6 Signs of Codependent Behavior in Relationships

displeased black woman with unrecognizable boyfriend during conflict on bed

A healthy relationship is characterized by mutual love and respect. However, in some cases, relationships become unbalanced, with one partner doing the majority of the giving, nurturing, and reliability work while the other partner does little to none of these things. Giving requires selflessness because the giver puts the needs of the receiver ahead of their own.

Codependency is characterized by these unhealthy patterns in interpersonal relationships.

What is codependent behavior?

As with other learned behaviors, the tendency to develop and maintain unhealthy levels of intergenerational dependence can be passed down through the generations. It’s a mental and behavioral disorder that makes it difficult to maintain positive, fulfilling connections with other people. Codependency is often characterized by the development or maintenance of relationships that are emotionally destructive or abusive to the codependent person.

Clinginess is only one aspect of this broader concept. This is not even close to the intensity level of a codependent relationship. The codependent person’s entire existence is organized around the needs of the enabler.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s define a codependent relationship as one in which both partners feel they need the other to some degree. When discussing the “cycle” of codependency, experts typically refer to this revolving dynamic.

Only by giving up everything for their partner can the codependent feel good about themselves, and their partner is only too happy to accept these sacrifices.

Codependency vs Interdependency.

The terms codependency and interdependence are often used interchangeably, but they are distinct psychological concepts. In contrast to interdependence, codependency is characterized by unhealthy levels of reliance on another person. To be interdependent means to share responsibilities without letting that dependence cause you to lose your own identity. Both have the potential to become harmful over time, so it’s important to understand what each term means and whether or not you or your partner could benefit from professional counseling.

Signs of codependent behavior.   

Certain actions by the codependent can indicate an unhealthy attachment to the person with whom they have developed codependency. A person with codependency needs to rely on another person to form their identity, rather than being able to do so on their own or with others.

Depending on our unique backgrounds, upbringings, and interpersonal connections, codependency can take many forms.

1. Lack of boundaries

Those who play either role in a codependent relationship have a hard time understanding and maintaining personal space. Boundaries are simply a sign of respect for the other person’s right to control over his or her own emotions and actions. To practice this mindset, you must accept the fact that the other person’s happiness is not your responsibility. A common issue in codependent relationships is that neither partner is willing to set firm limits on their partner’s behavior. So, one person is manipulative and controlling, while the other gives in and doesn’t stand up for themselves. 

Read more about: Self-Love Journey: How to Love Yourself More

2. People pleaser

It’s natural to care about the approval of others and the well-being of those close to you, but that doesn’t mean you have to go out of your way to make everyone happy all the time. Those who have a tendency to be people pleasers believe they must do whatever it takes to make those around them happy. They have trouble saying “no,” even when doing so would significantly compromise their own needs and desires.

Read more about: Ways to Stop Being a People Pleaser

3. Low self esteem

Neither partner in a codependent relationship is likely to have high levels of confidence in themselves. Each individual’s sense of worth is tied to the other, either through the need to win that person’s approval or, at the very least, to provide some sort of service to them. Someone else’s material needs and the other’s need for validation have led to the other’s low self-esteem. The dependent person’s need to exert control stems from their fear that their partner will eventually abandon them.

Read more about: How to Build Up Low Self-Esteem and become Confident

4. Poor communication

It’s challenging to have meaningful conversations when you’re stuck in a codependent mindset. Caregivers frequently fail to recognize their own needs and desires, and even when they do, they may be hesitant to voice them. You might worry about upsetting the other person if she tries to assert herself, or she might feel that caring for the other person is the most important thing. The dependent may have developed a pattern of dishonest communication, prioritizing the maintenance of control over open dialogue. Learning effective methods of communication is another key objective of family therapy. There needs to be open and honest dialogue between the two parties.

5. Constantly Stressed

Any one of these, it should come as no surprise, can put a significant strain on a couple’s connection. Issues arise when people struggle to express themselves or recognize personal space. Stress levels are high for both parties involved in providing care; the caregiver worries about meeting the needs of the dependent, while the dependent worries about being abandoned. There is a shared dread of being lonely, but gloomy disposition. Even if there aren’t frequent arguments because one partner is so focused on making the other happy, tensions will still be high.

Read more about: Effective Stress Coping Strategies to Manage Emotions

6. Overly reactive

When your sense of self-worth is tied to the approval of others and you take on the burden of ensuring the happiness of others, you may find yourself responding to events rather than initiating them. You could become defensive or take criticism personally. Consequently, it becomes more challenging to take the initiative because you lose touch with your own wants and needs. You feel responsible for another person’s emotions because you have no concept of personal boundaries.

Read more about: How to Process Painful Emotions

Traits of codependent people:

  • A disproportionate feeling of guilt for the actions of other people
  • They “love” those they can feel sorry for and save, leading them to confuse these two emotions.
  • Constantly going above and beyond what is expected of them Emotional fragility when their efforts go unrecognized
  • Too much reliance on other people. To prevent the devastating emotional pain of being alone, a co-dependent will resort to extreme measures.
  • An unhealthy obsession with getting praise and admiration
  • A feeling of shame whenever they need to speak up
  • A compulsion for dominance over other people
  • Mistrust of oneself or others
  • Terror at the thought of being left behind or alone
  • Inability to put a name to one’s emotions
  • Inflexibility/difficulty with change Issues maintaining relationships/drawing clear boundaries
  • Intractable Rage
  • Lying/dishonesty
  • Ineffective communication
  • Problems deciding what to do

Why being codependent is dangerous for relationships.

However, according to Pruden, a romantic relationship is particularly vulnerable to the destructive effects of codependency. “At the heart of the definition of codependency is the idea that one partner in a relationship is “less-than” or “needs constant assistance,” as the author puts it.

You can’t grow into an independent adult when you’re in a codependent relationship, and you can’t help but neglect yourself when you’re with someone who’s also codependent.

The effects of codependence on romantic relationships are devastating.

Start reestablishing your independence as soon as possible if you are codependent or suspect you may be one.

To get to the bottom of your problems, it’s essential to see a mental health professional for counseling.

You are worthy of the affection of those around you. You might not believe this just yet because of how codependency can make you feel invisible. However, you are still here. Here you are. Also, you’re worth loving again, and the first step is loving yourself.

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