Codependent Relationship

When something bad happens to your partner, does it feel like it’s happening to you, too?

Are you compelled to fix what you see as the ‘problems’ in their life? 

Do you find areas in which they can improve to help them become ‘better’? 

Do you feel like it is your job to prevent them from getting into bad situations? 

If you are nodding your head, you might be in a codependent relationship. 

In this episode, I break down what codependency is and give you powerful questions you can answer to gain clarity about your codependent behaviors (which is the first step to healing).

Prefer the audio? Listen here.

What is Codependent Behavior? 

Codependency is a dysfunctional behavioral pattern in which you are overly invested in, and have a desire to control, the feeling states, decisions, and outcomes of others, to the detriment of your own internal peace and psychological well-being. 

What might codependency look like? 

As codependents, we often prioritize taking care of others before taking care of ourselves. We over-give, over-do, and over-function. This can lead to other people consciously or unconsciously taking advantage of us to get their needs or desires met. Our needs typically go unmet, resulting in resentment and exhaustion.

Codependency and enabling substance abuse often get paired together, but in my 25 years as a psychotherapist, I have seen an over-functioning and under-functioning dynamic in many different relationships. Substance abuse is not always present. 

If this description of codependency resonates, you are not alone. The good news is codependency is not a terminal condition. You can change these disordered behavioral patterns with self-awareness and self-knowledge, which the following questions help you discover. But you need to answer them honestly

You can find all of the questions in the guide, along with further prompts to dig deeper into where your codependent tendencies come from. 

“Am I In A Codependent Relationship?” – 9 Questions to Ask

  1. Do you feel like your partner’s needs are more important than yours?

You may not consciously think your partner’s needs are more important, but do you act like they are? 

Does your need to manage your partner and make sure they are okay supersede getting your needs met? 

Do you help others at the expense of your own mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being?

Even if society still holds endless self-sacrificing as a badge of honor, it is unhealthy for us. 

  1. Is it hard for you to express your needs and preferences? 

Are you more of the “go along to get along” person in your relationship? 

Do you find reasons to avoid asserting your needs

If you prioritize your partner’s needs over your own, are your needs at the bottom of your to-do list? Or are they completely absent?

Think about how often you voice a need or preference to your partner. 

  1. Do you over-give in your relationship and receive little in return?

Does your relationship lack mutuality? 

I am not encouraging you to get all tit-for-tat but think about how much you organize around what your partner wants. 

Do you over-give? Do you do all the emotional labor in the household

Someone has to do the day-to-day tasks like keeping food in the fridge, scheduling appointments and reminders, and buying toilet paper for the bathroom. Is it you? 

  1. Do you do things for the other person they can and should do for themselves?

This applies to adult children, too. Are you doing laundry for a 28-year-old? Paying insurance for a 32-year-old? 

Do you buy and send birthday cards to your partner’s parents? Take care of their dry cleaning? Schedule their dentist appointments? Tidy up after them? 

Your partner is probably capable of doing these things for themselves. Why do you feel the need to do it for them? 

  1. Is it difficult to separate your feeling states and identity from your partner?

If you are in a perfectly good mood and your partner comes home in a terrible mood, do you quickly try to change their feeling state? 

When we are actively being codependent, we lose sight of where our side of the street ends and where our partner’s side of the street begins. This can cause us to feel responsible for shifting their bad mood. 

Maybe you tell them to look on the bright side, make them something to eat or drink, or begin to offer solutions if they are stuck on a problem. Everything except being with them and allowing them to have their feelings

Separating your identity may feel difficult, too. Many couples become a “we” in an unhealthy way, where they only know themselves in relation to the other person. 

Tons of love songs and movies tell us this is how love ‘should’ be. “I’m nothing without you.” “You complete me.” “I can’t live without you.” 

The truth is these are very codependent ways of viewing relationships. It is literally impossible for another person to ‘complete’ you. 

You can feel at home in a relationship and get a ton of satisfaction from a relationship, but you are whole on your own. 

A good relationship is like icing on a perfectly delicious and robust cake. You are the cake. You’re good without the icing. 

Being a healthy human means figuring out how to be good within yourself

  1. Are you afraid of rejection or of abandonment in your relationships? 

Fear of rejection or abandonment can unconsciously drive codependent behavior. Is this the case for you?

Take time to think about whether you are afraid of rejection, your partner’s disapproval, or abandonment, and how that might influence your behavioral dynamic. 

  1. Do you rely on the validation of others to feel valuable or worthy? 

Do you find it difficult to validate your value or worth? 

Is your worth based on what you do?

Do you derive a sense of value from other people being happy with you? 

If you are not doing for others, how do you feel about yourself? 

  1. Is your communication ineffective? 

When there is an issue in your relationship, do you fight about it or avoid the conversation altogether? 

In codependent relationships, doing more than we need is often how we act out what we are not saying. 

  1. Do you feel like you cannot live without the other person? 

If you were to leave your partner, do you feel as though someone might actually die? If so, there is likely a deep dysfunctional connection and enmeshment in your relationship. 

It is one thing to be devastated – of course, I would be devastated for a long, long time if my husband up and left me today. 

But I can imagine a life without him (even though I do not want to) because I already have my own life. 

Many of these underlying patterns begin in childhood when we are the ultimate captive audience, so to speak.  

If any of these questions resonate with you, download the guide and go through them at your own pace to explore your relationship with codependency. 

Compulsion to Fix

When I was actively codependent in my twenties, a pattern emerged in the people I attracted: someone I could help or improve. 

I tended to find the “broken-winged bird” because I was comfortable in the role of rescuer. 

There was this compulsion to fix. 

Enabling others to under-function is a compulsion on our part. 

You might experience this in an array of unhealthy relationship patterns-basically it’s someone who does not take responsibility for their part, who is happy for you to over-give and over-function. 

The Impact of Codependent Relationships 

Why do I want you to identify if you are in a codependent relationship or have codependent tendencies? 

Because it is unlikely you can do it forever without becoming completely burnt out, bitter, and exhausted. 

Codependency is becoming a martyr in your own life, and it is a thankless job. 

There might be some safety in hiding behind codependency and making others front and center, but there is not a lot of satisfaction in it. 

I hope this opened your eyes and gave you an aha moment you can use to pivot towards healthier relating. If it did, I would love to know – tag me on Instagram (@terricole) or leave a comment. 

Remember to download the guide for all the questions asked here. Knowledge is power, and the more you know about how you function now, the easier it will be to shift how you function in your relationships. 

Have a great week and as always, take care of you. 

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  1. Hey Terri as a recovering "high functioning" co-dependent. Do you have any insights on how to apply the concepts to a caretaker of a special needs family member. Or do you know anyone who addresses this situation on the regular? I have a brother who had brain damage at birth from lack of oxygen who lives with me. Thanks for all your great info. Your book Boundary Boss has been pivotal in helping me understand these concepts. Love and hugs!

  2. Terri, this is so right on, and I have found that we can easily transfer our codependency from one person to another. My sister and I were in a very codependent relationship as children since our parents were physically and emotionally unavailable. We fought to overcome this, but we also have transferred this codependency to other family members, partners, and children. The issue is not limited to one person…it is like an issue that can be moved from one person to another. It can be insidious. And it must be healed within us or it remains an ongoing problem.

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