10 Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship
Know the signs of codependent relationships, so you can create healthier ones.
Posted November 11, 2020 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
Codependency prevents us from having healthy, balanced relationships where the needs of both people are recognized and met.
A codependent relationship will leave you frustrated, exhausted, and unfulfilled. And it reinforces a belief that you’re defective or unworthy. So, if you want to break free from codependency, it’s important to recognize when you’re in a codependent relationship.
Codependency can occur in virtually any relationship—with your parents, children, spouse, friends, even co-workers. But what makes a relationship codependent?
Here are some of the telltale signs of a codependent relationship:
- You’re overly concerned about what the other person is doing, thinking, and feeling—and you want to fix or rescue them from their problems. You worry that if you don’t take care of them, something bad will happen.
- Your relationship is consistently one-sided; one person is hardworking and responsible and the other is allowed to be irresponsible or avoid the consequences of their actions. You may enable and make excuses for the other person’s poor choices.
- You sacrifice yourself to make the other person happy. This can include your health, time, energy, money, values, goals, or friendships. Your life revolves around the other person—making them happy, taking care of them, doing what they want to do.
- You “walk on eggshells” around the other person, afraid of doing or saying something that will displease or anger them. As a result, you may not express your opinions, share your feelings, or ask for what you want. And, to avoid conflict, you may say yes to things that you don’t want to do or that don’t align with your values or goals.
- You act like a martyr, taking care of everyone and everything, but resentful that no one helps or seems to care for you.
- Your need to fix or rescue becomes controlling. You attempt to control the other person’s behavior through criticism, ultimatums, nagging, or giving unsolicited advice.
- You continue the relationship even after the other person has repeatedly hurt you (physically, emotionally, financially, etc.).
- You spend more time taking care of others than taking care of yourself. And when you do something for yourself, like rest, enjoy a hobby, or practice self-care, you feel guilty or selfish.
- You’re afraid of being rejected, criticized, or abandoned.
- You often feel resentful, frustrated, taken advantage of, or unfulfilled.
While there’s no definitive test or checklist for codependency, this list gives you an idea of what a codependent relationship looks and feels like. And if you recognize some or all of these signs of a codependent relationship, the most important thing to know is that you can start to change them.
Changing codependent relationship dynamics
Codependency plays out in relationships, but it's rooted in how you feel about yourself. And, since you can only change yourself—not others, changing codependent relationship patterns starts with modifying how you think, feel, and treat yourself.
Increase your self-worth. Low self-worth is a core component of codependency. Often, codependents feel like there’s something wrong with them, so they constantly seek validation, are afraid of rejection, and do things to prove their worth. This sets us up as caretakers; we need to be needed and to have a purpose. However, we tend to do this at our own expense.
Instead of focusing solely on what others need, we can start considering our own needs. We can acknowledge and validate our own feelings and treat ourselves with compassion. These things aren’t easy to do, but we can take small, intentional actions toward this goal such as saying something kind to ourselves or setting a boundary.
Get to know yourself better. As codependents, we get so wrapped up in people-pleasing and taking care of others, that we often become disconnected from ourselves. You may no longer know what you feel or think because you’ve suppressed them for so long. Or you may not pursue your goals or hobbies because you gave them up to spend your time and energy doing what others are interested in.
So, you may need to get reacquainted with yourself. You can begin by asking yourself: What do I like to do? Who do I want to spend time with? What are my goals? What can I do for myself to feel better? I encourage you to pick one thing that you can do for yourself and start today. Putting yourself on your to-do list is an important part of bringing your life back into balance and health.
Let go—just a little. The concept of detaching is central to codependency recovery. When you detach, you put some emotional or physical space between yourself and others. It doesn’t mean abandoning others or ending relationships. And it’s not selfish or unloving. Detaching means you stop obsessing about what others are doing or not doing, their problems, feelings, and so forth. It gives you room to be yourself and take care of yourself.
- Not engaging in arguments.
- Leaving a situation that’s uncomfortable or unsafe.
- Staying calm rather than reacting.
- Considering your own feelings and needs.
- Choosing not to enable unhealthy or dangerous behaviors.
- Listening rather than trying to solve or fix problems.
- Not nagging and criticizing.
- Setting boundaries.
Get emotional support. Relationships are hard, especially when they aren’t going well. Emotional support can help reduce feelings of loneliness and shame and increase motivation and accountability. A therapist can be a useful sounding board and help you better understand and change yourself. You don’t have to do it alone.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.