“Codependent” has become a popular word amongst pop psychology influencers and content creators, a label applied to any relationship where two people spend a lot of time together.
In reality, codependency is much more complex, and a codependent relationship can have a significant impact on your mental and emotional wellbeing. Read on to learn about the warning signs that your relationship might be codependent.
You are supportive to a fault
The hallmark of a codependent relationship is feeling excessively (or even completely) responsible for the other person’s actions, emotions, and wellbeing. You find yourself in charge of taking care of your partner (or family member, friend, or even coworker) instead of them being in charge of taking care of themselves. This might look like:
- Visiting your parents who live a few hours away every weekend – you’ve fallen behind on projects at work and lost touch with friends, but worry how sad they’d be if you scaled back your trips
- Taking over managing your partner’s finances, medical appointments, and household chores – they were on top of these things before your relationship, but you feel like you can help them out by doing it better
- Feeling like it’s your fault your adult child didn’t get into grad school – you should have been more on top of their application process, checked over their work, or taken on some of their responsibilities so they could be more focused on this task
- There are no boundaries in your relationship – your time is their time, their opinions are your opinions, their wish is your command.
There’s a downside to the ways you’re showing up for your partner
In a codependent relationship you always want to make the other person happy, even if it’s at your expense. There may be a pattern of agreeing to participate in activities they suggest even if you really dislike them, or a pattern of always deciding to spend time with your partner’s friends because they’re more in their element compared to spending time with yours.
You may find yourself excusing bad behavior again and again – like serious overspending, betrayals of relationship agreements, or refusal to work on addressing mental health symptoms – because you are TOO sympathetic to their inner demons driving their actions. While it may be empathetic to care about what your partner is going through, failing to hold them accountable makes it less likely that they will change.
If your partner has a lot of problems with drugs or alcohol, you might find yourself jumping from crisis to crisis, constantly needing to “rescue” them from consequences. You seem to always be reacting to something that’s happening to someone else, rather than initiating actions as a character in your own story.
You can’t focus on what YOU need from the relationship
In a codependent relationship, you can’t find the space to fulfill your needs, only your partner’s. You might not even be interested in having the focus be on you in the relationship, and feel guilty when you do things for yourself, like take an evening class on your own or plan a vacation with your friends.
If you do have problems with your relationship that you want to address, you find it really hard to communicate them. This might be because you don’t know how to put words to what you feel, or because you’re so busy taking care of your partner that there’s no time to talk about anything else.
It's also very common to miss out on getting what you need from the relationship because you avoid conflict at all costs. Because it’s so important to make your partner happy, you can’t bear the thought of “creating drama” by asserting what you want, which you’ve convinced yourself isn’t really that important at all.
You don’t have a strong sense of who you are
It’s really easy to get wrapped up in someone else and ignore yourself if you don’t really know who you are. In a codependent relationship, your bond feels like your identity, and your attempts to caretake or fix your partner give you a sense of purpose.
Because you don’t know yourself, you also find it really hard to know what you feel – a codependent relationship overshadows the need to understand your emotions, form opinions, or figure out what you want from life.
It’s very common to have low self-esteem in a codependent relationship. You may feel really, really afraid of losing your partner, because you believe no one else could ever want to offer you companionship. This might also drive you to make sure that person wants you around, at all costs.
What life factors influence codependent relationships?
Many people in codependent relationships grew up in circumstances where they had to give up who they were and what they needed to take care of someone else, or witnessed someone close to them in that dynamic. Examples of the kinds of struggles that could create this dynamic include:
- A family member with a serious drug or alcohol addiction
- A chronically ill family member with little caregiving support or resources outside the home
- A parent who overly relies on their child for emotional support, especially support for past traumatic events or signs of mental illness
You can change
You can’t force another person to change, but you can take steps to change yourself. If you’re wondering how you’ve gotten into a pattern of codependent relationships and you want to make your current relationship more healthy, or if you want to avoid creating codependent bonds in the future, therapy could help. Click the button below to set up a free phone consultation – I’d love to learn a little bit more about you and chat about how therapy could be a source of support.