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Fact Sheet

Worried about losing yourself in a relationship

This relationship fact sheet was developed in partnership with the research firm sociometrics, for Native American youth. However, many aspects can be applied more broadly to youth regardless of background.

Your relationship and its course

In the Native American community we have lots of different relationships; from our friends, family, teachers and classmates to our boyfriends and girlfriends. Sometimes relationships work well and are easygoing and other times they can be hard and you might wonder if they’re worth it.

Most relationships occasionally go through difficult times. During these times, you might feel like avoiding the other person in the relationship, or you might want to reassess the relationship altogether. Just like anyone from any background, we all have witnessed our share of healthy to down right toxic relationships between other people. What stands out in our culture is the high number of unhealthy relationships due to dependency or codependency, where one or both partners lose their own identity and relies too heavily on the other. The dependent person can feel like a “small satellite circling a planet.” This dynamic can be learned through exhibited behavior in relationships we observe growing up (for example, our parents), especially when one or both partners abuse drugs and/or alcohol.

Some researchers suggest that the historical trauma endured by Native Americans can also be linked to the high number of unhealthy relationships. As a result of historical victimization, they suggest some Native Americans, especially women, suffer from internalized oppression and a normalization of violence.. A recent study from nonprofit Futures Without Violence also shows that the Native American population has higher levels of alcohol abuse and dependence than the general population.

How can you tell if you’re too dependent?

Dependency in the context of a relationship is a personality style in which the person affected exhibits huge “need” or dependency on another. In relationships where one partner is dependent (or both partners are dependent on each other, i.e, codependent), one partner consistently puts their partner’s needs and wants before their own needs or wants. Sometimes this can happen because one person wants to help their partner with a pervasive problem such as substance or alcohol abuse. Sacrificing one’s own needs and wants may be a learned behavior that can be passed down through generations in families. The majority of Native American communities pass their knowledge, their behaviors and their beliefs orally from generation to generation, and this can include unhealthy behaviors and dynamics.

Some signs of dependency

● Constantly putting someone else’s needs above your own
● Not wanting people to “focus” on you or your problems
● You spend a lot of time “taking care” of someone who has substance abuse problems
● Unable to be alone or not in an intimate relationship
● Appearing very competent on the outside but actually feeling quite needy, helpless, or numb
● Childhood neglect or abuse, including having a parent who had substance abuse issues
● Not expressing your thoughts or feelings in fear of not “pleasing” the people around you

Reassessing the relationship

In reassessing a relationship with another person, you might want to consider some of the following questions.

Are you getting what you want from the relationship?

If being in the relationship isn’t making you or the other person satisfied, it might be worth reconsidering how much time you spend with that person. You should also consider what you want from a relationship and whether you want a relationship at all. Check out the Do I want a relationship? fact sheet for more information.

Are you happy outside the relationship?

While it might be difficult to picture your daily life without a person who plays such a prominent role, sometimes the idea of their absence can bring a sense of freedom. You might imagine yourself stressing a little less and having fun with friends more. You might be happier outside of the relationship if when your significant other isn’t “in the picture” you consistently feel like:
● You have less stress
● You’re emotionally upset less
● You’re surrounded by friends more
● You sleep better
● You’re more outgoing

It is also possible that the thought of leaving your current relationship is extremely stressful. You may worry that you would feel quite alone and lost without your partner.  For example, if the relationship has become so much the focus of your life, other friends and family may have fallen by the wayside. In most healthy relationships, both partners are able to strike some balance between their independent lives and the relationship they have with each other. If it feels like you can’t survive without their partner, this is another possible indicator of dependence (or codependence).

Are you willing to compromise?

When you disagree, argue or are fighting with someone, you might find it hard to listen to his or her point of view. To maintain a relationship you may both need to:
● Agree to disagree
● Walk away and take time out
● Compromise
● Keep talking about what is important to you, and listen to what is important to the other person
● Respect yourself and the other person
● Think about what is fair
● Remember that having different opinions and ideas is ok. Avoiding conflict is not necessarily healthy. Resolving disagreements in a respectful way can be a sign of a healthy relationship

How significant is the person to you?

If this person means a lot to you, it’s probably worth putting effort into maintaining the relationship in some way. You might have relationships where you feel you have limited choices. These relationships may be with a teacher, employer, co-worker or family member. It’s also not uncommon to be in a relationship with someone you do not like. You might not like the person because:
● You have a personality clash
● He or she has done something you don’t like
● You don’t agree with his or her decisions or rules
● They don’t seem to be the person you fell “in love” with
● He or she is abusive. Verbally or physically. If this is the case, you might want to check out the Abusive Relationships fact sheet for more information

Native Americans have a larger domestic violence rate than a lot of other ethnicities. It is nearly 50% more likely that a Native American will suffer from domestic violence than any other ethnicity, according to Futures Without Violence.

It’s not ok to be abused (or abusive). If you fear or are experiencing physical violence and/or emotional put-downs and bullying, you might want to talk to someone you trust, like a friend, family member or counselor. See the Get Help section for more information.

Are you safe?

In some cases you might feel threatened in a relationship or fear for your safety. If you don’t feel safe with someone, avoid situations where you are alone with that person. Make a safety plan for yourself by:
● Letting people know where you are and who you are with
● Telling friends, family and people you trust about your relationship, and asking them to help protect you by being around when the abusive person is there
● Listening to your feelings, and leaving a place as soon as you feel unsafe
● Keeping a phone and transport money with you when you’re away from home, or arranging for someone to pick you up
● Having someone with you or close by when you end the relationship
● Talking to someone about what you can do to legally protect yourself

Your local police can advise you on steps you can take to protect yourself. See the fact sheet on Assessing Your Safety fact sheet for more information. You can also contact the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) for assistance 1-800-656-4673.

Resolving problems

If you feel that a relationship is worth maintaining, you might need to be clear about what problems you are having and try to find solutions with the other person in the relationship.

Before talking to the other person you may want to:

● Write down a list of your concerns
● Consider talking to someone who isn’t involved in the situation-this outsider can provide a different perspective and help you sort things out for yourself
● Think about what you are willing to compromise
● Think of a time and space where you can talk about your relationship calmly

If you’ve determined you have a codependent relationship:

● If you feel safe, share with your partner your concerns about dependency at a calm time in a non-confrontational way
● Practice independent time in the relationship, time spent away from partner
● Assess your needs and work on the best strategies for prioritizing them
● If you need additional help, talk to a trusted adult or a professional counselor or therapist. In Native communities, you may also be able to find additional support in talking groups through local counseling groups, community centers or afterschool programs
● If you’ve determined that your partner’s drug or alcohol problems are contributing to the codependency, seek help for yourself to create a healthy distance while encouraging their recovery.  You may want to seek out a talking group specifically devoted to this issue in your community or a general support group like Al-Anon to help you deal with the impact of their substance abuse
● Openly communicate and express your emotions with your partner throughout this process

More information:
Future Without Violence
Symptoms of Codependency (PsychCentral)

Where to Next?



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