Disclaimer. This article is for informative purposes. If you find yourself relating to any of the points mentioned in this article and need guidance, please reach out to a therapist.
People usually define co-dependent relationships within the context of a romantic relationship– where one partner is clingy or whipped. Their happiness and well-being depend on their partner’s well-being. However, co-dependent relationships are much more than that.
The American Psychological Association defines a co-dependent relationship as a state of being emotionally mutually reliant on one another or a dysfunctional relationship pattern in which an individual is psychologically dependent. In laymen’s terms, a co-dependent relationship is a cyclical relationship where one partner needs the other and the other needs to be needed. With that definition, we see that co-dependency can happen in whatever type of relationship, not just romantic ones.
If you are not sure whether or not you are in a co-dependent relationship, you may use the following signs and symptoms as a starting point. However, I still encourage you to seek the assistance of a licensed therapist for further clarification.
- You are overly concerned about the other person.
In a relationship, it is common to show interest in the other person’s well-being. You may ask yourself how they are doing and perhaps even send them a text to check-in. However, if you find yourself overly concerned about what the other person is doing, thinking, or feeling, or you feel as though you need to rescue them, this is a sign of co-dependency in your relationship.
An example of this symptom is worrying that something bad will happen to the other person if you are not around. Personally, I cannot speak as to why this trait occurs in co-dependent relationships. One theory points to attachment styles. Some therapists believe that emotional negligence, insecure attachments, or parentification experienced during childhood affect the dynamic that you seek in adult relationships. For example, someone who has been forced to take on the role of caretaker at an early age and learned to overlook their emotional and perhaps physical needs might be compelled, later on, to enter a romantic relationship with someone who they perceive “needs” them.
Although this theory, in some cases, is applicable, a 2012 article published in The American Journal of Family Therapy stated that although perceived interparental conflict can make you more susceptible to co-dependency, it is not a direct cause for co-dependent relationships.
- Your relationship is one-sided.
Usually, in a co-dependent relationship, there are two roles: caretaker/giver and taker. The caretaker carries most, if not all, of the weight and responsibilities in the relationship, while the other person is allowed freedom from them. This unbalanced dynamic can cause resentment to fester within the caregiver, and eventually, they might lash out, thus, reversing the roles. This pattern gets repeated throughout the relationship.
I understand that, in some relationships, illness or other factors can sometimes place someone in the role of caretaker. However, this does not mean that the caretaker needs to confront everything on their own. Ideally, a healthy relationship functions as a team where both individuals work through obstacles together while providing each other support, respect, and care along the way.
- You sacrifice your needs.
Another common symptom of a co-dependent relationship is feeling as though you have to make sacrifices. These sacrifices can be your health, time, money, effort, values, goals, career options, or friendships. You may feel compelled to make these sacrifices because you’ve prioritized the relationship–feeling these sacrifices necessary to maintain peace or harmony. Additionally, you might fall into the idea that these sacrifices that you make are making your partner happy.
But, are these sacrifices making you happy?
- You avoid arguments at all costs.
Continuing from the previous point, part of sacrificing your needs may also mean ignoring your emotional needs. In a co-dependent relationship, you may begin to feel as though you are walking on eggshells. You try to avoid arguments, concede to whatever they propose when you do not want to, or be reluctant to express your opinion. These actions may be inspired by wanting to keep the peace.
- You take care of others, but not yourself.
Relationships do involve some degree of care and attention towards the other person. It’s completely normal. Yet, the danger of co-dependency starts when you begin to spend more time and effort taking care of someone else than taking care of yourself. But, do not misconstrue or misinterpret empathy towards your partner with a symptom of co-dependency.
There are circumstances that may require you to place your partner’s needs first. For example, an illness. This does not mean that you are being co-dependent.
In the context of a co-dependent relationship, taking care of your partner means that you prioritize their needs, emotional or physical, at the expense of your own. Because this is a behavioral pattern that you might become accustomed to, you may even begin to feel guilty for taking a rest or practicing self-care.
This symptom can be an indicator that of lacking, not sharing, or not reinforcing personal boundaries. Boundaries are not physical or emotional obstacles meant to keep others out. They are quite the opposite. Boundaries serve to make sure that both parties feel respected, heard, and understood.
Your needs matter too. If possible and you feel comfortable doing so, talk to your partner/ parent/ friend about how you are feeling and share with them some of your boundaries. If you are having trouble, work with a therapist on creating and setting boundaries.
- You are deeply afraid of being criticized or abandoned.
Sometimes, the fear of rejection or abandonment can nurture a co-dependent relationship. This symptom is usually connected back to your attachment style. In a healthline article, Codependency: How Emotional Neglect Turns Us into People-Pleasers, Gabrielle Usatynski, MA, LPC explains how co-dependency can be related to attachment trauma. She explains that children who did not receive any indication of emotional support or physical comfort grow up to be co-dependent. This anxiety is created by emotional negligence from a caregiver or parent is still pervasive in your adult relationships. It can lead to people-pleasing, self-sacrificing, or avoidant behavior patterns.
In the same article, Dr. Judy Ho recommends taking some time for self-reflection, and I agree. Taking time to get to know yourself via traveling or hobbies can make you realize how strong you are. This time with yourself can teach you how to be present with yourself, how to nurture yourself, and how to take care of your needs.
- You resent the other person and the relationship.
One unfortunate but sometimes common symptom of co-dependency is resentment. Imagine, you have dedicated yourself to a relationship with someone and the relationship does not progress. Things are still the same and you feel like you are stuck. You may even feel frustrated and angry at the other person. Sometimes, even at yourself. I understand your frustration. It is hard feeling like you have to carry the weight of the relationship all by yourself. But, you don’t really have to.
Relationships are about balance, accountability, sharing, and responsibility. You may scoff and think your relationship is an exception, but it does not have to be.
I think the first steps of getting out of a co-dependent relationship are being honest with yourself and perhaps recognizing that you may (or may not) be in a co-dependent relationship. In that sense, I hope that this article has helped.
In regards to how to leave a co-dependent relationship, the internet offers a plethora of articles with steps on how to get out of a co-dependent relationship. However, I feel like it’s subjective. Each relationship is different and thus requires a different approach.
For some, getting out of a co-dependent relationship involves self-reflection and soul searching. For others, working with a therapist is a better option.
In this case, I, unfortunately, cannot offer you wise words of wisdom or an air-tight escape plan, but if you believe you are in a co-dependent relationship that you no longer want to be in, I encourage you to please consult a therapist for support and guidance.
I wish you the best of luck with what you decide to do and how you decide to do it.
9 Warning Signs of a Codependent Relationship. Fort Behavioral Health. (2020, April 7). https://www.fortbehavioral.com/addiction-recovery-blog/9-warning-signs-of-a-codependent-relationship/.
Belle, E., & Legg, T. J. (2020, May 22). Codependency: How Emotional Neglect Turns Us into People-Pleasers. healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/codependency-and-attachment-trauma.
Borresen, K. (2018, February 2). 10 Signs You Might Be In A Codependent Relationship. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/signs-of-codependent-relationship_n_5a725f26e4b05253b27572ba.
Esposito, L. (2016, September 19). 6 Signs of a Codependent Relationship. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-zen/201609/6-signs-codependent-relationship.
Martin, S. (2020, November 11). 10 Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/conquering-codependency/202011/10-signs-you-re-in-codependent-relationship.
Recovery Connection. (2012, September, 25). Top Ten Indicators that You Show Signs of Codependency. Recovery Connection. https://www.recoveryconnection.com/top-ten-indicators-suffer-codependency/.