In the Oxford English Dictionary, Codependency is defined in the dictionary as; excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction.

This definition seems pretty clear, but relationships often don’t come with clearly defined boundaries or roles, and working out whether you may be in a codependent relationship can be difficult.

It’s instinctive to seek the well-being of a loved one and provide assistance when they’re vulnerable, but taken to the extreme, the need to nurture someone can potentially create a negative relationship. Codependency, also referred to as relationship addiction, occurs when an individual assumes the responsibility of “rescuing” another person by catering to all of their needs. A person experiencing codependency constructs their identity around this role and adopts a self-sacrificial position within the relationship.

Codependency and addiction

Codependency is often used to talk about someone who helps their partner with addiction by hiding their problems or protecting them from facing the consequences. But it can show up in different ways depending on the relationship. For example, if you’re in a codependent situation, you might take on too many responsibilities at home, have trouble standing up for yourself or give up other friendships just to make your partner happy. This kind of unhealthy relationship isn’t only limited to romantic ones; it can also happen with family or friends.

Being codependent can cause problems for both you and your loved one. The relationship might become unbalanced or harmful. You might feel upset, resentful, or stressed because you’re putting your partner’s needs first and ignoring your own. Sometimes, this can even lead to tolerating abuse. If the relationship goes through tough times or ends, you might feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself because you’ve tied your identity so closely to your partner.

On the flip side, your partner might not try to fix problems you unintentionally encourage, like substance abuse, gambling, or eating issues. Instead, they may depend on you even more. They might call you “clingy” or get upset when you try to control them. This makes it tough for people with codependent tendencies to have good, satisfying relationships.

How can I know if I’m in a codependent relationship?

At the Recovery Lodge, we regularly meet people who are struggling with a range of issues, and those can and do include issues stemming from codependent relationships. When we find that there are codependency issues we often ask those who need help to ask themselves some honest questions so we can give them more effective support.

“Do my good feelings about who I am stem from receiving your approval?”

This can be hard to identify and also difficult to admit. Feeling good about yourself is a great thing, but when that feeling depends on the approval of another, you are giving control of your self-worth to somebody else. This can mean that even if you are doing all the right things to increase your self-worth, it’s difficult to realise this increase.

“Do I focus my attention on relieving your pain or solving your problems?”

In any relationship, there should be an element of mutual support between individuals. Still, in a codependent relationship, there is an inappropriate amount of focus by one person on the problems of another. Doing this can mean that any problems of the first person are not being addressed, and also the second person is unable to mature or grow their ability to solve their problems themselves. This can radically affect the sense of self-worth in both individuals.

“Is my attention focused on protecting or pleasing you?”

On the face of it, you may wonder why this would be an issue, but the constant need to please or secure another to gain validation can be harmful. This affects your impression of your self-worth, meaning your happiness depends on another person. There are also problems in life that you just can’t fix, leading to frustration or emotional exhaustion if you’re trying to make another happy or secure when it’s not possible. 

“​​Are my hobbies and interests being put aside – is my time spent sharing your interests and hobbies?”

Again, this may at first glance seem innocent enough; relationships are the healthiest when there is compromise between all parties about time spent together, but abandoning the things that make you happy or keep you centred in favour of doing things you might not even enjoy can lead to low self-esteem and resentment between people.

“Do I feel that your behaviour, clothing and personal appearance should be dictated by my desires, as I feel you are a reflection of me?”

Feeling that someone else’s actions reflect upon you might appear to be very natural in a relationship, but again in this instance, control of your happiness is being relinquished to another person. You should also be aware that controlling the behaviour of another to fit your preferences almost always produces a toxic dynamic between people, which is not going to make either person happy.

“Am I hyperaware of how you feel, yet unsure of my own feelings?”

Being aware of another’s feelings is vital for good relationship health, but not at the expense of knowing how you’re feeling in yourself. Hyperfocusing on the feelings of others often leads to emotional self-neglect, and can be stifling for others in the relationship too.

“Do I use giving up as my way of feeling safe in our relationship?”

Sometimes, not arguing or pushing your point of view means that arguments are cut short, and you can row back from anger or awkward situations in your relationship. Although this may make you feel like you’re not arguing, this may also mean that you’re not sticking up for yourself even if you are in the right. This can lead to many deep-seated relationship issues not being addressed.

“Has my circle of friends and socialisation been reduced after our relationship started?”

This is a hard question to answer, as people often move on from each other throughout life, but if a new relationship is leading you to become separated from friends or family that you have nurtured healthy relationships with in the past, then this can be dangerously isolating and should be addressed.

“Do I value your opinions and methods over my own?”

Life is full of learning lessons. Just because you haven’t got the fastest or easiest method of doing a thing down pat, or you’re not sure about the finest restaurants or you’re unaware of the latest fashion doesn’t mean that you won’t at some point, or that any opinions you have are invalid or inherently worse than anyone else’s, especially about purely subjective things. Sometimes in a relationship, it might feel “easier” to just go along with somebody else’s suggestions or methods, but what you may be doing is failing to speak up and represent yourself as a person.

“When you are in pain, do I feel that I don’t have the right to my feelings?”

Being able to relate to another and sympathise with their feelings is a good thing, but when you regularly invalidate or bury your feelings so they don’t make others feel potentially worse, then this may be a sign that you are in a codependent relationship.

Reach out for help with codependency

If you recognise some of the above in yourself, a friend or a family member, then it’s worth reaching out to get some help and guidance on how to deal with codependent relationships. Luckily, you can learn to control codependent tendencies and help yourself or others adopt healthier ways of behaving. By changing thoughts and actions you can have more satisfying relationships and feel better about yourself.

If you are in recovery or you’re having a tough time with addiction, and you’re worried that codependency might be making things more difficult for you, please get in touch with the Recovery Lodge.

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