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How to identify & overcome codependent relationship

Updated: Apr 26

hands letting go


What makes a relationship dependent or codependent, as well as the symptoms of each? Strategies for overcoming codependency and mending broken relationships.


Healthy relationships are mutually beneficial, providing love and support to both parties. Codependent relationships, on the other hand, are one-sided, casting one person in the role of constant caregiver. By being caring, highly functional, and helpful, that person is said to support, perpetuate, or “enable” a loved one’s irresponsible or destructive behavior. For example, helping an inebriated spouse navigate an embarrassing situation or providing living quarters for a substance-using adult child is said to be counterproductive, a way of forestalling recovery and actually perpetuating the problem.


According to this way of thinking, creating emotional distance from the troubled loved one is necessary and beneficial for the codependent partner: It is a way to expose them to the negative consequences of their behavior.

In being reliable, caring, and nurturing, the codependent partner is perceived to be exhibiting any number of weaknesses of his or her own—from low self-esteem and an excessive need to please others to poor interpersonal boundaries that make him or her feel responsible for the other’s problems. (Psychology Today)


Recognizing codependency is the first step toward healthier relationships. It involves understanding your worth and learning to prioritize your wellbeing while still caring for others. It’s important to remember that overcoming codependency isn't about caring less for others—it's about caring for yourself in equal measure.


How to tell if you’re in a codependent relationship: 7 signs of codependency

Recognizing codependency in a relationship can be challenging, especially since many of its signs often resemble deep care and concern. However, recognizing these signs in yourself or your relationship is a brave and crucial step toward codependency recovery. It opens the door to developing healthier relationship patterns where both partners can grow and flourish independently and together.


  1. You want to help others too often You might find yourself constantly drawn to people who seem to need help or understanding. While empathy is a wonderful trait, in a codependent relationship, it often leads to a pattern where your happiness is deeply connected to your ability to solve problems for others.

  2. You assume responsibility for others If you often feel responsible for the happiness, decisions, and wellbeing of those around you, especially your partner, it can be a significant sign of codependency. This goes beyond normal concern for a loved one and can lead to a feeling that their life is in your hands.

  3. You give more than you receive A tell-tale sign of a codependent relationship is when you're investing more effort than the other person to maintain harmony and make things work. You might find yourself making sacrifices that aren't reciprocated, often leaving you feeling unappreciated or neglected.

  4. You fear abandonment This fear can be overpowering in a codependent relationship. It's not just about not wanting to be alone—it's a deep-seated fear that drives you to do whatever it takes to keep the relationship, even at the cost of your own happiness.

  5. Your self-worth comes from others’ happiness Believing that you're entirely responsible for your partner's happiness is a heavy burden. In healthy relationships, each person contributes to their own and each other's happiness, but in a codependent relationship, your sense of worth may become tied to how happy your partner is.

  6. You care too much what others think If your self-esteem relies heavily on others' opinions and approval, especially your partner's, it can be a sign of codependency. Too much reliance on what people think of you often leads to constantly adjusting your behavior to please others, neglecting your own needs and desires.

  7. You fear change Change is a part of life, but for someone in a codependent relationship, adapting to change, especially in the relationship, can be particularly challenging. This often stems from the fear that any change might disrupt the delicate balance you've worked so hard to maintain. (Calm.com)


tangled hands

What causes codependency?

Often, people who struggle with codependency are said to have been raised amidst dysfunctional family dynamics. They may have had a family member or close friend with an addiction or mental illness. They may also have experienced childhood trauma which led them to feel anxious or insecure about relationships. However, it’s important to remember that anyone can fall into an unhealthy relationship pattern.


Knowing the underlying factors that cause codependency provides a context for why you might have developed these patterns and also offers a foundation for change. Recognizing these causes isn't about assigning blame—it's about gaining insights to foster healthier ways of relating to yourself and others.


In unhealthy codependent relationships, the “giver” tends to be overly responsible, making excuses for the “taker” and taking over their obligations. Givers are self-critical and often perfectionistic; fixing or rescuing others makes them feel needed. They focus so much on pleasing others that they neglect their own wants and needs. Givers generally have low self-esteem, find it hard to set boundaries and be assertive, and struggle with asking for help when they need it. Takers are often struggling with serious issues, such as emotional immaturity, mental health problems, and addiction.


The Specific Causes of Codependency


Trauma and adverse life experiences

Often, codependent behaviors stem from past experiences, particularly in childhood. Trauma or adverse experiences, like growing up in a household with addiction, mental illness, or emotional neglect, can shape our approach to relationships. These experiences might lead us to believe that we need to constantly take care of others to feel valued or loved.

Recent studies suggest that our brain pathways, shaped by our experiences and by genetics, play a role in codependency. These pathways influence how we process emotions and stress, potentially leading some of us to be more prone to codependent behaviors as a way of coping with emotional distress.


Attachment styles

Our early relationships, especially with primary caregivers, influence our attachment style. An anxious or insecure attachment style, where we fear abandonment or struggle with self-worth, can predispose us to codependent behaviors in later relationships. This is because our fear of losing the relationship overshadows our ability to maintain a healthy, independent self within it.


Complicated family relationships

Certain life situations can foster emotional dependence. For instance, being in a relationship with someone who has health issues or addiction can lead us into a caretaker role, potentially leading to codependency. The constant need to attend to someone else’s needs can blur the lines between supportive care and unhealthy dependence.


Cultural and social factors

Societal expectations and cultural norms can also contribute to codependency. In cultures where self-sacrifice is highly valued, we might be more inclined to develop codependent traits, such as thinking that constantly putting others first is the ideal way to behave in a relationship. (Calm.com)


How to stop being codependent in a relationship

Overcoming codependency is a process that takes time and patience. Be gentle with yourself as you navigate through these changes. Each step you take is a move toward a more balanced, fulfilling relationship where you and your partner can grow together and separately.


Acknowledge the issue

Start by recognizing and admitting to yourself that the dynamics of your relationship might be codependent. This self-awareness is a crucial first step in making positive changes.


Challenge negative thoughts to shift your perspective

Identify and question your negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself and your relationship. Replace them with more positive, self-affirming thoughts. Getting into the practice of reframing thoughts can help shift your perspective and reduce codependent behaviors.


Step back from taking things personally

Understand that your partner's actions and feelings are not a reflection of your worth. Everyone has their own struggles and emotions, and these are not your responsibility to fix or control.


Communicate clearly to set healthy boundaries

Establish clear boundaries with your partner. Communicate your needs, limits, and expectations. Boundaries are vital for mutual respect and understanding in a healthy relationship. If you’re unfamiliar with what healthy boundaries are, consider speaking with a mental health professional.


Invest time in yourself to build self-esteem

Spend time on your hobbies, interests, and personal growth. Focusing on yourself helps build self-esteem and reduces the tendency to seek validation from others.


Practice mindfulness to gain clarity

Engage in mindfulness exercises to better understand and manage your emotions. Mindfulness can provide clarity and help you respond to situations more healthily.


Give yourself compassion 

Practice self-care and self-compassion. Loving yourself is essential for breaking the cycle of codependency, as it helps you realize that you deserve a relationship where you're valued and your needs are met. (Calm.com)


Get Professional Help

Don't hesitate to seek help from a therapist or join support groups. Professional guidance can provide you with tools and strategies to overcome codependent patterns in your relationships.

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