Do you think you may be in a codependent relationship? Codependency and interdependency may seem similar, but while codependent behaviour can be damaging to both parties, an interdependent relationship is a healthy partnership of equals. If you think you may be a codependent person, you can overcome these patterns of behaviour and build more constructive and respectful relationships of interdependence.
What is Codependency?
Codependency refers to when a person feels dependent on someone else, typically a romantic partner, for their sense of self-worth. Codependent people find it difficult to form stable and healthy relationships, and will often have a strong desire to help or ‘fix’ another person.
They often have poor personal boundaries and find it difficult to say no, putting the needs and desires of the other person before their own. If they do something for themselves, or put self-care and rest before the needs of their partner, they experience guilt and anxiety.
A codependent person relies on the praise and appreciation of another person for their sense of worth. They can suffer from poor self-esteem and feelings of shame, causing them to seek happiness through relationships with other people rather than from themselves. These people may have anxious attachment.
What is Interdependency?
Interdependency can be considered the healthy cousin of codependency. While codependency is an unequal partnership that puts one person above the other, interdependency requires both people to be able to operate autonomously.
In healthy relationships, couples will feel closely attached and intertwined, but still capable of making their own decisions. They share power and responsibility equally within their relationship, and have healthy self-esteem. Within interdependent couples, both people feel able to express their own feelings and desires, and to listen to their partner with respect. They support each other in their own independent goals.
People in interdependent relationships will retain a good sense of self and purpose while still desiring closeness with the other person. Although they will still do things like care for each other and enjoy the praise of their partner, they will not rely on these things for their own self-worth.
Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship
If you’re in a codependent relationship, it will often feel unbalanced. One person’s needs are typically prioritised over the other, and one person will take on the role of carer and ‘fixer’. This dynamic is unhealthy for both people within the relationship. Both the codependent person and the receiver of their attention will struggle to live independent and fulfilled lives.
If you experience any of the following, you may be a codependent person:
• Low self-esteem – you need your partner’s praise to feel good about yourself
• Self-denial – you rarely do things for yourself
• Conflict avoidance – you avoid bringing up problems and you feel like everything is your fault
• Guilt – you feel guilty if you do something for yourself or don’t prioritise the other person’s needs
• Reliance – you feel the need to ask permission to do things by yourself and you don’t feel good without your partner.
Partners of Codependent People
If you recognise any of the following within your relationship, your partner may be a codependent person:
• Lack of independence – a lot of tasks are done for you by your partner, even if you don’t ask for them
• Lack of accountability – you never need to take responsibility for your mistakes because your partner blames themselves
• Devotion – you feel like your partner would do anything for you and you wouldn’t necessarily do the same
• Frequent prioritisation – you normally get to make important decisions and your desires are put first
• Entitlement – you feel like you deserve a high level of attention and care.
It’s important to note that while you may currently be or have previously been in a codependent relationship, you don’t need to repeat this pattern forever. People can overcome their codependent behaviour and develop healthy and successful relationships.
The first step is to establish a better sense of autonomy. Get to know yourself better by focussing on your own wants and needs for a while. This could mean finding a new hobby or project, spending time with a wide circle of friends, and focussing on things that make you happy. When you have an outside life that gives you joy and purpose, you are less likely to fall back into codependency within a relationship.
If you are currently in a relationship and you want to break a codependent pattern, you should express to your partner your desire for greater independence and explain that you don’t want to be entirely concerned with them and their feelings. This may be difficult for both of you at first as you adjust to new terms within your relationship. However, ultimately your partner should be pleased for you to gain greater autonomy and a life outside their needs.
Codependency can be overcome with counselling and therapy. An experienced counsellor can work with a codependent person to rebuild their sense of self and restore feelings of worth.
Other articles that may be useful: Attachment: what is it and why is it important?