You may find yourself in a relationship where you or your partner depend on your partner more than what is ok for a healthy relationship. So, What is codependency? And How does it affect your relationship?
Codependency in a relationship is the reliance of both partners on each other to fulfil some of their needs. A healthy relationship involves people who are physically, emotionally and financially independent. Understanding the line between an inherent dependency that comes from being in a relationship, and an unhealthy dependency can help you identify issues and deal with them promptly.
In this article, we’ll explore codependency in a different way. It will give you a fresh perspective to look at your relationship and identify your level of dependency. So, you can see if you are having some unhealthy codependency.
What Is a Codependent Relationship?
Let’s have a look at what codependency means. Here’s the definition of codependency according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
1: a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person manifesting low self-esteem and a strong desire for approval has an unhealthy attachment to another often controlling or manipulative person (such as a person with an addiction to alcohol or drugs)
2: dependence on the needs of or on control by another
Let’s see what it means to be dependent
1: decided or controlled by something else
2: needing someone or something else for support, help, etc.
3: addicted to alcohol or a drug
Here, I propose to step away from seeing codependency as something negative. And instead approach it as the word suggests, as mutual dependency. We’ll talk about codependency as an aspect of a relationship where partners depend on each other.
In a relationship where people spend a lot of time together and share their personal space, it is expected to have some degree of dependency.
Codependency in itself is neutral but it can become unhealthy when it becomes an excessive dependency.
So, in that sense codependency is two people who are in a relationship depending on each other. However, too much dependency can lead to needy and desperate behaviour that can result in a toxic relationship.
Codependent Relationship Examples
A codependent relationship can develop with pretty much with anyone you interact. Such as friends, family, parents, partner, boss, or coworkers.
Here are some examples of healthy dependency:
- Two partners depending on each other to do what they say they would
- If one person needs help and support with something they rely on their partner to do it
Here are some examples of unhealthy dependency:
- When one person doesn’t do things without their partner
- When a partner is obsessive about doing things specifically fo their partner
- When a partner expects things to be done
What Causes Codependency in a Relationship?
Unhealthy codependence can stem from unresolved issues from childhood. These issues can be caused from a child not getting enough care, love and attention. Where the child is not heard or the child self-expression are not welcome.
One of the causes of an unhealthy dependency could be an event like a divorce or a death of a parent where the child will feel abandoned. This will create the need to look for someone to replace the lost care taker.
The unhealthy manifestation of this would be a relationship where a romantic partner is seeing as a caretaker. It is more likely to happen at a subconscious level where such dynamic could go unnoticed. It can only be discovered through self-reflection and feedback from other people.
The unhealthy dependency can originate from childhood. Where the child did not receive enough care, love and attention.
This can result in two issues one is the child does not have the room expressed themselves, their needs and desires. The other problem is that the child has an unmet need for being heard. So, these two things can result in the child forming the belief that their expression does not matter. As well as believing that if they find the way to express themselves, they are not going to be heard.
Then, this can manifest later on in low self-value. When it comes to a relationship, this can manifest in a behaviour where approval is very important.
Because as a child you learn what you have to say doesn’t matter. It means that other’s opinions is more valuable than yours. This is reason the approval becomes so important. You are essentially valuing others opinions more. This is also a very personal experience where your worth relies on what others think it is.
When you look for approval means that you want someone else define your value. The problem with it, is that you believe that you are only worth what others think you are worth. What you have to say, what you want or need are not important, and you end up prioritising your others.
The desperate need for approval can manifest as a people pleasing behaviour. In this case, a person will struggle to set their own boundaries. They will expect others to respect these boundaries because a person would not see their personal space or needs as important. Instead, they will prioritise pleasing others over the respect of themselves and their boundaries.
How Codependency Affect a Relationship
Dependency in a relationship is healthy. But, when it comes to relationships when one or both partners have an unhealthy codependency it can create problems
Codependency can cause:
- Emotional distress
- Addictive behaviours
- Be detrimental to your well-being
- Emotional disconnection
- Passive aggression
In a relationship unhealthy codependency manifests in two ways:
- One partner needing more attention that what their partner is happy to give them
- One partner keeps giving attention to their partner even though the other partner doesn’t need it or want it
Common Codependency Problems in a Relationship
- Losing your own sense of identity
- Neglecting yourself for your partner and your relationship
- Abusive and destructive behaviour from one partner
- Denial of having an unhealthy codependency
- Focusing only on the negative side of things
Signs of a Codependent Relationship
Signs that You Are in a Codependent Relationship
Here are some signs that present in codependent relationships:
- Finding satisfaction only on the doing or giving to your partner
- Feeling you need to help and save your partner
- Feeling you are responsible for helping your partner
- Unable to leave a relationship that is toxic
- Doing things to please others even if it damages you in some way
- Being on eggshells because you need to please your partner
- Becoming defensive and having the need to disagree even if there’s no objective reason to do so
- Feeling guilty when you don’t do something your partner would expect you to do
- Ignoring or sacrificing your own needs and desires and putting your partner’s first
- Feeling unable to be or live without your partner
- Having low self-esteem
- Being unable to set boundaries
- Constantly looking for approval from your partner
- Unable to ask for help
- Extreme need for approval and recognition
- History of being in codependent romantic relationships before without resolving the issues
- Apologising for things even when they were not your fault
- Needing constant validation of what you do and of who you are
- Doing anything for your partner because of the fear of abandonment
- Having a need to control others
- Feeling angry, victimised, unnappreciated and used
- Difficulty adjusting to change
- Giving gifts and making favours to be liked
- Avoidance of emotional and/or physical intimacy to avoid feeling vulnerable
- Evasive communication to avoid conflict or confrontation
- Avoiding to show your emotions as they are conceive a weakness
How to Deal with Codependency in a Relationship
- Understand what is codependency
- Recognise how you and your partner depend on each other
- Identify if this is a healthy or unhealthy codependency
- Explore the beliefs you have formed as a result of your childhood and upbringing
- Try to understand how some of these beliefs are contributing to your unhealthy dependency that is driven by the need for approval.
