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Four Signs of a Codependent Relationship

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Codependency doesn't have to end your relationship - know the signs and what to do next.

We’ve all heard the phrase “codependent”, but it’s typically associated with relationships or when we have become consumed with someone and neglected our own feelings, needs, and emotions. So what does it really mean to be codependent?

"Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship." - Mental Health America (2021)

The term "codependency" was identified when researchers were looking at interpersonal relationships and observed that codependency occurred in families that had substance use or a history of toxic behavior.

Many of us can admit that our family upbringing wasn’t perfect - what truly defines a perfect family though? Throughout the last several years, one of the main themes that I’ve found with many clients is that once people start to create relationships, our own ability to connect and reflect on how our attachment affects prioritizing our needs and our partners.

The truth is that relationships and attachments that we see as children and throughout our adolescence will influence and impact our own adult relationships.

Let me be clear- that does NOT mean that if you grew up in a toxic home you cannot maintain a healthy relationship. Attachment style is affected by how we are encouraged (or discouraged) to communicate our feelings and our emotions. Relationships are interactions that can include stress, love, happiness, frustration, anger, and all of the other emotions in between.

Here are 4 signs that you might be codependent or in a codependency relationship:

#1 - Compulsive Attention to Someone

One of the signs of codependency is the feeling that you cannot live without the other person. People who have a tendency to be codependent may prioritize their partner/parent/friend relationship before their own needs. This might include changing your schedule to accommodate their needs, focusing more on what’s best for the other person, rather than finding that balance of what is known as “interdependence”.

Within relationships, it’s important to be aware of your own needs, and discover what allows you to find your own identity and sense of self. Remember, confidence is attractive and so is autonomy.

#2 - Fear of Abandonment

When you are in a relationship/partnership, there is always the possibility that things might not work out. Many of us have been in relationships, where we see some of the “yellow” flags, which actually might be “red”, but remain in the relationship, despite the damage. One quality of codependency is the compromise of permitting emotional, physical, psychological, or sexual abuse or not setting boundaries.

No matter what, the main question I always get asked is “why didn’t I see the signs?”. The answer: Intelligent, smart, empathetic people can get hurt. There are toxic people everywhere and the most important piece when in a toxic relationship is to find safe support in order to create a plan that allows you to exit the relationship safely.

#3 - Lack of External Support Systems

Another sign of codependency is limited support systems. One of the main triggers within a toxic relationship is when a partner starts to isolate their partner, which is when your partner may discourage you from hanging out or spending time with friends and family. We call this, “grooming”, which creates a sense of power and separates you from those who may keep you accountable. In relationships, it’s important to have your tribe - your friends that keep you focused, responsible and in a healthy relationship, there should be a balance. Just think - friends are important because if your partner is your only source of support; what happens when there’s a conflict between the two of you?

Always remember - your partner can be your friend, but they can’t be your only friend. If this happens, consider this a red flag. Healthy people, have healthy supports around them to motivate and encourage them. If they are a team of one and have no other support - lace up and roll!

#4 - Enmeshed Sense of Self & Self Doubt

Codependency can trigger an individual to lose their sense of who they are, which is what we typically base our identity on. You may not feel like you know what you really like or tend to focus on someone else’s likes or dislikes. Let me be clear - this does not mean that you shouldn’t know what your partner’s favorite place to eat is, or what they enjoy, but if you’re finding that you doubt your own decisions, or feel the need to have someone make decisions for you - consider asking yourself the following questions: What creates a sense of confidence for me? What are my needs and how can I communicate and get them met within this relationship/friendship/partnership?

When facing challenges, it’s important to have a sense of your needs, find the balance, have faith in your independence, and know that your partner can meet those needs.

What to do if you relate to this article

The first thing to consider if you are reading this and can identify with some of the signs of codependency is to determine if the relationship or friendship is healthy for you. When we are codependent, there is a process of internal questioning that might cause doubt.

If the relationship is safe, removing codependency might require therapy - individual and/or couples therapy to identify some healthy boundaries and increase self-esteem. Therapy can assist individuals who are codependent understand what family dynamics or history of past relationships may have caused pain or dependence on another person. The goal overall is to find yourself and be able to communicate your needs. We are all deserving of finding those healthy people in the world who can love us unconditionally, even embracing our imperfections and seeing the best version of ourselves.

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