You may have heard the word thrown around in reference to various types of relationships: "They're too codependent to break up." "He and his mother are codependent." "She does it because she's condependent."
It certainly sounds dysfunctional, but what does it mean to be in a codependent relationship? How is co-dependent different from dependent? Let's take a look at what codependency is, how to spot it in your relationships, and free yourself of it so you can create healthier connections.
What Is A Codependent Relationship?
A codependent relationship involves two or more people who are overly reliant on each other for emotional support, financial stability, and/or physical needs. It can also refer to a person who has an unhealthy dependence on someone else.
Codependents lose themselves in another person. They use people pleasing, lack of boundaries, and other forms of subtle manipulation to get love and approval.
Am I Codependent?
If you're codependent, you may have grown up in a family with few boundaries, or where children were expected to care for and cater to their parents. You might have a history of unhappy relationships, broken friendships, or conflict with family members. You might wonder why you feel alone or unsatisfied, even when you try to mold yourself around the needs of other people.
Here are some of the most common signs of codependency:
People pleasing. If you try to please everyone else, you may end up being unhappy yourself. For a codependent person, people pleasing can be a way of trying to control others. You may give with a particular response in mind, or to be seen as kind, lovable, or indispensible.
Poor boundaries. People who fail to set and maintain boundaries can be compliant and/or fail to respect the boundaries of others. In this situation, one person isn't recognizing boundaries and the other person isn't insisting on them. This leads to one person being controlling and manipulative and the other person failing to assert his or her will.
Caretaking. Codependents tend to be caregivers who feel responsible for making sure everyone else is okay. They can also be overly concerned about what people think of them and how they appear to others. Codependents often try to make sure everyone around them feels happy while neglecting their own needs. You might have a hard time receiving, and be more comfortable giving.
Trouble communicating. If you're codependent, it might be hard for you to express your feelings. Caregivers may be afraid to assert themselves because they think it might upset others. Dependent people may be dishonest about how they really feel. In order to improve communication skills, both people need to become more honest about their feelings.
Being overly needy. Codependents can clingy and jealous, or expect another person to fulfill all of their needs. If you're codependent, you might wonder why you always feel empty or unhappy, or why you can't find someone to make you feel completely secure, safe, and loved.
Low self-esteem. Codependents need each other to feel secure. If you're codependent, you might try to control the other person by being overly attentive and helpful. The needy person feels insecure because they don't want to be alone or craves constant validation.
Reactivity. When your identity is based on satisfying others and how they perceive you, you may find yourself reacting to situations instead of acting on your own initiative. You may get defensive easily or internalize criticism. This can make it hard to resolve disagreements, communicate in a healthy way, or even understand what you're feeling and why.
Signs Of A Codependent Relationship
Not sure if you're in a codependent relationship? Wondering what a codependent relationship actually looks like? Here are some in-real-life examples of how codependence can appear in your life:
You or your partner make unilateral decisions. When you're in a codependent relationship, you or your partner may feel like you "know best." You may make appointments for your partner, try to decide what they eat or when they sleep, or want to tell them how to behave. If you've ever been called bossy or controlling, codependent might be a more accurate word.
Conflict is a minefield. If you're codependent, you may be overly agreeable and/or defensive when you have disagreements. You might feel that you need to agree with everything your partner says. When you disagree with them, they often get upset or take offense.
You or your partner blame each other when things go wrong. In a codependent relationship, neither partner takes responsibility only for themselves and their own actions. You may find yourself blaming your partner for any conflict, large or small, or being blamed by them.
You have trouble saying no. Even if you're tired, overwhelmed, or need time to yourself, you may have trouble saying no. You might know you don't have the time or desire to help out or socialize, but say yes anyway because of guilt or simply because it's a habit.
How To Stop Being Codependent
Codependent behavior begins in childhood and takes work to overcome. But don't be discouraged! It is possible to recognize codependency and change long-standing patterns. Here are some key ways that can help you learn healthier ways of relating:
Set boundaries. Start to establish standards and expectations that are healthier for you. Instead of catering to your partner or allowing them to cater to you, start to celebrate yourselves as different people. You each have the right to your own preferences and limits.
Practice taking responsibility. Remember that your reactions and feelings are yours alone, and not the fault of anyone else. Learn to express your emotions without getting angry or blaming. Take a short time out from conflicts that threaten to get heated or become unproductive.
Recognize your triggers. Identify situations that anger, fear, and anxiety. These feelings can lead you to revert to old, unhealthy patterns of relating.
Make separate friends. Spend time with relatives, close friends, and family to widen your circle of support. Make friends of your own, and socialize
Learn to say no. Get used to prioritizing yourself and your own needs. Don't let anyone pressure you into doing something you don't want to do, even if it makes you feel rude or uncharitable. A simple "no, I won't be able to do that," should suffice.