Are You in a Codependent Relationship?


By: , – By Denise Schipani, of Woman's Day
  :  20 comments   :  14,294 Views

If you believe the song lyrics, soap operas and romantic movies, loving another person more than you love yourself––or life itself––is enviable, even desirable. But what that sentiment actually refers to is codependency, defined as a relationship in which one person (or sometimes, both) loves the other to such a degree that they exclude their own needs, wants and desires.

“A small amount of codependency is normal,” explains Tracy Prout, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, New York, and a therapist in private practice in Manhattan. “Sacrificing your own needs in moderation, or temporarily, can be good for a relationship.” It’s when you are totally out of touch with your own needs and feel that your partner "completes" you that your behavior can imply something unsettling: that you're not OK on your own. Read on to learn what you need to know about codependent relationships, how to figure out if you need help and where to find it.

How Do You Become Codependent?
No one just wakes up one day, looks at her partner and thinks that his happiness is more important than her own. Not surprisingly, in many cases, codependency has its roots in childhood. “Research suggests that codependents have a history of neglect,” says Dr. Prout. “Being abandoned as a child is not necessarily a direct cause, but it does seem to be connected.” Adds Edythe Denkin, PhD, certified marriage counselor and author of Relationship Magic, “When your feelings have been discounted all your life, you end up choosing a partner who will discount your feelings without even being aware of it.” You may be at risk of landing in a codependent relationship if you grew up with parents who:

• Neglected or ignored you
• Were self-centered and/or narcissistic
• Were substance abusers or addicts
• Were clinically depressed
• Were so controlling of everything you did that your own desires and feelings didn’t seem to matter

Though kids from these types of dysfunctional families don’t always end up in codependent relationships, what can happen is that they become “parentified,” says Dr. Prout. “They eventually develop the habit of either parenting themselves or parenting their parents.” In the case of substance-abusing parents, for example, these kids may be accustomed to cleaning up after a parent or making excuses for them. “A parentified child becomes an adult who is never truly herself because she has never allowed herself to have her own needs,” she says. As a result these now grownup children tend to be attracted to people who, they feel, need them.

What Does a Codependent Relationship Look Like?
Ask yourself what you want out of life. If your answer is always qualified by what your partner wants, that’s a major red flag. So is beginning an answer to a friend who asks your view on something with: “Well, John thinks...” or “John says...” "Codependents are caring people; they just care beyond the bounds of reason,” explains Tina Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids. In a codependent relationship, one partner is unable to say no or set boundaries that keep the relationship mutually respectful (for example, one partner makes all the decisions about vacations). This dynamic can continue for quite some time, but eventually exhaustion and resentment build up to a point that even the codependent partner can't stand, says Dr. Tessina. “When you are afraid to ask for what you want, you can’t have a healthy or lasting relationship,” says Dr. Denkin. “You can’t say anything without wondering if it will meet with your partner’s approval. You can’t express what you want or confide in the other person. Eventually, you end up living separate lives.”

Another unhealthy aspect of codependency is how it spills over into other areas of your life, adds Dr. Prout. “It’s very hard for your friends to maintain an honest relationship with you if your problems remain the same yet you refuse to see how you might change them.” For example, you might complain to your friend that your partner isn’t faithful to you, yet you habitually make the problem about you, saying that you just need to change your own behavior to fix it. "After a while, friends get tired of not being able to help you,” says Dr. Prout.

Find out what you can do to change your situation!

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Have you been in a codependent relationship? If so, what tips do you have for others that want to make changes to their codependent relationships?

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  • 20
    Its a definite problem, but it can be addressed and changed. The first requirement is that you need to realize that you are in a co-dependent relationship. Seciond with the help of a good counselor you can face the tough stuff and learn new skills. I refuse to be a product of my environment and i wanted a different and fruitful life. I'll be 57 this year and its been years of hard work and lots of prayer but I now see the patterns and learn very quickly to either remove myself from the potential relationship or discuss it with the person and see if we both want a healthy life and future. Life is not easy but we can have better lives if we choose to do the hard work. - 5/23/2012   1:11:43 AM
  • 19
    great to see an article that clearly defines the symptoms of codependency and some of its roots. Boundaries are always a huge issue, when one becomes aware that there ARE and SHOULD be such things. Then the hard work begins. - 4/25/2012   1:39:07 PM
  • 18
    I'm a lot like you Verivegi. It started with a mother like yours plus mine is bi-polar. My husband isn't as bad but still in a world of hurt. - 8/9/2011   8:40:02 PM
  • 17
    I wish I could say I am not and never have been codependant. I mean I really wish I could. I have spent so much time and energy taking care of my husband who has 4 major chronic killing diseases and I always put his care first. We just had a huge fight because he lied and pretended symptoms the other day just to be what he calls "funny". All a joke. I can't believe I put this guy first, ever. I am so hurt but this is the end of that codependant road for me. He has just screwed himself and as soon as I get over being hurt, I'll be mad and he won't find me helping him anymore. Now I know why I am fat and depressed, sleep deprived, pre-diabetic and abandoned by my own daughter He's so insensitive and I let him, no, helped him use me. Needless to say I walked into this eyes wide open but I was ripe and ready for the picking, I was an abused and neglected as a child. I know it wasn't always this way. I was very sick for several years and he took good care of me. I just never knew he had it in him to be so rotten.
    Great subject and most likely will help me keep myself on track of my goals. - 8/4/2011   9:05:26 PM
  • 16
    I have nothing against anyone who gets out of a bad marriage. I remember when I was growing up and someone would get a divorce which was rare back then,that my mother would say "Well, you don't know what it is like to live with that person behind closed doors." - 8/4/2011   1:02:27 AM
  • 15
    DebraLGary, the Bible teaches us to love others we love ourselves. God does not expect us to not be able to voice our opinions, express our feelings, and not make sure that our needs such as eating healthy, exercising, and so forth are met. When in a relationship we are not supposed to give up who we are for the other person and become their doormat.

