What Is a Codependent Relationship

It can be difficult to recognize when you’re in a codependent relationship because they often appear to be quite beneficial or soothing to be in, at least at first—leading you to believe you’re in a healthy relationship. Codependency, on the other hand, is unhealthy and unsustainable.
Do you find yourself making numerous sacrifices for your partner’s happiness but receiving little in return? You don’t have to feel trapped if you have a one-sided pattern like that. There are numerous approaches to changing a codependent relationship and regaining control of your life.

What Is a Codependent Relationship?

Understanding what a codependent relationship is is the first step toward getting things back on track. According to experts, it is a pattern of behavior in which you find yourself dependent on the approval of others for your self-worth and identity. When your sense of purpose in life revolves around making extreme sacrifices to meet your partner’s needs, this is a red flag.

“Codependent relationships indicate a degree of unhealthy clinginess, where one person lacks self-sufficiency or autonomy,” says Scott Wetzler, Ph.D., division chief of psychology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “For fulfillment, one or both parties rely on their loved ones.”
Anyone can develop codependent. According to some research, people who had emotionally abusive or neglected parents as teenagers are more likely to enter codependent relationships.

“These children are frequently taught to subvert their own needs in order to please a difficult parent, and it sets them up for a long-standing pattern of trying to get love and care from a difficult person,” says Shawn Burn, Ph.D., a psychology professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Signs of a Codependent Relationship

Codependency is harmful to both partners. It allows one partner to sink deeper into addiction while forcing the other to forego her own wants and needs in order to care for the other.
Here is a list of signs that you may be in a codependent relationship.

1. Pleasing to Others

It’s natural to want to be liked by others, and we all want our loved ones to be happy. However, there is a distinction to be made between these normal tendencies and the constant need to please others. People pleasers frequently believe they have no choice but to keep others happy. They dislike saying no, even if pleasing others significantly interferes with their own wants and needs.

2. Absence of Boundaries

People who play both roles in a codependent relationship frequently struggle with recognizing, respecting, and reinforcing boundaries. Simply put, having boundaries means respecting the other person’s right to his or her own feelings and autonomy. It also entails accepting that you are not responsible for the happiness of another person. People in codependent relationships frequently experience a problem in which one person does not recognize boundaries and the other does not insist on boundaries. As a result, one person is controlling and manipulative, while the other is submissive and fails to assert his or her own will. One of the most important skills that families can learn in family therapy is how to set and maintain boundaries.

3. Lack of Self-Esteem

Neither person in a codependent relationship typically has high self-esteem. To have a sense of purpose, one person requires the approval of the other or, at the very least, must be of service to the other. The other person has low self-esteem as a result of having to rely on someone else to meet material needs, as well as needing validation from that person. The dependent person is frequently controlling out of a basic fear that the other person will leave.

4. Taking Care

When you feel like you have to take care of everyone all of the time, this is a major sign of codependency. This typically stems from childhood, when the caretaker learns that failing to meet the needs of a parent can have disastrous consequences. As a result, she may feel compelled to look after others, particularly a partner, not out of affection, but out of fear that something bad will happen if she does not. Most people can get by on their own, and worrying that things will go horribly wrong if you don’t take care of them is often a sign of codependency.

5. Sensitivity

When you base your identity on pleasing others and feel responsible for everyone’s well-being, you may find yourself reacting to situations rather than acting on your own initiative. You may find yourself becoming defensive or internalizing criticism. As a result, you lose touch with your own wants and needs, making it difficult to be proactive. It’s also a result of your inability to set boundaries, which makes you feel responsible for other people’s feelings.

6. Ineffective Communication

It is difficult to communicate effectively when you have a codependent mindset. The caregiver is frequently unaware of her own wants and needs, and even when she is, she may be hesitant to express them. She may believe that the most important thing is to care for the other person, or she may be afraid of upsetting the other person by asserting herself. The dependent person may have a habit of communicating dishonestly in order to maintain control rather than to communicate. Another important skill to learn in family therapy is communication. Both parties must learn to communicate openly and effectively.

7. Low Self-Esteem

The caregiver’s self-esteem may be low, or she may not have much of a self-image at all. Frequently, the caregiver defines herself primarily in relation to the other person and may have no idea who she is apart from that role. This is why the caregiver is also dependent, despite the fact that she is the one in charge of practical matters and could probably get by without the other person.

8. Reliance

Of course, dependency is an important factor in codependency. Each person is dependent on the other in some way. One person requires material assistance because addiction or other issues have hampered her autonomy. Taking care of someone provides the other person with validation and a sense of purpose. It is, in some ways, a tradeoff, but it also limits both parties involved.