- Check with yourself if you are evaluating your self-worth based on someone else’s opinion
- Talk about your thoughts, doubts and discoveries with your partner to get their feedback
- Show them gratitude for their feedback and process this feedback in a healthy way (described above)
An essential part to address codependency is the willingness to support each other and care for each other. Rather than seeing each other as an enemy and act defensively.
In an unhealthy codependent relationship, a partner’s need for approval leads you to seek positive feedback from others. This partner will also be having a hard time dealing with negative feedback. Because when someone else will give them a feedback it will be perceived as negative. For them it’s not only feedback, it becomes a gauge of self-worth.
There is a feedback from the outside world and there is how you perceive this feedback. When someone tells you their opinion, a healthy way to handle a feedback is to recognise that it is only someone else’s opinion and to see if there’s something you can learn from it.
People with unhealthy dependency issues see a feedback as an evaluation of their personal worth. As a result, the person with dependency issues would try to avoid negative feedback, because of the fear of reinforcing their low self-worth belief.
This however can prompt a person to look for the negative feedback, so they can reject it. This stems from a basic need for safety, and you see the negative feedback as danger, which can be perceive as a threat to your safety and self-worth.
All of this will manifest in a person seeing any feedback as negative and acting defensively against it with an idea of protecting oneself.
How to Overcome Codependency
To deal with unhealthy codependency, you need to reevaluate how you define your own self-worth. The first thing is to stop relying on others opinions to evaluate of your self-worth.
When you are codependent you need:
- To rediscover yourself
- Work on your self-esteem
- Go back to your childhood and see what happened from a new perspective where you have the power and where you can create your new you.
Ending a Codependent Relationship
Ending a relationship with unhealthy codependency can be challenging. When left unresolved, after a while, this codependency can turn into a toxic relationship, full of arguments, fights and frustrations.
It is possible to save a relationship and address codependency in a healthy way. Doing that requires both partners are open minded and willing to work on themselves and on their relationship.
While, it can be a challenging process. It can also be an eye opening and a life changing experience for each person as an individual and both of them as a couple.
If you are struggle to work out your codependent issues, you may need to consider ending your relationship. Even if you decide to end your relationship. It is worth getting professional help to address your unhealthy dependency. So, you can avoid re-creating the same problems in the future.
In this article, we talked about codependency as an inherent part of a relationship where two people who spend a significant amount of time together and share their physical space inevitably depend on each other in some ways.
Codependency becomes unhealthy when one or both partners have exaggerated dependency.
Codependency is unhealthy when a person places their partner’s health, well-being and safety before their own. By doing so, a codependent person can lose contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of self.
In an unhealthy codependent relationship, one partner relies on the other to meet all of their needs. And the other one does everything for their partner in order to be validated.
When you are codependent you have a belief that your worth is define by what others think, this leads to seeking approval. You would want to make others to think and say positive things about you. As you want to be good enough and now this good enough is dependent on what others think. This leads to a person seeking positive feedback, creating a need for approval.
Help and Advice with Codependency in Your Relationship
Tips to Deal with Codependency in Your Relationship
Here are some things you can implement to make some changes to help you get out of the codependency:
- Recognising your codependent patterns
- Recognising you are in a codependent relationship
- Having an honest and open discussion with your partner and work out your codependency together
- Start spending time apart from your partner and dedicate this time to yourself. You can practice a hobby or a physical activity you enjoy
- Spend some time with your friends and family without your partner
- Work of your self-esteem
- Make yourself a priority
- Practice being assertive, learn to say no
- Set boundaries
- Ask for what you need and want
- If you struggle to do this by yourself, get professional help
If you don’t know how to deal with codependency and you need professional help and advice, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can codependent relationships be fixed?
You can try to fix the unhealthy codependency by addressing its causes, provided that you can talk to your partner openly and freely.
Are codependent relationships healthy?
A certain degree of dependency is expected in a relationship. Unhealthy dependency can create problems and lead to a toxic relationship.
How to stop being codependent?
To stop unhealthy codependency, both you and your partner need to recognise the unhealthy ways in which you depend on each other.
Can a codependent relationship work?
An unhealthy codependency involves an expectation of one partner to fulfil the personal needs of the other. Such expectations put a lot of pressure on the other partner, which may in itself lead to additional problems.
Can a codependent relationship become healthy?
A relationship can become healthy once the unhealthy codependency of everyone involved in the relationship is addressed.
How to avoid a codependent relationship?
You could address your personal issues before starting a relationship. The less issues you bring into the relationship, the healthier and more enjoyable it will be.
How do you break the cycle of codependency?
The only way to break the cycle of codependency is by working on yourself. By looking into the behaviours that are causing you problems or that bring problems to your relationship. You can identify if your relationship has left you feel unbalanced, unhealthy, or not enjoyable.