5 Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship
on Jan 11, 2023
Have you ever heard someone talk about codependent relationships, but don’t know what exactly they are or how to figure out if you’re in one? We’re here to help you out.
In honour of January being Codependency Awareness Month, we spoke with a sex and relationships coach to get the lowdown on this toxic type of relationship.
What is a codependent relationship?
A codependent relationship involves a power imbalance between two people. Generally, one partner will act as the other’s ‘caretaker’, and their sense of identity and self-esteem may rely on how much they can fulfil their partner’s needs. The other partner will take advantage of this and gain satisfaction from having their needs met by the caretaker.
According to sex and relationship coach Ness Cooper: “Most relationships will have moments where one individual is needy and the other individual fulfils that partner's need, but often in unhealthy codependent relationships the needs that need to be fulfilled become very one-sided and control other aspects of the relationship.
"When someone falls into an unhealthy codependent relationship, the individual self can become lost and this can affect the individual's ability to communicate their needs and even consent in situations.”
What causes codependency in relationships?
It’s hard to say what triggers the need for control in a codependent relationship, and it will often vary from relationship to relationship. But one big trigger for codependent behaviour is a sense of insecurity or feeling threatened.
Ness says: “Some individuals may fall into an unhealthy codependency out of fear that their relationship is being challenged, or as a way to try and work through things after finding out that a partner has been disloyal. In a way, they may be trying to keep the relationship alive but during the process lose the importance of a trusting relationship dynamic.”
However, it’s important to consider context when examining relationships for signs of codependency. According to Ness: “Sometimes we can think someone is in an unhealthy codependent relationship, but in fact they are in a consensual relationship where one person has more control over another, such as in consensual BDSM relationships.”
Since the exchange of power in a BDSM situation is fully consensual, this isn’t considered unhealthy codependency. So if your partner has an appreciation for bondage gags or BDSM floggers, don’t panic - as long as it’s consensual, there’s nothing wrong with this!
5 signs you’re in a codependent relationship
They push boundaries
If you're in a codependent relationship, your partner will often push your boundaries and have you questioning your beliefs while simultaneously expecting you to conform to theirs.
They put you down often
People who engage in unhealthy codependency will often start taking control of the situation early on with comments that will put you down. They may pick apart and criticise even the tiniest things, like what you wear or even the food you pick for date night.
They lie to get their own way
If their lying is more than just a slip of the tongue and happening regularly, particularly when used to control other parts of your relationship, then this is a major red flag that you’re in an unhealthy codependent relationship.
They always put the blame on you
Often they will blame you for things that aren’t your fault and find issues with your efforts to please them, rather than thank you as they should in a healthy relationship.
This often has a very negative impact on your self-esteem and can make it harder to leave the relationship even early on.
They constantly check in on you
Your partner may try to control your schedule and closely monitor your actions. Even if you’re doing a task they asked you to do, you may find your phone buzzing non-stop with texts checking where you are and how long you’ll be.
This can cause feelings of panic and a sense of pressure to always live up to their expectations.
Freeing yourself from a codependent relationship
Ness says: “To avoid your relationship becoming codependent in the first place, try to both maintain an individual sense of self apart from each other, and connect positively with your partner.”
If you do find yourself in an unhealthy codependent relationship, it’s important to recognise this as early as possible and take steps to free yourself from the situation. This might involve talking to your partner about problems in your relationship and looking to find solutions - or it might mean walking away from the relationship altogether and focusing on your own wants and needs.
Since codependent relationships can cloud your sense of self, spend some time cultivating independence and figuring out who you are on your own without a partner. Discovering ways to satisfy your own needs and find pleasure alone can be a huge confidence boost and help you find freedom from an unhealthy relationship.