9. Relationship Anxiety

Any of these factors, as you might expect, can put a lot of strain on a relationship. Problems are unavoidable when people are unable to communicate or respect boundaries. The caregiver frequently feels stressed about doing everything correctly, whereas the dependent person frequently feels insecure about being abandoned by the caregiver. Both are terrified of being alone, but neither is particularly content. There may not be many fights because one partner is usually dedicated to keeping the other happy, but both are likely to be stressed.

Can a Codependent Relationship be Saved

First and foremost, recognize that being codependent does not imply that you are a bad person. You are simply expressing an attachment style that you learned as a child. You probably learned an unhealthy view of love, which is that love requires you to take complete care of the other person or they will leave you.

Try the following suggestions to help you stop being codependent in your relationship:

  1. Seek counseling.
  2. Schedule some “me” time to help reinforce your sense of self.
  3. Learn communication skills that will allow you to express your own feelings and desires.
  4. Be completely honest with your partner.
  5. Focus on your outside relationships, such as friendships and family ties.
  6. Make your own decisions without consulting or seeking your partner’s approval for the decision at hand; stop asking them. Even for a simple question like “what should I wear to your office party tonight?” You can make your own decision!
  7. Be confident. Determine your goals and stick to them.
  8. Figure out how to make yourself happy. Do not look to your partner for happiness; instead, create it for yourself.
  9. Recognize that expecting your partner to be your everything is unrealistic. They are not allowed to be your mother, father, child, best friend, or pastor. This is why it is critical to maintain outside friendships while also strengthening ties with one’s own family and community.
    It is critical to take care of yourself as you recover from codependent.

Codependent Relationship Addiction

When someone is in a relationship with someone who has an addiction, codependency can develop. The partner may be a substance abuser or have a gambling or shopping addiction.

The person suffering from codependency may take on the role of “caretaker” for their partner. The caretaker may be relied upon by the partner to handle finances or household chores. If the addiction causes problems outside of the relationship, the caretaker may step in to replace their partner. Someone who abuses alcohol, for example, may skip work. A codependent may contact the partner’s boss on their behalf and claim that their partner is ill.

The caretaker frequently cares for their partner out of a genuine desire to assist. Nonetheless, their behavior frequently allows their partner to continue abusing drugs or alcohol. When the caregiver “rescues” the partner from consequences, the partner frequently loses motivation to change. They may fail to seek professional rehabilitation. Without treatment, the addiction may worsen.

Having said that, the caregiver is not to blame for the addict’s addiction. While codependency is a factor in someone refusing treatment, it is not the only one. Except in the case of a life-threatening emergency, no one can coerce others into rehabilitation.

This relationship can also be harmful to the caregiver. The codependent person frequently neglects their own needs in order to care for the partner. Their codependent tendencies can deteriorate over time. They’re unlikely to seek help for their own mental health issues.

How to Help Someone in a Codependent Relationship

Caregivers devote their days to caring for a loved one suffering from a chronic illness or disability. They may provide transportation, assist with bathing, or provide other day-to-day assistance. Caring for others is often difficult in and of itself. However, codependency can further complicate the situation.

If you are a caregiver, you may be concerned about your own actions. Where do you draw the line between normal caregiver behavior and codependency? Every situation is unique, but if you exhibit any of the following symptoms, you should be concerned:

  1. Demanding that a loved one do everything your way. When it comes to safety or health, you may need to put your foot down. However, it is not necessary to make every decision for the individual. You do not need to steer your loved one toward a more fashionable wardrobe if they want to wear a specific shirt.
  2. Centering your entire life on a loved one. Caregiving can consume a significant amount of time and energy. However, it is important to take breaks and maintain a social life outside of your loved one. Otherwise, you may become resentful and exhausted.
  3. Encouraging your loved one to rely solely on you Many people enjoy the feeling of being needed. However, there may be a problem if you regard other caregivers as “rivals” or discourage your loved one from being self-sufficient.

Codependency can put a strain on your relationship with a loved one. Taking steps to address codependent behaviors may help your relationship. Setting boundaries and practicing communication can help to make a stressful situation less stressful.

How to Overcome Codependency

Codependency is a relational dynamic in which you rely too much on others and their approval of you; struggle to see yourself as distinct and separate from others; struggle to recognize and prioritize your own needs. These are some suggestions for overcoming codependency.

1. Recognize and contextualize your codependent tendencies.

Codependency gets a bad rap in our hyper-independent culture, which is why I recommend that people who are struggling with this issue start by practicing compassion toward themselves when they get stuck in codependent loops. Collectivistic cultures value many of the characteristics that individualistic cultures regard as “codependent.”

