Relying on your partner is one thing, but relying on them too much? That’s a whole different situation. If either you or your partner is too dependent on the relationship, then you might be entering the realm of codependency. This is defined as 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
Typically in codependent relationships, one person acts 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 provides partners with autonomy and establishes 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 thrown out the window. Usually, one person will completely disregard any boundary requests, and the other person lets it happen.
At times, these relationships can often become abusive because of the inherent power dynamic between the caretaker/enabler and the dependent. Abusive relationships are more common in relationships that lack boundaries.
3. Low Self-Esteem
It’s common for one or both codependent partners to lack self-esteem. The codependent partner (the person 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 feel purposeful.
The codependent person’s identity is based on people-pleasing which causes them to be overly concerned with the other’s well-being and, perhaps, out of touch with their own needs. 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 all of your needs indulged by your partner 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 does not 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
Substance abuse, whether alcohol or other drugs, is common among codependent relationships. 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 important to take time to focus on yourself, rather than the needs of your partner. At the end of the day, you need to be happy with yourself regardless of your relationship status. 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 isn’t a bad thing! Think about your needs and what you’re comfortable with in a relationship, and honestly relay them to your partner. 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 to myself this afternoon.”
3. Learning to Recognize Abusive Behavior
Unfortunately, there are times when the caretaker/enabler will take advantage of the codependent person through manipulation, verbal abuse, or even physical and sexual abuse, knowing 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 to make a plan to leave the relationship.
Breaking the codependency cycle 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 for you to consider.
If you don’t have the time or money to go to a traditional therapist, you and your partner can always try Relish! Relish is a relationship coaching app meant for modern couples who want to address the struggles in their relationship, including those related to codependency.
While both partners may feel fulfilled in a codependent relationship, that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. If you recognize codependent patterns in your relationship, you and your partner should work towards addressing them together.