How to Detach from Someone and Still Love Them

By Michelle Farris, Psychotherapist and Codependency Expert.

For people with codependency, detaching emotionally is like pulling teeth. They become overly attached in relationships which makes it harder to let go of control. 

In this article, you will learn how practicing detachment is critical for improving relationships in codependency recovery. 

When you struggle with codependent behaviors, you focus too much on helping or fixing other people’s problems. It feels like you have no choice but to help when someone is hurting. So, when bad things happen to them, you feel compelled to step in, even though it’s not your issue. You take responsibility for other people’s problems and wipe yourself out in the process.

You have very little energy left for your own problems but detachment will save your energy in the long run.

What is detachment?

Detaching allows you to let go of what is not your problem to fix. It means letting others experience the consequences of their actions instead of stepping into another person’s problems. You realize that any attempts at controlling or changing what others do is futile. In fact, holding on too tight sometimes ends up hurting you or the relationship. For instance, the other person might resent your attempts to take over and feel like you have no faith in their abilities. 

Detachment creates some much needed separation in relationships. Instead of being enmeshed in other people’s lives, by practicing detachment, you understand the line between what your responsibility is and what isn’t.

For instance, when a loved one is depressed, you can show support, but you don’t try to fix their depression because you realize that you can’t. Or, when a family member drinks too much, you don’t make their life easier by paying their bills. You let them hit their emotional bottom.

In codependency recovery, you realize that the only thing you have complete and total control over is YOU, your actions, your beliefs, and your words. Everything else is outside of your control – and that’s a relief! 

Practicing healthy detachment creates a healthy boundary in relationships. It preserves your energy in situations where you are trying to control someone else’s behavior. Instead of getting frustrated because people don’t always do what you want them to do, you can detach with love. 

A common misconception is thinking that detachment means you don’t care about the other person. The opposite is true because when you practice detachment, you are taking care of yourself and giving others the dignity to take responsibility for their own life.

You shift from worrying about them to not overstepping your boundaries. Because when we insert ourselves into someone else’s life – by trying to change them – we are actually overstepping.  

The Benefits of Detachment:

Detachment has many benefits in relationships. There are specific situations where detaching helps:

  • Active addiction
  • Destructive or abusive behavior
  • Annoying habits and embarrassing behavior
  • Situations you want to control but have no control

Detachment doesn’t mean you stop caring. You stop participating in someone else’s chaos. Whether it’s making excuses for them, taking on their responsibilities or neglecting your own commitments to help, you learn that the best thing you can do is to leave their problems alone.

Isn’t it more loving to help rather than watch them suffer? Not necessarily. Doing for others what they can do for themselves robs them of the dignity of choice.

Everyone deserves that to make that choice.

The Opposite of Detachment: Control

By taking responsibility for someone else’s behavior, you prevent them from experiencing their own pain and hitting bottom. Ironically, when there is addiction or mental illness, detaching can restore sanity in your home. By separating yourself emotionally, you can live your own life despite what’s happening for others. You can offer help, but you are powerless if they refuse to accept it.

This does not mean that you abandon someone who is mentally ill – but it also doesn’t mean that you don’t protect yourself from abusive behavior. 

There is often an overwhelming fear that if you detach, the person will die. This intense powerlessness is the hardest part. There’s an Al-Anon saying:

You’re not responsible for your loved one’s behavior. It takes a lot of restraint to let them have their consequences. With the right support, it gets easier.

Here are some examples of detachment:

-Not making excuses for them.

-Letting them handle their own problems and make mistakes.

-Not riding in a car with them when drinking or driving unsafe.

-Leaving the room to avoid giving advice.

-Removing yourself and your children before they become violent.

The Pain of Letting Go:

When you try to assert control, the situation gets worse. The stress of trying to fix what isn’t yours is exhausting. Anxiety, depression, people pleasing and difficulty setting boundaries are all signs of codependency that stem from issues of control. Learning how to let go and redirect the focus back to yourself helps you to detach.

Tips on detaching:

-Silence helps. Ask yourself, how important is it?

-Recognize that sometimes helping doesn’t work.

-Do something for YOURSELF instead.

-Refrain from giving advice or preventing their pain.

-Leave the room if you must. It will save your sanity in the long run.

Final thoughts:

Detaching with love implies stepping out of the way. It takes an effort to let go of control. Learn to delineate between the person and the behavior. It’s a delicate balance between offering help and accepting their power of choice without judgment.

When you practice detaching with love, relationships improve because you’re setting a healthy boundary, not trying to change someone else. You can love and accept the other person and save your sanity in the process. 

In addition to being a regular contributor to the #1 Online Magazine For Codependency Recovery, Michelle Farris is a Psychotherapist and Codependency Expert. Learn more about Michelle and how to create relationships that work. Get your FREE journal prompts to help you heal from codependency:

2 Responses

  1. Curtis George says:

    The information speaks directly to and about me. I will practice the advice given.

  2. Thanks Curtis for reading!

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