For example, putting others first, self-sacrifice for the greater good, and nuanced sensitivity to the needs of others. Codependency does not imply that you are weak or flawed, or that you have “failed” to care for yourself. It denotes that you are a relational survivor.

Codependency also serves a psychological purpose. It often begins in childhood, when this pattern of “merging” with the needs of others provided you with the safest and best way of staying connected to caregivers who were unable to prioritize you and your needs—often despite good intentions.

2. Experiment with small acts of “smart selfishness.”

Keep in mind that codependency is a spectrum disorder. It’s not a rigid, absolute classification. Many of the same “codependent” behaviors are also pro-social, kind, and thoughtful. Growth for people on the other end of the codependency spectrum—those who are counter dependent or stuck in a narcissistic mindset—entails honing the skills you’re probably already very good at relational attunement and sensitivity to the needs of others.

Notice patterns in your responses to people close to you to keep yourself from veering too far on your end of the spectrum. Could you respond differently in the long run and feel better? Allow yourself to engage in small acts of “smart selfishness”—acts in which you honor your needs, wants, and feelings for the sake of your relationship’s long-term success. Recognize when you’ve gone too far in putting others first, and then try something different. Don’t berate or judge yourself.

3. Recognize your own true needs.

Distinguish between true needs and fear and avoidance. Do you need to avoid someone’s disapproval at all costs, or do you need to be careful not to over-give? Do you need to avoid making a mistake right now, or do you need to give yourself some grace and allow yourself to be human? Make a habit of slowing down, soothing yourself, and checking in with what you truly require.

4. Communicate clearly and directly.

When possible, learn to be courageously direct in your communication with others, leaving as little room for interpretation as possible. If someone asks you, “Are you available tonight?” and you’re not, say, “No, I’m not available tonight,” rather than, “Well, I’m feeling a little tired.” Clear communication begins with clear communication with oneself. Allow people to see you for more than your “pleasing,” peacekeeping, or diplomatic persona.

5. Maintain your position on your side of the fence.

When you begin to worry about how others perceive you or what they think about something you said or did, remind yourself that you have no control over what happens in other people’s minds. People should be trusted to find their own paths and solve their own problems. Even when you disappoint people, your own goodness shines through.

6. Cultivate your own unconditional self-love.

Self-judgment interferes with our ability to love ourselves and others. Experiment with self-approval. Remind yourself:

  • “These painful feelings are acceptable to me. They are a natural part of being human.”
  • “I approve of my own confusion because I can’t always be clearheaded.”
  • “I approve of the difficulties I’m experiencing because they are a part of my journey.”

Even if you wish things were different, you can approve of what is happening. Always find reasons to be proud of yourself, even when times are tough.

7. Let your stories go.

Recognize worst-case scenario stories as they come to mind. Stories keep you trapped in a painful cycle of attempting to control others when your time and energy would be better spent connecting with your own feelings, needs, desires, and values. Letting go of stories honors life, opens you up to new possibilities, and respects the right of others to be on their own unique growth journey separate from yours.

8. Let go of your attachment to the outcome.

To be able to let go of attachment to outcome, you must be willing to tolerate the unknown and live with uncertainty. When attempting to overcome codependency, it is critical to practice this on a regular basis. Fear of disappointing someone whose opinion matters to you, or of being “disliked,” is part of what keeps the cycle of codependent behaviors going. Simply put, releasing the outcome means learning to accept the possibility of disappointing important people in your life.

Yes, you may let people down. Yes, they may have negative feelings toward you for a short time. You don’t have to be happy about this possibility, but you should practice tolerating it so that you can be more yourself.


Codependency has been defined as an alcoholic family dynamic in which the alcoholic is married to a spouse who, despite not being chemically dependent, assists in, and inadvertently contributes to, the alcoholic’s problem drinking.

If you believe you are codependent, you should see a therapist. A mental health professional can determine whether your behaviors are consistent with codependency. They can also help with any co-occurring mental health problems. In therapy, you can investigate the underlying causes of your behavior and learn to balance your needs with those of others.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the characteristics of a codependent relationship?

  • Are extremely loyal, staying in perilous situations for far too long.
  • To avoid rejection or anger, they compromise their own values and integrity.
  • They put their own interests aside to do what others want.
  • Are hypersensitive to the emotions of others and take on those emotions.

What is codependent behavior?

Codependency is a learned behavior that is passed down from generation to generation. Codependency is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency frequently form or maintain one-sided, emotionally destructive, and/or abusive relationships. …

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