What Is Codependency in a Relationship?

Here is what codependency looks like, according to an expert.

A couple in their kitchen kissing over the kitchen table.

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Codependency is a complex thing—especially in a relationship. It can exist within romantic partnerships but is also common in friendships and between family members. More often than not, partners who are codependent will experience an imbalance in their relationship pattern.

What Is Codependency?

Codependency is a psychological condition in which a person is dependent emotionally, psychologically, and/or physically on another person, usually a romantic partner, a close friend, or a family member. This type of dependency can manifest as an unhealthy attachment, and a codependent person often experiences low self-esteem.

There are many types of codependency and the spectrum of severity is vast, but in many cases, one partner is psychologically dependent, and the other partner may exhibit controlling behavior, manipulation, or signs of a pathological condition or addiction. Codependency is typically linked to an individual's attachment style, but can also be influenced by psychological predispositions (like an inability to set boundaries), social elements, and even biological factors.

"Codependency represents the constant need to please and fulfill a person’s needs," says relationship and dating expert Liam Barnett. He explains that the codependent person's mood often depends on how their partner acts and perceives them. "The codependent person might have the tendency to be codependent from the early beginning of the relationship, or it might develop later in the relationship as a result of particular behaviors, triggers, or other factors."

Meet the Expert

Liam Barnett is a dating and relationship expert, and the founder of DatingZest.

If you're experiencing codependency, here is what you should know about the impacts on your relationship, as well as how to communicate with your partner about it.

Is Codependency Unhealthy?

As mentioned before, codependency can manifest in many ways and the degree to which a partner exhibits or experiences codependency will vary. But generally, the consistent presence of codependency between partners isn't healthy. "Generally, codependency is an unhealthy trait within a connection," says Barnett. While it's healthy to feel like the choices you make and how you feel depend on your partner to an extent, you shouldn't feel like their mood, actions, or desires dictate the entire relationship or your life. Things can quickly become unhealthy if you start noticing that codependency is the new normal.

How Do You Talk to Your Partner About It?

It might feel intimidating to have a conversation with your partner if you're worried that one (or both) of you are becoming codependent, but it's especially important to keep the lines of communication open in this situation. Barnett suggests the following tips for talking about codependency:

  • "Communicate your concerns to your partner by considering how your approach will make them feel." Keep in mind that this is a sensitive, delicate conversation, so you'll want to come to the conversation with empathy top-of-mind.
  • "Try to present it as an issue to be solved, rather than an argument to be won."
  • If you're the one feeling codependent—and maybe your partner's behaviors and choices are dictating your life, Barnett recommends gently explaining to your partner how their behaviors are affecting your feelings.

How Can You Rebalance a Codependent Relationship?

Once you've had one (or several) serious conversations with your partner about the nature of your relationship, there are steps you can take to reinstate a sense of balance in the partnership. A big part of this is owning your independence and working on self-worth and self-esteem. "Taking time for yourself, going out with friends, participating in activities without your partner, and talking to your therapist about it are just a few of the things one can do when feeling signs of codependency within oneself," says Barnett.

Article Sources
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  1. Salonia G, Mahajan R, Mahajan NS. Codependency and coping strategies in the spouses of substance abusersScholars J App Med Sci. 2021;9(7):1130-1138. doi:10.36347/sjams.2021.v09i07.002

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