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How to Tell if a Relationship is Codependent

woman looks away with tears while husband tries to comfort her
By Lifestance Health on December 1, 2020

It’s impossible to tell exactly how many people are in co-dependent relationships of some sort. But some experts estimate that up to 90 percent of Americans show some signs of co-dependency. Some of those signs lead to full-blown codependent relationships, which are unhealthy for everyone involved. 

How can you know if any of your relationships are codependent? First, it’s important to understand what “codependency” really means and compare your relationships to some common examples. Then ask yourself a few key questions to determine if you could use more independence in your important relationships. 

What is a Codependent Relationship?

In a codependent relationship, one person sacrifices their personal identity and needs in order to please the other person. Far beyond healthy dependency, codependent relationships take clinginess to the extreme and are unhealthy for everyone involved. 

The term “codependent relationship” is most closely tied to romantic relationships, such as between spouses. However, people can have codependent relationships with parents, siblings, children, friends, and more. Codependency can even be found in the workplace. 


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In general, the person who sacrifices their own well-being is called the “codependent” in the relationship while the other person is the “enabler.” Neither person is necessarily being malicious or purposefully harmful in these relationships. Instead, it’s more likely that both parties aren’t even aware that the relationship isn’t typical.

Interdependent vs. Codependent Relationships

It is normal and healthy to depend on people in your life for some things, and they can also rely on you. When two people form a relationship that is mutually beneficial without sacrificing their independence, this is an interdependent relationship.

Interdependence (healthy) becomes codependency (unhealthy) when one person derives their satisfaction, identity, and self-worth out of making the other person happy. 

In a relationship with health dependency, both people:

  • Find equal value in the relationship
  • Provide and receive support
  • Have interests, values, and hobbies outside the relationship
  • Feel free to express their feelings
  • Make the relationship  priority, but not the only priority in life

In codependent relationships, one person:

  • Does not feel like their emotions are important enough to express
  • Sacrifices so much for the other person that they damage their other relationships, work life, or mental health
  • Does not have an identity outside of their relationship to the other person
  • Only feels worthy and valued if the other person needs them

On the flip side of that coin, the enabler in the relationship only feels satisfied in life if the codependent person meets the enabler’s every need. This creates a cycle of codependency. 

Warning Signs of a Codependent Relationship

When you’re in the midst of a codependent relationship, it can be hard to tell if your relationship is truly unhealthy. This can be true whether you are the enabler or the codependent person. 

You might be in a codependent relationship if you or the other person:

  • Put vastly unequal amounts of effort into the relationship
  • Want to fix or change the other person
  • Have no boundaries with the other person
  • Do not have separate interests
  • Don’t put effort into other important relationships
  • Lose all contact with other loved ones
  • Ask for permission before completing basic tasks
  • Encourages the other person to partake in unhealthy habits, like drug use or binge drinking
  • Constantly need reassurance about the state of the relationship
  • Frequently break-up, only to reunify soon after
  • Make excuses for the other person’s behavior

Having one or two of these signs does not necessarily mean that the relationship is codependent. However, it might be worth investigating further with a therapist or working on creating interdependence.

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How to Fix a Codependent Relationship

If any of your important relationships show signs of codependency, don’t lose hope. This realization can be the brave first step in a journey to a happier relationship with yourself and the other person. 

Codependent relationships can become healthy if both people commit to:

  • Being honest with yourselves and each other
  • Creating healthier thought patterns
  • Spending time away from one another
  • Establishing and respecting boundaries

Many people find that achieving all these goals is difficult alone. Qualified relationship counselors can help. A licensed therapist can be a neutral third party who can help you explore your feelings, understand what’s healthy, and work toward a better future together.

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