Are you in a codependent relationship?

A codependent relationship refers to a dysfunctional dynamic in which one person assumes the role of caregiver, while the other person takes advantage of this arrangement. 

In simple terms, this form of relationship occurs when one partner depends on the other, and the other partner needs to feel needed. This creates a vicious cycle where the codependent person's self-esteem and self-worth comes from sacrificing themselves for their partner, who is happy to receive these sacrifices. 

Codependent relationships don't only occur in romantic relationships, they can also happen between friends, family members, and boss-coworkers. They often involve emotional or physical abuse, or both. 

Codependence vs. Dependence 

It's important to know that there is a difference between a healthy dependence on someone and codependency. 

In a codependent relationship, the codependent partner often feels worthless unless they are needed by their partner and have to make sacrifices for them. In return, the other partner feels satisfied when their needs are met by the codependent partner. In contrast, a healthy dependent relationship involves both partners relying on each other for love and support while they both find value in the relationship. 

Additionally, in a codependent relationship, one partner believes that their purpose is to be needed by their partner and only feels happy when they make extreme sacrifices for their partner. They believe that their own interests and desires don't matter or have a difficult time expressing them. In a healthy dependent relationship, however, both partners prioritize the relationship but have their own interests and hobbies. They are able to express their feelings and needs and make the relationship beneficial for both of them. 

Signs you may be in a co-dependent relationship:

  • You have a need to make the other person happy in order to feel good about yourself 
  • You continue to stay in the relationship despite knowing that your partner's acts, behaviours, and words are hurtful 
  • You constantly need to be accepted by the other person and would do anything to please them, even at the expense of yourself 
  • You are constantly feeling anxious because you want to make sure that you're doing everything you can to keep your partner happy 
  • You experience feelings of guilt when you do things for yourself, so you tend not to express your own personal needs and desires 
  • You have a difficult time recognizing, respecting, and setting personal boundaries
  • You find it difficult to separate yourself from your partner because you may believe that your identity or worth is dependent on making sacrifices for your partner 
  • You may experience a sense of being extremely cautious or tiptoeing around to prevent conflicts with the other person 
  • You are often the one to apologize despite having done nothing wrong

Causes of co-dependency 

Research indicates that codependency can be influenced by various factors including biological, psychological, and social  elements.

Biological factors involve the potential malfunctioning of the prefrontal cortex region of the codependent individual's brain, which may lead to the inability to suppress empathetic responses. As a result, they may display an excessive amount of empathy which increases the likelihood of developing codependency. 

Codependent individuals may be psychologically predisposed to caring for others. They may also be influenced by negative life experiences such as growing up in a household with frequent fights or being the victim of neglect or abuse. Codependency may also be due to underlying self-rejection and self-abandonment issues, as the partners may not be able to see their own worth unless they feel cared for and/or needed by the other person. 

Social factors can also contribute to the development of codependency, which may be influenced by social views on gender roles and cultural expectation, or the prevalence of substance abuse within families. 

How to overcome codependency 

Taking small steps towards establishing a more positive and balanced relationship can be a very effective strategy for stepping out of the codependent nature of your relationship. Try the following: 

  • Engage in hobbies and activities you enjoy outside of the relationship
  • Spend time with your loved ones and surround yourself with supportive family members and friends 
  • Acknowledge that making consistent, extreme sacrifices for your partner and disregarding your own needs is not helpful and beneficial 
  • Consider seeking therapy to learn how to express your emotions and gain valuable tools and coping mechanisms
  • Practice establishing healthy boundaries and maintain them
  • Identify both your own and your partner's behavioural patterns, such as the desire to be needed and the expectation of the other person's life revolving around yours
  • Practice self-affirmations and being kind to yourself
  • Stand up for yourself when someone criticizes, undermines, or tries to exert control over you
  • Practice saying "no" to people who ask you for things that you don't feel comfortable with