A certain degree of dependency can be characteristic of an entirely healthy relationship — it’s mutually beneficial to feel like you can rely on your partner and vice versa. However, when the balance of needs shifts dramatically toward one partner, leaving the other feeling responsible for their loved one’s mental and emotional stability, that can teeter a relationship into the problematic territory of codependency.
Psychology Today defines codependency has “when two people with dysfunctional personality traits become worse together. Enmeshment happens when clear boundaries about where you start and where your partner ends are not clearly defined.” This dynamic generally involves one partner with “problems” that need addressing and another who functions as a support system, often to their own detriment. This inherent lack of evenly-shared power often results in anxiety for one or both partners, ultimately impeding lasting happiness.
If you’re wondering whether you might be in a codependent relationship, read on for seven common signs of this situation, along with the tips you'll need to change course.
Signs of a Codependent Partnership:
1. You find yourself making major sacrifices for your partner’s sake with no perceivable benefit to you.
Codependency frequently hinges on one partner serving as a point of focus for both; the other partner’s activities and choices center around the wants and needs of the primary partner. If you regularly make sacrifices for your partner’s sake (providing financial assistance, serving as a constant shoulder to cry on, cancelling social plans of your own to be available to your partner at their convenience) without reciprocation, that’s a strong indicator of a codependent dynamic.
2. You’re often doing tasks for your partner that they should be doing for themselves.
In codependent relationships, the primary partner often lacks the skills or the wherewithal to accomplish simple tasks for themselves, like scheduling appointments, preparing their own meals, or keeping their home in order. The secondary partner then picks up the slack, relieving the primary partner of self-responsibility and taking on that burden themselves.
3. You can’t find satisfaction in pursuits or situations that don’t involve your partner.
When your identity becomes completely and inextricably linked with that of your partner and your relationship, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to discover joy and satisfaction in activities that don’t involve your partner. While individuals in healthy relationships can engage in hobbies and social gatherings on a separate basis, codependent couples choose instead to eliminate friendships and pursuits that take them away from their partner, even temporarily.
4. You constantly make excuses for your partner’s questionable behavior.
Even if a member of a codependent relationship knows that their partner behaves in an objectionable manner, they often feel the need to make excuses or offer up justifications for these actions. They may blame circumstances or they may place responsibility on their partner’s mental health, but they’ll do whatever they can to absolve their loved one.
5. You know that your partner is emotionally manipulating you... and you allow it to continue.
People in codependent relationships aren’t stupid or naive. They’re often aware of the manipulative nature of their connection to their partner, but because the codependent dynamic also serves their own needs (the need to be needed, the need to “help”), they’ll make themselves available and receptive to said manipulations.
6. You go to extreme lengths to avoid arguments with your partner.
Because those in codependent relationships literally build their entire worlds around each other, they’ll go to remarkable extents to keep arguments to an absolute minimum, even if that means keeping emotions bottled up and refusing to openly discuss concerns or disagreements.
7. You’re constantly looking for ways to “fix” your partner.
If you’re the secondary partner in a codependent relationship, you may think it’s your job to “fix” whatever’s plaguing your primary partner. If they have emotional challenges or issues related to their past, you’ll try to rectify the problem and will ultimately blame yourself if you’re “unsuccessful”.
How To Break The Pattern:
1. Surround yourself with friends and family who support you and bolster your self-esteem.
Because codependent relationships often occur when the secondary partner doesn’t have high self-esteem, it’s important to surround yourself with people who love you and who are willing and able to provide emotional fortification. Rather than distancing yourself from your friends and family (as frequently happens in codependent situations), try to reestablish those relationships as much as possible.
2. Seek out a therapist who treats anxiety and intimacy challenges.
Therapists can offer useful, actionable, and impartial advice to anyone seeking a way out of a codependent relationship. Research practitioners in your area and find a therapist who specializes in codependency and anxiety.
3. Practice setting boundaries in all aspects of your life.
Codependency involves a lack of boundaries; the primary partner tries to push the secondary partner into certain habits and behaviors, and the secondary partner doesn’t establish limitations. If this sounds familiar, it can be helpful to practice boundary-setting in general. For instance, if your boss tries to overload you with assignments, feel free to ask her for some help or flexibility. Once respectful boundaries become a regular part of your routine, it can become easier to apply those standards to your next relationship.