The term “codependent” is thrown around quite loosely when describing situations in which a person is clingy or overly-dependent on someone else in a relationship. While there may be elements of that in a codependent relationship, codependency largely refers to a severe imbalance in a relationship. It can involve a person taking on a passive, care-taker role, or someone acting in a controlling way over the other. Either structure is unhealthy and can make it so they cannot function well without one another.

While it can be easy to blame one person for the nature of the relationship, ultimately, both people play a role in enabling codependency. Often times, both people have personality traits that become worse when they are together. Even if they are unhappy, they continue to willingly participate in the relationship for a variety of reasons. Children, financial reasons, fear, shame, and even a sense that they deserve this dynamic can all be motivators to stay in an unhealthy relationship.

How to Recognize the Signs of a Codependent Relationship

There are several behaviors and patterns that can help you identify if you are in a codependent relationship. In many cases, there is a level of dependency on someone else for approval which fuels your self-worth or identity. This can also indicate that someone either lacks autonomy or self-sufficiency.

There are some questions you may consider asking yourself to determine if you are in a codependent relationship. Consider the following:

  1. Is it difficult to say no to your partner when they make demands that require a lot of time and energy?
  2. Are you unable to feel satisfied in life?
  3. Do you continuously provide support to your partner at the expense of your own physical, mental, and emotional health?
  4. Do you worry about other people’s opinions on your relationship?
  5. Do you feel trapped?
  6. Do you not express how you feel in order to avoid an argument?
  7. Does your partner struggle with drug or alcohol abuse?
  8. Do you recognize problematic behaviors and patterns, but continue to stay in the relationship?

Codependent relationships are not limited to romantic relationships. Friendships and relationships with family members can also be codependent. While others around someone in a codependent relationship may recognize that something is wrong early on, it can take much longer for the person in the relationship to identify that as well. This can be because there are elements of emotional or physical abuse and other issues going on that make it difficult to simply get up and walk away.

Symptoms of codependent relationships tend to include:

  • Low self-esteem: A person’s opinion of his or herself is completely dependent on the other person in the relationship. The opinions of others completely define their own feelings of self-worth and they may feel unlovable outside of their role in the relationship.
  • Caretaking:Someone may not feel secure or comfortable unless they are providing care to someone else. Their primary focus in life is caring for others, even if that is at the expense of their own personal care.
  • People-pleasing: Because so much of their self-worth is wrapped up in how they believe others perceive them, they may feel like they are unable to say “no” to others. They may feel immense guilt if they do say “no” and will do anything to ensure someone has a positive opinion of them.
  • Unclear, undefined boundaries: Someone who is codependent may not have clear boundaries in relationships. They may offer up unwanted advice or want to control others in order to feel secure.
  • Hyper-focus on relationships: Codependent people often feel defined by their relationships and will become obsessively focused on a person because of this. This can cause relationships to lack any real emotional depth.

Addiction and Codependency

Codependency is often found in relationships where someone struggles with addiction. It is not limited to relationships with a spouse and can manifest in situations where both people are abusing drugs, close family members or friends are using, or even children are abusing substances. When codependency exists in a relationship where substance abuse is a part of the equation, it often leads to negative consequences for everyone involved. Codependent relationships can further enable addiction, even if the person believes they are doing the right thing. In fact, the codependent nature of the relationship may be one of the only things keeps the relationship going, meaning that this dynamic must be treated alongside the addiction itself.

In order for treatment to be successful, elements of codependent relationships must be changed as well in order to support sobriety. In some cases, a codependent partner may need their own form of treatment or therapy to help address underlying issues that contribute to enabling behaviors. Sometimes family therapy can help both members learn to have a healthy relationship. Codependent relationships can be fixed, but it takes time and effort to change patterns. In order to correct it, both individuals must be willing to set new goals, clearly define their needs, and create boundaries that allow them to work on their individual growth.

Working on these specific areas enables people to develop their own self-worth, build healthier relationships with others, and become more capable of having emotionally intimate relationships. This can help both people in the relationship recover from the negative effects of a codependent relationship. Some ways to improve the quality of the relationship include:

  • Understanding that having different needs and preferences from loved ones is okay
  • Recognizing one’s own needs and pursuing them rather than prioritizing the needs of others
  • Establishing and respecting your own boundaries as well as the boundaries of others
  • Defining your personal emotions and what they mean to you rather than what they “should” mean
  • Setting limits around your behaviors and the behaviors of others as well

Using these guidelines helps both people understand the needs of one another while still making time for self-care. Healthy boundaries in relationships can not only improve existing relationships, but help ensure that future relationships are set up for success.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.


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