Understanding Codependency in Relationships

May 01, 2023 |

Discover the signs of codependency in relationships and learn how to recover from it.

What is codependency?

Codependency in relationships means an unhealthy way of relating to your partner or spouse. It can cause problems in any relationship. It can take many forms such as mental, emotional, physical and/or spiritual dependence on a partner or spouse, as well as vary in intensity.

The word was first used in the 1950s in the context of Alcoholics Anonymous to support partners of individuals who abused substances, and who were entwined in the toxic lives of those they cared for,” says Dr. Renee Exelbert, a licensed psychologist and author based in New York.

Whilst the data for the UK is unknown, it is estimated that over 90 percent of the American population demonstrate codependent behaviour. It is also one of the main reasons that people stay in unhealthy relationships. Codependency prevents us from having healthy, balanced relationships, a healthy relationship is where both people’s needs, and expectations are met equally.

Codependency in a relationship will leave you frustrated, exhausted, and drained. It also reinforces a belief that you have little or no self-value and often a feeling of being worthless. If you recognise yourself in the following description and you want to break free it’s important to recognise when you’re in a codependent relationship. While codependency in relationships can occur with anyone, for this article, I’m focussing on codependency with your spouse or partner.

Why do people experience codependency in relationships?

It's often seen in people who grew up in dysfunctional families where there was little support for emotional needs. Codependency is a learned behaviour that develops when a child experiences early childhood trauma. This trauma can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, anger, fear, and helplessness. These emotions can become so overwhelming that children begin to feel responsible for other people's happiness. They try to make themselves happy by making others happy.

Codependency in relationships is often thought to involve a power imbalance that promotes the needs of the ‘taker’, meaning the ‘giver’ has to keep on giving without their own needs being met. Low self-worth is a core part of codependency. You may feel like there’s something wrong with you, so you constantly seek validation, you are afraid of rejection, and do things to prove you are worthy. You have been the caretaker because you need to be needed and to have a purpose and you try to save other people by sacrificing your own personal needs. This often leaves you feeling empty.

The signs of codependency in relationships

Codependency in relationships can happen almost immediately, or it can develop slowly over time. If you recognise any of these behaviours in yourself or in your partner, it might mean that you're suffering from codependency. You may also notice that your relationship is not as healthy as it once was.

The major signs of a codependent relationship include:

  • Obsessing about what the other person is doing, thinking, and feeling.

  • Your relationship is consistently one-sided; one person is hardworking and responsible and the other is allowed to be irresponsible and avoid the consequences of their actions. You may enable and make excuses for the other person’s poor behaviour. Codependents can typically be attracted to addicts as this feeds their need to save people and their need to be needed.

  • You indulge in solving other problems, taking care of everyone and everything, but then feel resentful that no one helps or seems to care for you.

  • You set your own feelings aside to make the other person happy. Your life revolves around the other person, your own personal needs are not met or even accounted for. Therefore, giving you a feeling of emptiness.

  • You “walk on eggshells” in their company, constantly afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing that will displease or anger the other person. You do not confidently express and share your feelings. To avoid conflict, you may say yes to things that you don’t want to do or that don’t align with your values.

  • Your need to fix or rescue becomes controlling. You attempt to control the other person’s behaviour through criticism, ultimatums, nagging, or giving unsolicited advice.

  • You refuse to give up and leave the relationship, even though deep down you are aware this relationship is abusive to yourself. In a lot of cases there is physical, emotional, or financial abuse.

  • You’re afraid of being rejected and suffer with a great fear of being abandoned.

While the signs of codependency in relationships are not set in stone, this guide gives you a good idea of what a codependent relationship looks and feels like. If you recognise some or all these signs of a codependent relationship, the most important thing to know is that codependency can be managed. The first step is understanding you are or have codependent personality traits.

Recovering from codependency in relationships

Codependency in relationships is an unhealthy pattern of behaviour that occurs when people depend too much on others. It's often seen in romantic relationships, where one person depends on another for emotional support. This dependency makes them feel inadequate and guilty, so they try to make up for their feelings by being overly helpful.

