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7 Signs You're In A Codependent Relationship & Why It's Unhealthy

Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Co-Founder of Inner Bonding By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Co-Founder of Inner Bonding
Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, relationship expert, and Inner Bonding® facilitator.
7 Signs You're In A Codependent Relationship & Why It's Unhealthy

It can be difficult to recognize when you're in a codependent relationship because they often seem quite beneficial or feel quite soothing to be in—at least at the beginning—and so you might believe you're in a healthy relationship. But the reality is, codependency is unhealthy and unsustainable.

What is codependency?

The simple definition of codependency is when you are dependent on another for your sense of worth, and you use various forms of manipulation to attempt to get their love and approval in order to feel worthy.

"Manipulation" might seem like a harsh word that you don't relate to, but manipulating others isn't always conniving and cruel-intentioned. For example, you might try to make yourself responsible for your partner's feelings and tell yourself you're doing it because you care about them—when in reality it's a form of control to get their love and approval. Or conversely, you might be directly angry and demanding as your form of control to get your partner to fill the empty hole within you.


What is a codependent relationship?

A codependent relationship occurs when each partner abdicates responsibility for themselves. Generally, one partner is the "taker" while the other is the "caretaker," although these roles can switch depending on the issue. For example, one partner might be a caretaker financially and a taker emotionally or sexually. (Codependent relationships aren't always romantic, though: there can also be codependent friendships and similarly enmeshed family dynamics.)

This relationship might seem to work for a while, until either the caretaker feels angry, hurt, and drained from never getting the love and approval they are seeking, or the taker, never feeling filled up enough, seeks attention elsewhere.

Symptoms of codependency.

Taker symptoms:

  • Feeling empty and unfulfilled
  • Feeling needy of others' attention, sex, and approval
  • Feeling irritated and angry much of the time
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Comparing self to others

Caretaker symptoms:

  • Perfectionism
  • Needing to be needed to feel like you matter
  • Having a hard time receiving
  • Feeling like a martyr, sacrificing yourself
  • Overly busy

What causes codependency?

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Codependency results from not being able to fully love yourself, independent of others' love, attention, or validation. Couples often become codependent because each person cannot recognize their own worth without feeling cared for and/or needed by the other. In other words, codependency is caused by an underlying sense of self-rejection and self-abandonment.


Signs you're in a codependent relationship:

  1. You're not feeling turned on to your partner. You don't have fun together, and there isn't much affection. You feel lonely with your partner, and you also feel alone—that your partner doesn't have your back.
  2. You feel stressed around your partner, and you often feel irritated and frustrated with your partner. You are more relaxed around others than around your partner.
  3. You have frequent fights, and you blame each other, believing if only the other would change, everything would be OK.
  4. You feel stagnant and stuck in the relationship. You don't know how to bring life back into the relationship. You feel that you are settling, and that perhaps you are with the wrong partner.
  5. You are tuned in to your partner's feelings but tend to ignore your own feelings or often don't even know how you feel.
  6. Your judge yourself harshly, which might manifest as you pushing yourself to look good and perform right in order to get the attention and approval from your partner.
  7. You make your partner responsible for your feelings; that is, you make it so your unhappiness is tied to your partner's actions instead of taking responsibility yourself for how you feel.

How to stop being codependent.

If you find yourself in a codependent relationship, it's important to acknowledge what's happening and work to create a relationship where each person can stand on their own two feet.

Learning to love yourself and define your own worth can work wonders in your relationship, and it's the first step in the process of how to stop being codependent. For example, if you feel alone and empty, instead of blaming your partner, go inside to see how you are treating yourself. You have no control over your partner changing, but you have total control over you changing.

It might be challenging to stop trying to get love from others, but when you instead learn to see, value, and love yourself, that's when you have love to share with your partner. There is a huge difference between trying to get love versus wanting to share love. When you want to get love, you are coming from an empty place of self-abandonment, and when you want to share love, you are feeling full of love from loving yourself, and the love spills over to your partner.

Even if just one of you decides to learn to love yourself rather than continue to reject and abandon yourself, you can change your codependent relationship to a loving, interdependent relationship. When one person changes the codependent system, the whole system changes.

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