependency, which is the control, nurturing and maintenance of relationships with individuals who are chemically dependent or engaging in undesirable behaviors. A classic codependency model is the alcoholic husband and the enabling wife. This model exemplifies the saying “when there is ongoing conflict, there is underlying agreement…” in other words, “it takes two to tango.”

Codependent people with weak boundaries are experts at tolerance for mental and physical pain. It becomes difficult for them to notice that someone is hurting them or that they are hurting themself.

Recovery from codependency, as well as learning to set boundaries in a relationship, is achievable and can help restore romantic love — positive change is always possible.

Dr. Julia Breur is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private clinical psychotherapy practice in Boca Raton. For more information, visit

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