It is important to know that this behaviour and tendency has developed over many years, so be kind to yourself as you work through this. It will feel really uncomfortable at first, but know that this feeling is natural and a sign that you are making positive changes. This personality trait is rooted in how you feel about yourself. You can only change yourself, you cannot not change others, changing codependent relationship patterns starts with changing how you think, feel, and value yourself.

Because you struggle with low self-worth and seeking external validation, you need to learn to validate yourself. You need to start considering your own needs and show yourself compassion. Trust me, I’ve been there and I know that this isn’t easy to do, but taking small, intentional actions toward this goal such as saying something kind to yourself and setting clear boundaries is a good start.

Let go—just a little. The concept of detaching is central to codependency recovery. When you detach, you put some emotional or physical space between yourself and your partner or spouse. It doesn’t mean abandoning them or ending the relationship. It means that you stop obsessing about what they are doing or not doing, their problems, feelings etcetera. It gives you room to be yourself and take care of yourself.

Here are my 8 steps to recovering from codependency in relationships

1. Reconnect with yourself

To start your recovery from codependency, you first need to reconnect with YOU. Knowing who you are and loving who you are is the first step to becoming independent from your partner. Spend time by yourself, find something to do that inspires you and you love doing.  Don’t give up even if it feels strange at the start, remember you are important.

You can begin by asking yourself:

  • What do I like to do?

  • Who do I want to spend time with?

  • What are my goals?

  • What can I do for myself to feel better?

2. Recognise your feelings

Life goes by very quickly when you're busy and focusing on your partner or spouse. It’s very easy to forget how you’re feeling. Remember, you're allowed to make choices based on how YOU feel instead of what others need from you. Not expressing your feelings when your upset comes out later...Don’t remain silent.

3. It’s OK not to fix people

Letting go of what isn’t your responsibility can be hard. Let your partner or spouse make their own choices as fully grown adults. They need to deal with the consequences of their decisions and actions. It is not up to you to help them sort it out.

4. Don’t always yes

Saying no is good, it sets good boundaries for your selfcare. When you say no in your recovery it means you're putting yourself as number one, which is exactly where you should be.

5. Ask for help

By asking for help and being clear on what you need means you will get it. You can still give and care but not if it hurts you it's about moderating what you give to others.

6. Stop overthinking what you can't control

Stop your focus being on your partner or spouse all of the time. Keep bringing the focus back to you. In time you'll feel calmer and more grounded, when all your superpowers are sorting your partner or spouse’s problems, you lose touch with what you need.

7. Let go!

By learning to concentrate on you, you'll find that your inner peace returns. Trying to sort, fix and control your partner or spouse's behaviour distracts you from building your dreams. Go chase them, do what makes you amazing, take control of you and thrive into a life of purpose and vision.

8. Work with a women’s empowerment coach

Find a women’s empowerment coach who can be there to guide and support you with understanding how you have ended up in a codependent relationship. They will also be able to support you in becoming unstuck and being more confident to set clear boundaries for yourself.

How a Women’s Empowerment Coach can help move on from codependency in relationships

Understanding why you are codependent and recognising the signs is key to developing self-awareness and you should focus on actively taking steps to change this behaviour. You need to also understand that your partner or spouse will be very resistant to this change in you and the boundaries that you are now putting in place.

Relationships are hard, especially when they aren’t going well. Emotional support can increase strength and accountability to make the changes needed. You don’t have to do it alone.

I’m Emma Gibson, the Empowerment Coach for women who want to transform their lives, become unstoppable and conquer the fears that have been holding you back from truly living YOUR BEST life.

I offer you an objective safe space to explore all of the above and more, my signature offer, Hidden to Happy, does exactly that - you get 8 weeks of weekly 90 minute one to one coaching calls with me and so much more. You can see some of the amazing results my previous clients have had here!

If you’re ready to find your purpose in life and your relationship, book your complimentary, no obligation Discovery Call with me today!

Emma x

Categories: : codependency, relationships