While every relationship has a certain level of interdependence, codependency is a term used to describe a relationship where the emotional or psychological reliance on the other person is excessive and unhealthy. Relationships like this are often unbalanced, with one partner giving far more than the other, who mainly does the taking, and they are not healthy for either person involved.Codependent relationships can be romantic relationships, but they can also be platonic friendships or even a parent-child relationship. Any relationship where one partner is excessively dependent on the other in an unhealthy way could be a codependent relationship.
People who find themselves in a codependent relationship may struggle with low self-esteem and negative feelings which provide fuel for these unbalanced relationships and may reinforce negative beliefs about themselves.
A codependent relationship can result in feeling frustrated, exhausted, and unfulfilled. If you want to break free from these unhealthy behaviors, then it is important to recognize the signs of a codependent relationship.
9 Signs of a Codependent Relationship
1. Excessive concern about other’s actions, thoughts, and feelings
A person in a codependent relationship’s world is dominated by their partner. Their partner’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are a constant concern. A codependent person may go as far as feeling responsible for their partner’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, and if their partner is in any sort of trouble, they want to do whatever they can to help them, whether to rescue them from their problems or to try and fix anything that is threatening or upsetting the partner. They may invest much of their energy and all their resources in trying to keep their partner out of trouble.
2. Consistently one-sided relationship
A codependent relationship tends to be very one-sided. One person is allowed to be irresponsible and avoid the consequences of their actions, while the other picks up the slack because they are the hardworking and responsible one.
The responsible partner may even enable and excuse the poor choices of their partner, including enabling and excusing any addictions that their partner may struggle with, for example, if the partner is struggling with drugs or alcoholism.
3. Emotional suppressionBecause the needs and concerns of their partner are so important to a person in a codependent relationship, a person is likely to suppress their own emotional needs. This is likely because they don’t believe their needs to be as important as their partner’s needs, or they are afraid to voice their own needs because they want to please their partner. Instead of both partners being expressive and easily approachable to each other, only one partner’s wants, and needs will be prioritized.
4. Avoiding conflict and rejection
A person in a codependent relationship may find themselves frequently walking on eggshells, afraid of doing anything that may anger or displease their partner. Instead of patterns of healthy communication and empathy from both partners, a person may find themselves afraid to say “no” to their partner and afraid to speak their mind in case it leads to criticism. The relationship becomes so important to them that they are afraid of being rejected or abandoned.
They will refrain from expressing their own opinions, particularly if it differs from that of their partner, and will be unwilling to share their own feelings or to ask for what they want. A person in such a situation may feel so pressured by the fear of conflict that they may even agree to things that don’t align with their own goals and values, simply to keep the peace, even if it means denying that there is a problem.
5. Sacrificing the self for the other person’s happiness
A person in a codependent relationship may be so invested in their partner’s happiness that they would sacrifice themselves to preserve it. They may sacrifice their time, energy, money, friendships, even their health, to keep their partner happy.
They may even sacrifice their goals and values to please their partner; to take care of them and make them happy. Their whole life revolves around this person and anything that doesn’t add to their partner’s happiness can be sacrificed.
They don’t have healthy boundaries and feel as if their own needs are secondary and can be ignored to satisfy the needs and the wants of the other. A person like this may act like a martyr, giving up everything to care for their partner, while at the same time feeling frustrated and resentful, or even feeling taken advantage of because they don’t receive the same care and help. They may even find themselves financially supporting their partner’s unhealthy habits, such as gambling or substance addiction.
6. Manipulative and controlling behaviors
In a codependent relationship, one partner may find their desire to fix their partner has become an attempt to control them. Rather than taking responsibility for their own behavior or trying to heal unhealthy patterns in their relationship, they may blame each other and attempt to manipulate and control the other’s behavior through criticism, nagging, or giving ultimatums or unsolicited advice.
7. Staying in an unhealthy relationshipA person in a codependent relationship may feel frustrated and taken advantage of, they may even suspect that their relationship is unhealthy. They may feel responsible for their partner and for caring for them, remaining with them even when their partner has repeatedly hurt them physically, emotionally, or financially, yet they will stay in it.
However, except for marriage – where ending the relationship is only permitted in cases of adultery or desertion – staying in the codependent relationship may be unwise. When someone has been caring for someone else at their own expense for a significant time, they may struggle to do anything about their own needs and may feel selfish or guilty if they try to do anything for themselves. They may also feel guilt and shame over any problems they perceive in the relationship.
8. Low self-esteem
Instead of having a healthy sense of their own worth, one or both people in a codependent relationship may have low self-esteem. This creates a situation where one relies heavily on the other for their sense of self-worth and well-being.
9. Substance abuse
A codependent relationship creates a space where substance abuse can thrive. A person may turn to something like alcohol or drugs to cope with stress, whether the stress is external to the relationship or a result of the dysfunctional situation the person is in.
Alternatively, if your partner is the one struggling with an addiction, you may find yourself making excuses to cover your partner’s substance abuse. If they have physical symptoms, you provide care for them, or if they need an excuse to cover up what they have been doing, then you provide one, like calling in sick to their work for them when they are hungover. The person providing the care in the relationship may also end up enabling the addiction and substance abuse.
Changing a codependent relationship
While this isn’t a definitive checklist, if you recognize any of the warning signs, it is important to recognize that there is hope and you can change things. Because codependency is so heavily rooted in how you feel about yourself, changing a codependent relationship starts with modifying how you think.
While this may not fix the relationship because you can’t change the other person, changing yourself for the better will give you the best chance of improving your situation or deciding if you would be better off elsewhere.
Work on your self-esteemThe first step towards changing yourself would be working towards increasing your sense of self-worth. Low self-esteem results in constantly seeking validation, being afraid of rejection, and constantly feeling the need to prove your worth.
This sets you up as a caretaker who finds their purpose in being needed by another person, even if it’s at your own expense. Thus, you need to acknowledge and validate your own needs and feelings and set up personal boundaries.
Instead of getting wrapped up in caring for and pleasing someone else, spend some time trying to rediscover who you are and what you enjoy doing. Consider trying something new, or picking up an old hobby, and creating some new goals. Figure out who you are.
The concept of detaching is central to recovering from codependency, in terms of the emotional or physical space between yourself and others. It doesn’t mean that you need to abandon or end relationships, but that you need to stop obsessing about what others are doing or feeling, detaching from their problems, or the need to submit to their needs.
Don’t engage in arguments and learn to stay calm instead of reacting. If you need to between yourself and an uncomfortable or unsafe situation then do so. Consider your own needs instead of enabling unhealthy or dangerous behaviors of someone else. Set healthy boundaries.
Get emotional support
Even healthy relationships can be hard. If you are in an unbalanced relationship, it can be particularly lonely. Emotional support can reduce feelings of loneliness and shame and provide motivation and accountability as you work towards improving things. A therapist can be a useful sounding board, helping you to better understand and change yourself. You don’t have to do it alone and should seek help if you need it.
Codependency is a sign that a relationship is unbalanced and unhealthy. If you are in a codependent relationship you may, by changing yourself and creating healthier behaviors of your own, begin to bring change to the relationship without having to abandon it.
If the relationship doesn’t improve, then improving yourself may help you have the courage to know how to cope better outside of it. Either way, getting the help you need to care for your own needs is a big step in the right direction.
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