    I am a Christian in addition to being codependent. My father was alcoholic and my mother was codependent, which is how I learned codependency. My first husband was also alcoholic, it is for this reason my first marriage ended after almost 18 years. After being single for eight years, I remarried and have been married to my current husband almost 11 years. I found myself taking care of my current husband's needs without taking care of my own, which is why I have gained 80 pounds in ten years. I have become obese, have high blood pressure, and have type 2 diabetes because I tend to put everyone's needs before mine. Do you really think that God wants this for us? No! He wants us to also take care of ourselves since our bodies are His temple. In a healthy relationship, we can voice our opinions and express our feelings without fear of how others will react. When we have the freedom to be ourselves, we will then have self-esteem that will help us to make sure that we also take care of our needs while taking care of others. We do not lose ourselves in the relationship; we love others just as much as we love ourselves; not more, not less. - 8/3/2011   12:33:29 AM
  • 14
    DEBRALGRAY: I think the point of this article is that codependent people aren't "strong and healthy" or an "individual with your own goals." How nice of you to take a real problem that causes people to suffer and make it about you and your religion. - 8/2/2011   6:26:50 PM
  • 13
    There is a great difference between codependence and being interdependent. As someone who has almost been destroyed emotionally by always putting the needs/problems of others before my own, I can tell you that serious long-term codependency can rob you of your health and/or sanity and leave you at the end of your life wondering where it all went. There is a wonderful organization caled AlAnon that is primarily for the families of those affected by someone's addiction,even indirectly. They have some powerful tools to help anyone who finds that they need to learn how to let go, set boundaries and let the peole in their lives learn how to solve thier own problems. - 8/2/2011   1:53:16 PM
  • 12
    WRONG DEBRALGARY, the bible does NOT teach anyone to love others more than they love themselves.
    Mark 12:31 "The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
    I'll tell you another thing, there is no such thing as an "independent" person, in other words, everyone of us in one way or another relies on other people, for whatever reason. We all need help in some way, a successful life is one of contribution. - 8/2/2011   2:20:56 AM
  • 11
    I'm glad to see Spark address this issue. Our health is more than what we weigh or how much we work out. Our health extends to our emotional and financial states as well. I appreciate that Spark covers so much area. - 8/1/2011   11:33:41 PM
  • 10
    I was in a codependent relationship a long time ago. He went for counseling for his drug/alcohol problems, and I went with him. All it took was a counselor saying that we should "live around him" and basically try to ignore his behavior, and I was fixed - done living with someone I'm supposed to ignore, thank you very much. - 8/1/2011   6:03:33 PM
  • 9
    I need to read more on this, as I am definitely co-dependent! - 8/1/2011   12:35:28 PM
  • 8
    My parents were loving but I always felt ignored as a child. I eventually ended up in a codependent relationship for 7 years. I got chills reading this. My sister has been married 30+ years to an exteremely controlling man. She is in complete denial like some of those who left comments today. - 8/1/2011   12:26:05 PM
  • 7
    I recently took substance abuse training for my job (social worker) and they talked about codependency as a part of it. It was a real eye-opener. Going into it, I didn't expect to learn anything about myself. - 8/1/2011   11:06:20 AM
  • 6
    Not everyone's life is dictated by an ancient book. - 8/1/2011   10:29:23 AM
  • 5
    I disagree with the article. The Bible teaches to love others more than ourselves and that men should love their wives. What is so wrong with being codependent. As long as you are a strong and healthy. Individual with your own goals that are compatable with another person. - 8/1/2011   10:12:11 AM
  • 4
    Wow my dad bought me a book for x-mas a few years back something like "codependency no more". I didn't really get what he was trying to say to me... After reading this article I know that my dad doesn't know me at all :( Sad day for me. - 8/1/2011   10:06:25 AM
  • 3
    My mother and father have these issues. I've worked hard with my husband of 32 years not to. - 8/1/2011   10:04:11 AM
    Good article - 8/1/2011   9:51:49 AM
  • 1
    Found myself nodding a lot as I read this... my mother was both clinically depressed AND extremely controlling. I can not think of one relationship that I've had that has not been codependent for me... I'll be 52 this month, so that's a long time to be unable to "get it right". I now choose to be single rather than suffer another disastrous relationship. - 8/1/2011   9:48:55 AM

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