8 Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship

Woman sits on edge of bed with head in handsHave you ever been in a relationship that felt as though it sapped all of your energy? If so, you may have been in a codependent relationship. Codependency is generally defined as a type of relationship in which one person supports the other in an unhealthy behavior of some kind. This could be enabling someone to maintain an addiction, to not take responsibility for his or her actions, or to become overly reliant on you.

Codependency is often learned in a dysfunctional family environment. There are generally underlying issues that have been ignored or minimized, such as an addiction, physical or sexual abuse, or a family member struggling with a chronic mental health condition. Frequently, the person in the caretaking role disregards personal needs and focuses on providing for the other financially, emotionally, and/or physically. The person being taken care of comes to depend on the caretaker’s help in order to enable him or her to maintain life choices. Feelings in this type of family or relationship are generally repressed, and problems tend to go unacknowledged.

Some of the signs that indicate you might be in a codependent relationship include:

  1. Recognizing the harmful behaviors that your partner or loved one is engaging in, but providing for that person in such a way that he/she is not having to suffer consequences.
  2. Remaining in an unhealthy relationship despite the emotional and psychological toll to your own health.
  3. Feeling unappreciated, angry, and resentful, but also afraid of retaliation if you stop “rescuing” or taking care of the other individual.
  4. Difficulties with setting appropriate limits or boundaries in the relationship.
  5. Putting the needs of others before your own.
  6. Being overly protective and taking on all responsibility for your partner or loved one.
  7. Minimizing or denying the problem.
  8. Having poor communication skills, especially regarding the problem and/or your emotions.

Although the caretaker in the codependent relationship usually has good intentions and generally acts out of a sincere desire to help a partner or loved one, the situation typically ends up backfiring. Over time, the caretaker an start to feel unacknowledged and taken for granted. By constantly protecting the loved one from the consequences of his or her actions, the relied-upon partner actually helps to foster even more of the destructive behaviors. This, in turn, prevents the loved one from experiencing important life lessons and learning to take responsibility.

So how can you stop the unhealthy dynamics of a codependent relationship? A few methods include:

  • Setting appropriate boundaries in the relationship. Take stock of your feelings and determine where you will draw the line when offering financial, emotional, and/or physical support.
  • Stop rescuing your loved one from the consequences of destructive or inappropriate behaviors. Providing resources for getting help with an addiction, for example, is much more loving than covering up for the person’s actions and watching that person slowly ruin his/her life.
  • Spend more time with friends doing activities you enjoy. Broaden your horizons and develop a larger support system that you can turn to when you need someone to depend on.
  • Acknowledge your own needs and start implementing more self-care strategies. This is often one of the most difficult things for people on the caretaking end of a codependent relationship to do, but it’s one of the most necessary, too.
  • Get help from a mental health professional. Codependent relationships can be difficult to leave or change. If you have been struggling to make changes on your own, contact a therapist to work through these issues in a caring environment.

Although codependent relationships can be extremely challenging, change is possible by following some or all of the methods listed above. A great deal of pain and suffering can be alleviated by learning to set healthier boundaries in order to stop any destructive behaviors and support the growth of the partners or family members involved.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Wendy Salazar, MFT, therapist in San Diego, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Zane

    December 30th, 2015 at 10:22 AM

    Being in and staying in a relationship that physically makes you ill? Not a good one at all and probably one that should make you start considering a good exit strategy.

  • Jennifer

    December 30th, 2015 at 4:04 PM

    Is it possible to be in this kind of relationship with a child?
    My uncle does this to my grandmother and I guess in some ways, maybe every way possible, she enables him to continue his destructive behavior.
    She hates that he does the things that he does but she does not see that the way she allows it is what encourages him in some ways to continue it.

  • Tally

    December 31st, 2015 at 7:27 AM

    I saw my mother in numerous abusive and codependent relationships when I was growing up. I am happy that seeing that made me want to do the complete opposite and not ever get wrapped up in that kind of cycle in my own adult relationships.

  • junebug

    December 31st, 2015 at 11:01 AM

    I feel so unloved and un appreciated even though I do pretty much everything for everyone in the home. I feel like they just expect me to do certain things but then they never even say thank you. I want to take care of them and take care of the home but then there are also times when I just want to walk away from it all and maybe find a family who will love me and show me that they love me for the things that I do for them.

  • laura

    December 31st, 2015 at 1:41 PM

    It might be bad to say but these people who are in these codependent relationships? They stress me out too much, I can’t have that in my life.

  • Deb

    December 31st, 2015 at 2:27 PM

    Boundaries .. Read about them . Learn them . Apply them to your life . It will change things for the better . Learn to love yourself also !

  • Rosa

    January 2nd, 2016 at 5:28 PM

    What a great time for me to stumble across this

    I have been wanting to make some real life changes for a while now but have just not had the courage yet to do it.

    I am hoping that after reading this and seeing that yes, this is me, this is what I am mired in, that I can now somehow find the courage to leave that part of my past behind.

  • Ananda

    January 2nd, 2016 at 7:36 PM

    Co-dependency will make you crazy. My parents relationship was co-dependent bc my father is a verbally abusive functional alcoholic. I found myself repeating this pattern of behavior in almost all my romantic relationships. In addition, I was sexually abused as a child. I’ve experienced anxiety and depression. My most recent relationship was not only co-dependent but abusive. For the past 15 years I’ve struggled with loving myself, taking care of myself ( emotionally and spiritually) and setting healthy boundaries. I continue to do all of the above suggestions and yet I wonder if I will ever be able to be in a healthy relationship free of dependence.

  • Andrea

    January 16th, 2016 at 10:49 PM

    Amanda
    My best advice is to get this book codependent no more by Melody Besttie.

  • kerri

    January 6th, 2016 at 2:47 PM

    I have a very difficult time establishing boundaries with pretty much anyone in my life. I know that and yet still I struggle with drawing those lines. I don’t want to feel guilty if I have to leave someone high and dry and i guess that is not really what I am doing but they make me feel like I am bailing out on them when in truth I am just trying to do the things that have to be done in my own life. It is as if I am surrounded daily with people who are needy and unable to do for themselves and they expect me to always pick up the slack.

  • Leigh

    January 7th, 2016 at 4:26 PM

    Long after you know that you have to start taking care of you, it is hard to make that a habit when your only habit ever has been t take care of others first.

  • Ananda

    January 8th, 2016 at 9:06 PM

    While awareness is an essential first step knowing I engage in a pattern of behavior has not been enough to cease from doing it…Relearning how to relate to others in the absence of dependence and manipulation requires constant awareness and mindfulness. At some point I realized that I was setting up the dynamic of dependency and volunteering to take on the burdens and emotional baggage of others without them even asking. I automatically assumed the role of caretaker bc I was getting involved with people who didn’t take care of themselves or who were acting as victims. It has helped to examine my intentions for engaging in relationships and asking myself what am I fulfilling and is it healthy? In doing so those people who want you to be sucked into their manipulation have accused me of being selfish for just trying to take care of myself, for doing anything to preserve my own sanity. These people are not well either, they are your kryptonite.

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