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Codependency And Codependent Relationships Could Be Unhealthy, Here's Why

We should be striving for interdependence in our relationships.

When it comes to relationships, it's important to be clued up on what's healthy and what's unhealthy - and codependency is another relationship trait that can be pretty harmful (to both you and the person you're with). Codependency can stop you and your partner from having a mutually satisfying, healthy relationship, and it can sabotage your ability to function independently.

January is Codependency Awareness month, a time for us to take an honest look at our relationships and those of the people around us. Lovehoney has teamed up with Ness Cooper, a relationships expert at TheSexConsultant, to help individuals to educate and prepare themselves more.

Speaking on what makes codependency unhealthy, Ness explains that; “A healthy relationship dynamic needs to be able to allow room for not just the couple’s joint identity but each individual’s self-identity too. Most relationships will have moments where either individual is needed and the other individual fulfills that partner’s need, but often in unhealthy codependent relationships the needs that need to be fulfilled become very one-sided and control other aspects of the relationship."

So, what are the signs that you're in a codependent relationship? And what can you do about it?

What is codependency?

Codependency is when two people in a relationship have an over-reliance or dependence on one another - and that makes the relationship unhealthy.

Often, a codependent relationship takes the form of one partner needing or relying on the other partner, and the other partner themselves needing to be needed. These two roles can be thought of as "the giver" and "the taker" or even "the victim" and "the rescuer", explains Gurpreet Singh, a relationships counsellor at Relate.

Codependency can also mean that two people are so emotionally invested in each other that they find it difficult to function independently of one another, says relationship expert Helen Mia Harris.

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"In many ways [codependency] crosses over into love addiction and visa versa," she explains. "Sometimes the more dramatic and painful a relationship is, the more a symbiotic dependency strengthens between two people."

Why can codependent relationships be harmful?

A codependent relationship is an unhealthy relationship, as it stops both partners from being able to function independently outside of the relationship.

While you might not immediately notice a problem in the short-term, Gurpreet explains that, "over the longer-term, [codependency] collapses boundaries and stops people from taking responsibility for their self-worth, life and happiness." This is because, often, in a codependent relationship you are pinning these things on the partner you're relying on, which is particularly unhealthy.

Plus, while a codependent relationship can be harmful when you're actually in it, it can still cause even more problems when it ends. Codependency can leave you feeling vulnerable once you're on your own, says Gurpreet, and that might mean that the relationship ending or something happening to your partner can have an even more adverse effect.

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Codependent relationship signs

If you're unsure whether you're in a codependent relationship, these are some of the signs and behaviours to look out for:

1. Your boundaries collapse

Healthy boundaries are important for any healthy relationship. However, in a codependent relationship these boundaries will collapse, says Gurpreet - and this can mean that your personal wants and needs end up compromised.

2. You notice an imbalance of power

As codependent relationships often involve a "giver" and a "taker", look out for any consistent power imbalances between you and your partner. For example, "one person might always make the decisions, whether it's about your finances, social life, holidays, anything," says Gurpreet.

Similarly, it might feel like one person is the "victim" and the other is the "rescuer", Gurpreet adds. "For example, looking after your partner when they aren’t well is [healthy] giving and taking. But using small excuses to stay in bed repeatedly and expecting your partner to look after you might be taking it too far," he explains.

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3. One of you has a constant need for reassurance

A power imbalance might also take shape emotionally in a codependent relationship, rather than just through physical acts. For example, "one partner may have feelings of inadequacy and constantly look to the other for reassurance," says Gurpreet, and you may become obsessed with needing approval from your partner.

This might mean you end up valuing your partner's approval more than you value yourself and your own opinions, and you could also have a fear of being abandoned by them.

4. You facilitate your partner's negative behaviour

If you have a codependent personality, you might find yourself drawn to people who need 'fixing' or 'rescuing', and you become embroiled in each other’s dramatic events. Gurpreet warns to look out for times where you or your partner might then facilitate or enable each other's negative behaviour, like an addiction for example, rather than trying to help the person deal with it in a positive way.

Other signs to look out for include:

  • Merging with your partner and demonstrating an inability to live together as two separate individuals.
  • An inability to go out alone or even start projects on your own for fear of being left or rejected.
  • Feeling empty, unhappy and extremely discontented with being yourself.
  • Giving up hobbies, events, plans or personal interests to be with your partner.
  • An immense feeling of loyalty to your partner, even if they are rejecting and hurting you constantly.


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What should you do if you think you're in a codependent relationship?

One of the main reasons a relationship becomes codependent is the collapse of boundaries between you and your partner. So, if you want to move your relationship from codependence to what Gurpreet calls "interdependence" then re-implementing boundaries is a good place to start.

"Start by bringing your partner on board and discussing how you'll go about achieving the change that you're seeking. You might find that your partner also has similar frustrations," says Gurpreet. Then, you can both suggest some boundaries surrounding how you want your relationship to work and how you want to be treated.

"Some boundaries will be yours, some will be your partner's, and some will be a negotiation between the two of you," Gurpreet explains - but the important thing is to be clear with your partner about the boundaries you want to re-establish.

Relationship counselling with an organisation like Relate can also help you to understand whether you're in a codependent relationship and how to change it.

However, if you feel your relationship is unhealthy or toxic, or you feel unsafe, then the healthiest and safest thing to do might be to end the relationship.


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Credit: Cosmopolitan