Am I in a Codependent Relationship?

Am I in a Codependent Relationship?

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Peter Burns

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

When you hear the term ‘codependent relationship’, your mind may immediately think of individuals who are clingy and always around their significant other. There is more to this term, however. Individuals who are codependent plan their lives around pleasing the other person in the relationship.


The enabler1, the significant other, allows the codependent individual to base their entire life around them. The enabler becomes the center of the universe and the codependent individual cannot live without them in control.


The easiest way to categorize a codependent relationship is when one person needs the other person, who in turn, feels the need to be needed. Codependency is circular and a cycle forms with one partner needing the other. One partner needs the other to survive while the other partner simply needs to be needed.


What is a codependent relationship?


Although the term codependent relationship may be used in a romantic context, you do not have to be in a romantic relationship for codependency to take place. Codependency can take place between friends, family members, or romantic partners. For example, a parent that enables their child’s drug habit as to prevent them from leaving home is a form of codependent relationship.


The codependent person in a relationship has no personal identity and lacks interests outside of their relationship. They are only happy when making sacrifices for their partner.


A dependent relationship is the opposite of a codependent union. In a dependent relationship, both partners make the union important. Despite putting the relationship first, both partners have outside interests and friends. The partners can equally express their emotions.


If you believe that you are in a codependent relationship, then there are some warning signs to be on the lookout for:


Poor and/or lack of communication


Partners in a codependent relationship do not say what they mean or feel. They worry about upsetting the other person in the relationship. You may feel that you have to walk on eggshells2 and not speak your mind. Aggressive communication such as shouting can result due to communication not being heard or getting through to the other person. Manipulation between partners can ensue and communication can be volatile resulting in arguments.


Gaining control and power


In a codependent relationship, the individual in control creates an environment in which their partner revolves their life around them3 Both individuals are likely to have low self-esteem which creates the clinginess in both parties. The relationship can start innocently enough with one of the individuals claiming the couple should spend more time together. Trust issues occur over time as the individual in control struggles to retain power.


No individual identity


While it seems fun and romantic that a new relationship begins with your partner wanting to do the same things, it can actually be quite destructive. Everyone is an individual with their own wants, needs, and dreams. You may not realize it, but your hobbies and interests may just be your partners. A lack of friendships and activities outside of your partner is a sign of being codependent. Your codependency could start off as something innocuous as sharing a Facebook account to expanding into having no worthwhile friendships outside of your relationship.


Alcohol misuse, drug abuse, and addiction


When alcohol and drugs are added to a relationship, it can turn partners into needy individuals on the path to destruction. Substance abuse can make one of the two partners an enabler while the other needs them to satiate their addiction problem. If one partner has a drug addiction, then the other partner could simply enable that addiction to continue despite not being a substance user. This occurs when the enabler does not want the other partner to leave them.


Partners in a codependent relationship can both rely negatively on each other. Thus, both partners can enable each other. However, it is common that codependent relationships feature one partner that is the enabler while the other is in need of them.


To improve or end a codependent relationship, one or both partners may:


  • Take steps toward creating some separation in the relationship. One or both individuals may find some interests or activities outside the relationship.
  • Spend time with supportive family members or friends to lessen the codependency.
  • The enabler must stop helping their codependent partner.
  • Enroll in a Family Reunification program


Codependent relationships can be destructive and result in mental and physical health breakdowns. There are ways to improve a codependent relationship to make it work for both parties. If you are in a codependent relationship it is ideal to seek help to improve it.



  1. O’Brien PE, Gaborit M. Codependency: a disorder separate from chemical dependency. J Clin Psychol. 1992;48(1):129–36. [PubMed] []
  2. Barenbaum NB, Winter DG. Personality. In: Freedheim DK, Weiner IB, editors. Handbook of psychology, history of psychology. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons; 2003. []
  3. Schneider Tamera R. The role of neuroticism on psychological and physiological stress responses. J Exp Soc Psychol. 2004;40(6):795–804. []
  4. Roehling PV, Gaumond E. Reliability and validity of the codependent questionnaire. Alcohol Treat Q. 1996;14(1):85–95. []
  5. Graziano WG, Tobin RM. Agreeableness: dimension of personality or social desirability artifact? J Pers. 2002;70(5):695–727. [PubMed] []
  6. Okazaki N, Fujita S, Suzuki K, Niimi Y, Mizutani Y, Kohno H. Comparative study of health problems between wives of alcoholics and control wives. Arukoru Kenkyuto Yakubutsu Ison. 1994;29(1):23–30. [PubMed] []

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Am I in a Codependent Relationship?
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Am I in a Codependent Relationship?
Partners in a codependent relationship can both rely negatively on each other. Thus, both partners can enable each other. However, it is common that codependent relationships feature one partner that is the enabler while the other is in need of them.
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