You may have heard the term “codependent” used to describe a clingy couple or a pair of friends who are particularly needy of each other’s presence. While this may be something to look into, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are in a codependent relationship. People in a codependent relationship will plan their life around someone else’s behaviors, needs, or wants, no matter how damaging they may be.
For instance, a person in a codependent relationship with someone who has a substance use disorder may allow them to be violent, neglectful, or absent without any real consequences. They may never ponder what is addiction or be willing to explore treatment options due to fear of losing their spouse, partner, or friend.
If you don’t know if you or a loved one is in a codependent relationship, read on to learn some signs of dependency and how to fix an enabling relationship.
What Is Codependency?
First of all, it’s important to note that “codependency” can be a stigmatized term and it’s not always a bad thing to be dependent on someone. In friendships and romantic partnerships, it’s expected that there be some level of connection and care for your loved one’s well-being. It becomes a problem when the relationship is consistently tumultuous and you become addicted to the highs and lows, revealing extremism and lack of emotional safety.
Codependency is not an officially recognized personality disorder or mental illness. However, mental health professionals still find the concept meaningful in diagnosing other personality disorders and view it as a unique psychological construct. Codependency doesn’t only happen among couples. Relationships between friends, family members, or co-workers can become codependent.
It’s not always the case, but some codependent relationships include physical or emotional abuse. Mental health treatment is suggested to help with codependency because oftentimes, someone doesn’t realize they’re in a codependent relationship.
What Are Signs of a Codependent Relationship
Knowing the difference between a healthy reliance on someone as support and codependency signs can help mend a potentially toxic relationship. Codependency often relies on a “cycle” of actions that enable and justify damaging behaviors between people. Recognizing behaviors can help break this cycle and create healthier habits.
Signs of a codependent relationship are:
- feeling guilt when expressing needs
- only deriving worth out of a relationship from feeling needed by or making sacrifices for an enabler
- feeling satisfied and justified by getting needs consistently met (as an enabler)
- having no sense of identity, interests, or values outside of the relationship
- an inability to recognize your own feelings or needs
- being unconcerned with your own desires or believing your needs are unimportant for the greater good of the relationship
- neglecting important areas of life to please a partner
- staying in a relationship even if it’s apparent the partner does hurtful things
- feeling like a relationship is always in jeopardy unless sacrifices are made
- spending lots of time and energy pleasing a partner
Someone in a codependent relationship usually has a hard time leaving. If you have a loved one in a toxic relationship, it can be frustrating to watch. However, try to be patient, honest, and non-judgemental. Research has found that codependent people often had abusive parents that put their wants before their children. This may make someone grow up with an innate desire to please others despite negative effects on themselves.
How Can I Get Help?
If you relate to any of the above signs, you may want to seek outside perspective from a therapist. There are holistic and professional approaches you can explore. Some tips focus on creating a healthy space in a relationship, while others focus on things you can do to find more of an identity.
Ways to help a codependent relationship are:
- find separate hobbies or activities you can enjoy outside of the relationship
- spending more time with supportive family members or friends
- as an enabler, trying to recognize how your actions can be hurtful and finding ways to make a change
- attending 12-step group meetings, such as Al-Anon, that focus on codependent relationships with people who have addictions
- attending individual or couples therapy that can address enabling actions and help you discover feelings from childhood that lead to codependent behavior
Codependent relationships can look very different and range in severity. In some cases, relationships mend with treatment and dialogue. Other times, more drastic measures may need to be taken. If you are confused about what to do, you may want to speak to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor for help. Hearing an outside perspective can provide a clearer picture of a situation.