Codependency sounds like a dirty word. We know it sounds bad, must be bad, but what is it really? How can you tell if you are indeed in a codependent relationship? Many people find themselves repeating the same unhealthy relationship patterns despite knowing better. Do you find yourself making lots of sacrifices for your partner’s happiness, putting your own life constantly on hold?
What is a codependent relationship?
There are many working definitions of codependency. Dr. Shawn Burn, author of Unhealthy Helping: A Psychological Guide to Codependence, Enabling and Other Dysfunctional Giving explains codependency as “one person doing the bulk of the caring, and often ends up losing themselves in the process.” There is a giver and a taker. Givers display an overbearing and compulsive need to keep their relationship alive—the fear of being alone causes them to overexert themselves physically and emotionally in order to please their partners. Takers, on the other hand, gets much more than they give and to lack maturity and empathy and are commonly linked to forms of addiction or a personality disorder, says Burn
Scott Wetzler, Ph.D. at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, describes codependent relationships “signifying a degree of unhealthy clinginess where one person does not have self-sufficiency or autonomy.” Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More clarifies: “Codependents are reactionaries. They overreact. They under-react. But rarely do they act. They react to the problems, pains, lives, and behaviors of others. They react to their own problems, pains, and behaviors.”
Signs of codependency
How can you tell if you are codependent? Well, there are some telltale signs. A good article on six signs of codependency provides a guide to determine if your relationship falls into this category:
- Does your sense of purpose involve making extreme sacrifices to satisfy your partner’s needs?
- Is it difficult to say no when your partner makes demands on your time and energy?
- Do you cover your partner’s problems withdrugs, alcohol, or the law?
- Do you constantly worry about others’ opinions of you?
- Do you feel trapped in your relationship?
- Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
Other sources also tell us to watch out for these signs that you might be in a codependent relationship:
- Are you unable to find satisfaction in your life outside of a specific person?
- Do you recognize unhealthy behaviors in your partner but stay with him or her in spite of them?
- Are you giving support to your partner at the cost of your own mental, emotional, and physical health?
Why do people get into codependent relationships?
Codependent tendencies often trace back to childhood when we start to develop patterns in how we connect with people. Often those who directly or indirectly observed conflict between their parents growing up were more likely to become codependent in adulthood. Attachment theory or attachment styles–a psychological model attempting to describe the dynamics of long-term and short-term interpersonal relationships between humans—points to the inability to have secure attachments with our parents as a key ingredient.
In the give and take dynamics in codependent relationships, givers tend to have anxious attachment styles—they define themselves by their relationship, and will do whatever it takes to stay in it. Takers, on the other hand, tend to have avoidant attachment styles, meaning they try to avoid emotional connection at all costs.
What to do about it
Seeking professional assistance via therapy can help. Through therapy, codependent relationships can become more balanced and fulfilling if both parties are committed to making the necessary changes. When both partners are on board, therapy can help identify both the insecure attachment styles as well as the rigid system that keeps them stuck in the cycle. Creating a partnership of equals, strengthening friendships and hobbies outside their relationship and being able to initiate meaningful conversations with each creates a better balanced and happier union.