What is a Codependent Relationship?

Healthy relationships are usually fairly equal and are characterized by give and take from both partners.  It’s normal to want to make reasonable changes to make our partner happy. However, in a codependent relationship, one person gives too much whilst the other person takes too much.  This behaviour makes the relationship feel very unbalanced. The giver or carer in the codependent relationship may sacrifice their family, their friendships and even their sense of self to please the taker or the cared-for.  On the other hand, the cared for will often make almost impossible demands on the carer. Codependent relationships are especially common in people with substance abuse issues.  Under these circumstances, one partner may give to the other to the extent of enabling the addiction.

The codependent relationship dynamic is often difficult to break.  The carer keeps appeasing the cared-for as a way to try to make them happy and achieve reassurance for themselves.  At the same time, the cared-for resists acknowledging responsibility for their feelings, instead making the carer responsible for how they feel. The individuals in this kind of relationship bond not only as part of a healthy partnership of mutual love and respect.  Their connection is also a way to avoid their own deeper issues and not feel alone. Carers and the cared-for tend to be drawn to each other subconsciously.  The partners may not be aware that they’re in a codependent relationship, despite the challenges it brings to their lives.


What Leads Someone to Enter a Codependent Relationship?

The reasons behind someone finding themselves in a codependent relationship are complex but can often be found in childhood. Our early upbringing teaches us how to relate to others and forms the foundation of our attachment styles (the emotional patterns that we draw on when we form relationships). The relationships we have as adults often reflect the characteristics of the relationships we had with our parents when we were children.

If we didn’t have a secure attachment to our parents (for instance, perhaps they withheld attention unless we achieved good results at school) then we might have an anxious attachment style in adulthood.  An anxious attachment style can make us more likely to take the carer role in a codependent relationship as we learned early on that we had to fight for love and prove ourselves. Conversely, if our parents couldn’t connect with us emotionally when we were growing up (perhaps they were overwhelmed, depressed, or always working) then we may develop an avoidant attachment style in adulthood.  Here we may find true emotional connection uncomfortable and so become the cared-for in a codependent relationship. We can also learn codependency through our parents, so if they were in a codependent relationship themselves then it may be more likely that we are too.

Our early upbringing teaches us how to relate to others and forms the foundation of our attachment styles

How to Spot Codependency in Your Romantic Relationship?

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you to determine if you’re in a codependent relationship:

Are you preoccupied with your relationship?

If you find yourself thinking about your relationship most of the time then it’s likely that you’re in a codependent relationship. Similarly, if you’re constantly seeking reassurance that your partner still loves you or still wants to be with you then you may be in a codependent relationship.

Does the relationship lack boundaries?

In a codependent relationship, the carer often doesn’t insist on boundaries and the cared-for doesn’t tend to respect boundaries, leading the former to be overly compliant and the latter to be overly demanding. Both parties working on setting and maintaining boundaries can help a codependent relationship to grow.

Do you idealize your partner?

If you frequently find yourself making excuses for your partner despite their faults, then you may well be in a codependent relationship. Carers often believe that being generous is helping their partner.  However, giving may actually be preventing the cared for from recognizing their responsibility and evolving as a person.

Is your relationship stressful?

Codependency creates a lot of stress and tension within a relationship. Both people in a codependent relationship are afraid to be alone and often deeply insecure.  However, neither partner is very happy in the relationship either. A codependent couple may not argue much since one person is intent on bending themselves to keep the other happy.  Nevertheless, there’s usually chronic stress present in the relationship.

How can you Overcome a Codependent Relationship?

Being in a codependent relationship is challenging and it can feel difficult to change the dynamic. However, there are steps you can take to work with codependency and it’s possible to create a healthy and fulfilling relationship as long as both partners are willing to work at it. Points to consider include:


The first step to working through codependency is to notice it, name it and talk it through with your partner.  Try to choose a time when you’re both calm to talk.  It can help to pre-arrange when you’ll have the discussion so that you’re both prepared for it.  If, as a couple, you’re finding communication difficult then reaching out for professional couple counselling can help to facilitate this process.

Do Something Different

In a codependent relationship, carers need to learn to be alone and to develop interests outside of the relationship.  Likewise, the cared-for person needs to learn to reach out and communicate emotionally with their partner. This involves both partners taking a step back and doing something different from what they’re used to doing. These changes take time to make since they involve breaking long-term behaviour and thought patterns and therapy can support this.

Professional Guidance

The reasons two individuals become codependent are complex and unique to each couple and it can be difficult to make generalizations. All relationships take time to change. Seeking professional support such as counselling can help couples to identify areas of codependency in their relationship.  They can then work on overcoming codependency successfully.


How Can Online-Therapy.com Help?

If you think you might be in a codependent relationship, then Online-Therapy.com can help. We offer both individual and couple’s counselling.  This means you can work on the issues of codependency alone or with your partner. By signing up with our program you can choose a therapist who will work with you to develop a personalized toolkit to support you with codependence.

Your therapist will help you to learn to manage your emotions and relationship differently. You can choose to have your therapy sessions by video, phone or text chat (couple counselling will be video only).  In this way, Online-Therapy.com is a flexible and convenient option.

Ongoing support means that you have the daily expert guidance you need to make progress with issues of codependency.  You can start improving your relationship as soon as you sign up.