Relying on your partner is one thing, but relying on them too much is a whole different ball game. If either you or your partner is too dependent on the relationship, then you might be reaching a level of codependency—extreme emotional or psychological reliance on a partner. It’s completely natural to rely on each other in ways that facilitate growth and fulfillment, but what happens when you take it too far?
Let’s take a closer look at what a codependent relationship looks like and how to break free from its destructive cycle.
Here are 5 signs of codependency in a relationship:
1. Extreme People Pleasing
Codependent relationships typically involve one person acting as the caretaker while the other has their every need attended to. If your partner is a perpetual people pleaser to the extreme (aka, the caretaker) it could be a sign of codependency. Compromise is one thing, but if someone is bending over backward to accommodate their partner, and the partner doesn’t even try to meet them halfway, it’s likely a codependent relationship.
2. Lack of Boundaries
Creating boundaries is necessary in any healthy relationship. Boundaries help provide partners with autonomy and establish that each partner is responsible for their own happiness and emotional state. In codependent relationships, two people rely on each other so much that boundaries are virtually nonexistent. Usually, one person will completely disregard any boundary requests, and the other person allows it to happen.
Unfortunately, abusive relationships often stem from those that lack boundaries. They can become abusive because of the inherent power dynamic between the caretaker/enabler and the dependent.
3. Low Self-Esteem
In a codependent relationship, both partners often lack self-esteem. The codependent partner (the one who seeks the approval and support of the other), may need constant affirmation and emotional support because they do not believe in their own self-worth. On the other hand, the caretaker/enabler partner wants to feel needed by their partner in order to gain a sense of purpose.
The codependent person’s identity is based on people-pleasing, which causes them to ignore their own needs and become overly concerned with the other’s well-being. If you are constantly trying to please your partner, you will most likely be reacting to their actions and wants, rather than acting in a proactive way.
The caretaker/enabler role is also a reactive one. Constantly having a partner take care of their every need often leads to entitlement. They expect their partner to give in to their every whim (which they usually do), so in the rare case that this doesn’t happen, they can become reactive. Along these lines, there is also a high level of anxiety in codependent relationships, since no one can be pleased all the time, no matter how hard you try.
5. Substance Abuse
Whether it’s alcohol or other drugs, substance abuse is common in a codependent relationship. What’s worse, the addict’s codependent partner enables their actions by bending over backward to help them, support them, and love them despite their destructive, unhealthy behaviors. If you or your partner (or both) have a substance abuse problem enabled by your relationship, it’s likely the cause of codependency.
If you’ve determined you’re in a codependent relationship, here are 5 tips for breaking the cycle:
1. Nurturing Yourself and Your Needs
In order to build self-esteem and establish boundaries, you need to focus on a lot of self-care and self-love. It’s so necessary to take time to focus on yourself, rather than the needs of your partner. Remember, you don’t need someone to feel fulfilled! Find a new hobby, practice meditation, exercise, or work on eating healthier — anything that helps you learn to love yourself first.
2. Establish Boundaries
Saying no is a good thing! It’s important to think about your needs and what you’re comfortable with in a relationship, and tell your partner about them. If you’re not okay with any of their behaviors, tell them! You should also be honest about needing time for yourself. Setting boundaries can be as simple as saying, “I don’t have the time or energy to do that today,” or “I need to take some space for myself this afternoon.”
3. Learning to Recognize Abusive Behavior
There are times when the caretaker/enabler will take advantage of the codependent person through manipulation, verbal abuse, or even physical and sexual abuse. They do this because they know the codependent person is not able to stand up for themselves or leave the relationship. They can feed on their partner’s lack of self-esteem and make them believe no one else will love them.
Even if your partner can change, it will come at a great emotional expense that may not be worth it in the end. If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, you should turn to a close friend or trusted professional and make a plan to leave the relationship.
Breaking the cycle of a codependent relationship can be tough to do on your own, and therapy is always an effective option for moving forward. Whether you look for a couples therapist or relationship coach, you’ll be able to talk through issues and get a third-party perspective.
If you don’t have the time or money to go to a traditional therapist, you and your partner can always try the relationship coaching app, Relish! It’s meant for modern couples who want to address the struggles in their relationship, including those related to codependency. You’ll get personalized lessons and advice from real relationship experts right from your phone.
While both partners may feel fulfilled in a codependent relationship, that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. If you recognize that you’re struggling with a codependent relationship, you and your partner should work towards addressing it together to build a happier, healthier bond.