Can’t Live Without You: What Is Codependency in Relationships?

The term “codependency” refers to a dysfunctional dynamic in relationships where one person gives, and the other one takes. The giver often sacrifices their needs and desires in order to satisfy the taker, so a codependent relationship can negatively affect the giver’s well-being.

There are different types of codependent relationships. Initially, the term “codependency” was used when talking about relationships involving people with addictions. In this case, one of the partners may enable the other partner’s addictive behavior, taking care of them and fulfilling their needs.

Eventually, the term “codependency” became more common, and now it’s used to describe all kinds of enabling relationships. Codependent relationships are not necessarily romantic, as such relationships may also develop between parents and children or friends.

Is codependency bad? How to tell if you’re in a codependent relationship or not? If you’re a codependent partner, should you consider therapy? Let’s take a closer look at the concept of codependency to find the answers.

What Codependency Is

The main difference between codependent and healthy relationships is that the former are beneficial for one partner, while the latter are beneficial for both of them. Codependent relationships always consist of a caregiver and caretaker, with the caregiver enabling the caretaker’s irresponsibility or even destructiveness.

For instance, parents may create a comfortable environment for their child with substance use disorder and provide them with money, food, etc. Although such behavior may look helpful and caring, sometimes, it may only make things worse.

Both sides can benefit from a certain emotional distance. For caretakers, this might be the only way to face the consequences of their behavior, and caregivers can use it to rebuild their sense of self. While the codependent party is caring and reliable, this person may develop their own weaknesses, such as low self-esteem and the feeling of being responsible for other peoples’ behavior.

People often experience codependency in abusive relationships, and they may end up in a codependent position because of childhood experiences. Dysfunctional family dynamics and close relatives with mental health issues or addictions are common reasons why people develop anxiety and start to feel insecure about their relationships.

A giver may get used to their codependent role in relationships, taking other people’s responsibilities, fixing their mistakes, and even making excuses for the takers’ behavior. Givers can be so focused on helping others and pleasing them that they might sacrifice their own needs and experience problems with assertiveness, being unable to set boundaries.

Love vs. Codependency

When people are in love, they depend on each other, and mutual dependency can be a positive factor that makes relationships stronger. However, there is a big difference between positive dependency and codependency.

Dependent partners both rely on each other and value the relationship. They both prioritize their relationship and express their needs and emotions so that the relationship is beneficial for both of them. At the same time, healthy dependent relationships don’t stop people from pursuing their personal goals and fulfilling their personal needs.

Codependency is different. A codependent partner sacrifices their personal interests for the other partner. They feel worthless unless they are needed by someone else, and they feel like fulfilling their partner’s needs is their main purpose. They get absorbed by their relationship so they may not have any interests outside the relationship and find it difficult to recognize their own needs.

A codependent relationship is bad for both the giver and the taker. While the giver may forget about their needs and priorities, the taker cannot learn how to build healthy equal relationships and may feel completely helpless without a caring partner.

Am I Codependent?

Here are the most common signs of codependent relationships that might help you answer this question.

1. Lack of boundaries

In codependent relationships, both partners may have problems with setting and recognizing boundaries. Healthy boundaries create certain autonomy for partners. Boundaries also ensure mutual respect and enable partners to freely express their personal needs and feelings.

2. Desire to please

People like it when their loved ones are happy, and there’s nothing wrong with helping your partner. However, an unhealthy desire to please may leave a person with no choice.  In a codependent relationship, the giving partner never says no, even if pleasing the taker means being unable to fulfill their own needs.

3. Low self-esteem

People in codependent relationships often have low self-esteem. The giver feels the need to please the taker because it gives them a sense of purpose. At the same time, the taker may also have low self-esteem because they depend on the other partner. They may feel insecure and demonstrate controlling behavior simply because they are afraid that the other person might leave.

4. Poor self-image

Givers often have a poorly developed self-image. They may define themselves in relation to the other partner, and their role in a relationship may become their identity. Even though the giver doesn’t need the other partner from the practical perspective, they may also be dependent because, without their partner, they may lose their sense of self.

5. Poor communication

A codependent relationship doesn’t create opportunities for effective communication. Caregivers are often unaware of their desires and needs. Besides, when they are aware of their needs, they may hesitate to express them. At the same time, the caretaker may prioritize the control over the other partner, which is a reason why their communication is often dishonest.

What Causes Codependency

Codependency is a type of learned behavior, and it can be rooted in the emotional difficulties and behavioral patterns that the person experienced in the past. Here are the most common factors that cause codependency.

1. Physically or mentally ill family members

People often become codependent when they care for chronically ill family members. The caregiving role may make a person neglect their own needs, especially when they are young. The sense of self may develop around caring for another person, and the caregiver may get used to getting nothing in return.

2. Dysfunctional relationships with parents

Quite often, people who had problems with their parents become codependent as adults. For example, a person may have been taught that their needs are not as important as those of their parents, so they might continue to neglect their own interests when they grow up.

Sometimes, needy parents also tell their children that they are greedy or selfish when their children express their desires. Such a situation is common when one of the parents has addiction issues or lacks emotional maturity, being too self-centered.

3. Abuse

People who have experienced emotional, physical, and sexual abuse may deal with the emotional consequences of their trauma for years. For instance, if a person has been abused as a child or teenager, they may learn to repress their emotions and needs as a coping mechanism.

Such learned behavior may eventually result in codependency. Besides, victims of abuse often unconsciously seek abusive relationships simply because they feel familiar. Codependency in abusive relationships is very common. So victims may enable the abusers’ behavior and make up excuses for them.

How to Fix a Codependent Relationship

Given that a caregiver’s sense of self may depend on caring for the other partner, they are often not ready for an immediate breakup. However, givers can make small steps towards separation by exploring various activities outside the relationship and practicing self-care.

If a caretaker struggles with addictions, the caregiver should realize that their enabling behavior doesn’t help their partner. If codependency is rooted in childhood trauma, it’s important to acknowledge it and start to express feelings and needs that have remained repressed.

Obviously, taking such steps can be difficult. So if you want to escape codependency, you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for professional help. A licensed therapist can help you figure out why you ended up in a codependent relationship and learn how to stop being codependent.

In-person therapy requires you to be present in a therapist’s office. So if you have a busy schedule, it might not be the most convenient option. Fortunately, you can also use online therapy platforms like Calmerry, which enable you to get the necessary help from virtually anywhere.

If you’ve never visited a therapist before and don’t know what to expect from your first session, you can learn more about therapy and its benefits to prepare for it.

Wrapping Up

While healthy relationships are based on mutual care so that both partners can benefit from them, in codependent relationships, one partner prioritizes the other partner’s needs and desires, even if it means sacrificing their own needs.

Quite often, the caregiver in such a relationship enables the caretaker’s destructive behavior and irresponsibility.

People often end up in codependent relationships because of negative childhood experiences and traumas, so overcoming codependency can be a difficult task. Therapy can help a codependent partner figure out what makes them stay in such relationships and reconsider their role.

Although it can be difficult for a codependent person to escape such relationships, it’s possible to gradually change your role and behavior by practicing self-care and exploring activities and interests outside the relationship.

If you’re stuck in a codependent relationship, don’t hesitate to get professional help from a licensed therapist, and keep in mind that such a relationship model negatively affects both partners, so there’s no sense in keeping such a relationship as it is.