Codependent Relationships: The Signs of Codependency
Last Updated: November 6, 2023
A codependent relationship often creates an unhealthy dynamic in which one person feels responsible for being a caretaker for the other. The caretaker in the relationship sacrifices their own needs to care for their partner. Often, codependency creates an imbalance that makes it challenging to have a satisfying relationship. However, if both partners are committed to making changes, you can overcome dependency.
What Is Codependency?
Codependency is a dynamic that was first identified in relationships in which one partner was addicted to drugs or alcohol. The person’s spouse, often the wife, was referred to as codependent if she enabled the addiction by assuming a caretaking role for her husband.
More recently, the concept of codependent relationships has expanded to include any relationship dynamic in which one person assumes the caretaker role. While codependency often occurs in intimate or romantic relationships, it can also appear in relationships with friends, coworkers, or extended family.
Codependency, in simple terms, is a pattern in which a person is dysfunctional in their relationships. Rather than having a balance of power and responsibility in relationships, a codependent person neglects their own needs and is highly focused on others.
The codependent person does not express their own opinions and finds their fulfillment and sense of purpose through their caretaking role in relationships.
Signs and Symptoms of Codependency
Codependency isn’t a specific psychiatric diagnosis, but researchers have identified some characteristics commonly associated with this personality trait. Some signs and symptoms related to codependency include:
- Low self-esteem
- Communication problems in relationships
- Need for control in relationships
- Poor coping skills
- Difficulty separating oneself from others
- Lacking a clear sense of self
- Fear of abandonment
Recognizing the Signs of a Codependent Relationship
If you think you’re in a codependent relationship, it’s helpful to recognize the signs. When you notice signs and symptoms of codependency, it may be time to make some changes to make your relationship more balanced.
Consider the signs below:
- You feel responsible for saving your partner
- You enable your partner’s unhealthy behavior, such as substance misuse or financial impulsivity
- You’re trying to change who your partner is
- You consistently sacrifice your own needs to make your partner happy
- You feel guilty when you take time for yourself and your hobbies
- You panic when you’re not with your partner because you’re worried something is wrong
- You’re distancing yourself from friends and family because you’re always with your partner
- You are fearful of being alone
- You’re afraid to stand up for yourself in the relationship
- Your partner becomes angry if you say no to a request or try to set a boundary
Maybe you’re not sure if you’re in a codependent relationship. If you’re having a hard time identifying the signs, ask yourself if you feel comfortable being who you truly are with your partner. Do you think that it’s okay to take time for yourself or tend to your own needs? If not, you’re likely in a codependent relationship.
What Causes Codependency?
There is not one single cause of codependency. Rather, various factors increase the risk that someone will become codependent in relationships. Factors that contribute to codependency can be biological, psychological or social.
Risk Factors for Codependency
Some common risk factors for codependency include:
- Growing up in a dysfunctional family environment (ie: significant conflict or abuse/neglect)
- Experiencing parentification as a child
- History of substance abuse in the family of origin
- Genetic predisposition to assume a caretaking role
- Problems with a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex
Codependency is not an official mental health disorder, so it is difficult to track the prevalence of this trait. One study with women seeking health care at a clinic found that 25% presented with codependent behaviors. In general, women may be more prone to codependence because they are often taught to be submissive and nurturing.
Another study that involved spouses of men who were addicted to alcohol or opioids found that 56% of spouses with an alcohol-addicted husband and 64% of those with an opioid-addicted husband were codependent. Codependence was more common among younger spouses.
Codependency and Substance Abuse
Sometimes, codependency and substance abuse can go hand-in-hand. As noted above, codependent behaviors are common in spouses of people who have addictions. Someone with a codependent personality type is likely to enable addictive behavior and try to “rescue” the addicted person.
Individuals who display codependent traits may also be prone to addiction themselves. Some psychology experts consider codependency to be a “non-chemical addiction” because a person can become addicted to relationships or to the quest to “fix” their partner or another important person in their life. People who struggle with codependency are also likely to have a family history of alcohol addiction, and they may be at risk for addiction.
Coping With a Codependent Loved One
If a loved one shows codependent behavior, they may spend a significant amount of time and energy trying to “save” someone in their life. This can involve enabling the person’s negative behavior. In some cases, a codependent person can also become controlling of other people around them.
When you’re dealing with a codependent loved one, it’s essential to set boundaries. You might have to tell them that there is specific behavior you will not accept or simply choose not to engage with them if they’re showing harmful behavior.
It can also be helpful to encourage the codependent person to seek treatment. When you’ve been negatively impacted by a codependent loved one, you may also benefit from seeking counseling yourself, to help you process your emotions and develop healthy boundaries.
Treatment Options for Codependency
When you’re struggling with your own codependent behavior, seeking treatment can be helpful. Therapy can help you to uncover and address underlying issues, such as unresolved childhood trauma, that are contributing to codependency. Therapy can also help you to strengthen your communication skills and enhance your self-esteem.
Some people may benefit from other services, such as medication, to treat co-occurring depression. The best treatment plan is one that is tailored to your unique needs.
At The Recovery Village Kansas City, we offer codependency treatment in the form of counseling, medication and support groups. We can treat codependency whether it occurs alongside an addiction or on its own. Contact one of our recovery advocates today to start treatment.
Cleveland Clinic. “10 Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship, and What To Do About It.” Accessed October 26, 2023.
Happ, Zsuzsa, et al. “How codependency affects dyadic coping, relationship perception and life satisfaction.” Current Psychology, 2023. Accessed October 26, 2023.
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Knapek, Eva; Kuritárné Szabó, Ildikó. “The concept, the symptoms and the etiological factors of codependency.” Psychiatria Hungarica, 2014. Accessed October 26, 2023.
Noriega, Gloria, et al. “Prevalence of codependence in young women seeking primary health care and associated risk factors.” The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 2008. Accessed October 26, 2023.
Sarkar, Siddharth, et al. “Codependence in spouses of alcohol and opioid dependent men.” International Journal of Culture and Mental Health, 2015. Accessed October 26, 2023.
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