Updated: Jan 15, 2022
When people have a very close relationship, it's natural and mentally healthy to depend on each other for certain things; we call this interdependence. However, if one of you loses sight of who you are, in order to please only the other person, or if one person's "okayness" is hinged on the "okayness" of the other, the relationship can become very unhealthy. Codependency refers to an imbalanced relationship pattern where one person assumes responsibility for meeting another person’s needs to the exclusion of acknowledging their own needs or feelings.
Working Definition of Codependency
"Codependency" is defined as an unhealthy relationship where partners are overly reliant on one another. As a result, a dysfunctional pattern of living and problem-solving develops between the two. The term was originally coined in the 1950s in the context of Alcoholics Anonymous to support partners of individuals who abused substances, and who were entwined in the toxic lives of those they cared for.
Codependent relationships are thus constructed around an inequity of power that promotes the needs of the taker, leaving the giver to keep on giving often at the sacrifice of themselves.
Some signs of codependency might include these:
A sense of “walking on eggshells” to avoid conflict with the other person.
Feeling the need to check in with the other person and/or ask permission to do daily tasks.
Often being the one who apologizes—even if you have done nothing wrong.
Feeling sorry for the other person even when they hurt you.
Regularly trying to change or rescue troubled, addicted, or under-functioning people whose problems go beyond one person's ability to fix them.
Doing anything for the other person, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Putting the other person on a pedestal despite the fact that they don’t merit this position.
A need for other people to like you in order to feel good about yourself.
Struggling to find any time for yourself, especially if your free time consistently goes to the other person.
Feeling as if you’ve lost a sense of yourself or within the relationship.
Questions to Ponder
Answer these questions to examine whether you might be involved in a codependent relationship:
1. Are you afraid to express genuine feelings to your partner? If you notice you often hold in your feelings for fear of how your partner will react, that's a sign the relationship is not as healthy as it could be.
2. If you do express feelings honestly, do you then feel guilty? Perhaps you think "I shouldn't have said anything... it just made matters worse" after you're open with your partner.
3. Is much of your day taken up with trying to do everything for your partner? If you're completing numerous tasks for your loved one that could easily be done by them, you might be caught up in a dysfunctional, codependent relationship. These chores are done at the detriment of your own life.
4. Are you leery of asking for help from your partner? If you can't seek assistance from your partner, it's very frustrating. In a healthy relationship, partners freely and regularly ask for a hand.
5. When you do ask for help, how does your partner react? Hopefully, your partner is open and willing to help you out whenever you ask. However, if you're codependent, you might not feel comfortable with asking or with your partner's response.
6. Do you find yourself feeling hurt or angry because your partner doesn't notice your needs? Although you try to take care of everything, you're disappointed that your partner does not spontaneously see what's going on with you. You wait and wait for your partner to recognize your needs but they rarely do.
7. Do you believe you can't have a friendship independent of your relationship? Because you're busy doing chores and errands for your partner and he's rarely satisfied with how you do them, you don't have time to maintain a friendship.
8. Do you have hobbies and activities to enjoy separate from your partner? To maintain a healthy individual identity, it's important to cultivate your own hobbies and interests, apart from the relationship. If you don't, it could be a sign of codependency.
9. Do you try to control things to make yourself feel better? Because you feel like you're walking on eggshells, you don't want to upset your partner. Therefore, you take steps to control situations however you can.
10. Would you describe your partner as needy, emotionally distant, or unreliable? These qualities often draw in partners who are seen as "caretakers." Thus, the codependency begins.
11. Do you have a perfectionistic streak and try to get things exactly right? After all, if you get things perfect, then maybe your partner will be happier, more satisfied, and less angry, disappointed, or annoyed with you. If you feel this way, your relationship is likely codependent.
12. Do you trust your partner? If so, maybe your relationship is not codependent. If you wonder what you're partner's doing or suspect they're not telling you the truth about something, there could be codependency in your relationship. On the other hand, there may be just some trust issues you might want to resolve.
13. How is your health as it relates to stress? Often, people involved in codependent relationships experience health issues that might be related to stress like asthma, allergies, out-of-control eating, chest pain, and skin disorders. Of course, if you experience any of these symptoms, it's wise to see your doctor.
The good news is that if you believe you're in a codependent relationship, you can begin altering your behavior right away to gain back a healthy sense of individuality.
Here are some ways you can begin shifting out of codependent patterns:
Become president of your own fan club. Build your individual self-esteem so you can feel good about you regardless of your relationships.
Take small steps towards some separation in the relationship; engage in activities outside of the relationship, get new solo-hobbies, and cultivate new friendships.
Invest time in figuring out who you are and build your self-esteem!
When you feel the urge to worry about ore take care of someone else, take a breath and redirect your attention inward. Allow yourself to sit with the sensation without acting on the urges, and be curious about the why you feel this urge.
Practice saying NO when you don’t really want to do something. Yes, NO is a complete sentence and you do not need to explain, excuse, or justify yourself.
Codependency is often a lifelong pattern and can be challenging to step out of on your own. If you feel you need help, seek out a professional trained in helping those with codependency. You'll feel better and your relationship will be stronger when you can relate to each other in more positive ways.