Am I in a codependent relationship?

When you’re in a codependent relationship, it typically means there’s a dynamic where you or the other person (or both of you) rely on each other a little too much. This can show up in a number of ways and can be common in all types of relationships, not just romantic ones. 

So, if you think you’re in a codependent relationship, know that you’re not alone, that there’s nothing wrong with you, and that there are things you can do to become less dependent.

This can help if:

  • you think you’re in a codependent relationship but aren’t sure

  • you want to understand codependency and why it happens

  • you want to stop being codependent in your relationships

  • you think you know someone who might be in a codependent relationship

girl and guy facing away in an open field

What exactly is a codependent relationship?

Imagine a connection so strong that it's like you're two puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly. This can be what codependency feels like. While it’s great to rely on each other in a relationship, sometimes this dependency can become unsustainable for one or both of you. A codependent relationship might feel like you’re so reliant on each other that it becomes hard to function without the other person.

Codependency usually happens when one or both people in a relationship are dealing with something tough, such as stress or not feeling confident about being independent. The tricky part? The relationship itself can make these things even harder.

Sometimes, to make the other person happy, one or both people might forget about or neglect other important things in their life, like other friends, school, work, or hobbies. 

If you're feeling codependent, or if you’re in a relationship with someone who is codependent, instead of the relationship helping you both grow, it might feel like one of you is doing all the sacrificing or is relying too much on the other. 

What are some signs of a codependent relationship to look out for?

Codependency can be like a chameleon – it looks different for everyone. It's tough to say where being super-committed ends and being codependent begins. Typically, it will impact the sense of independence one or both of the people in a relationship have outside of the relationship.

Some signs of codependency to keep an eye out for:

  • feeling responsible for everything about the other person – their feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, or wellbeing.

  • feeling super anxious about your relationship and doing whatever it takes to keep it stable.

  • struggling with boundaries. This could look like doing too much for others, sacrificing your needs, and feeling a little resentful about it.

  • spending lots of time and energy on your partner(s), but not getting much in return.

  • finding all your joy in doing things for the other person but not much joy in your own life.

  • feeling guilty for thinking about your own needs and being hesitant to express them in the relationship.

  • finding it really hard to imagine separating or standing up for yourself, even if you know the other person is doing hurtful things.

  • ignoring your own desires, morals or conscience to do what the other person wants.

Why do people become codependent in a relationship?

People don’t usually become codependent on purpose. It’s also more common than you might think. It might sneak into a relationship when we're feeling insecure, scared or anxious, or when we’re trying to seek approval or safety through our connection to the other person.

Codependency can feel like a safety net that makes life seem more in control and stable – almost like the glue holding things together when life feels a bit stressful. This can sometimes be the result of coping mechanisms you developed while growing up, or it may just be what you saw with your parent or carer relationships as a child. Once codependency becomes familiar, it can start to feel safe. In fact, you might even have a hard time recognising or wanting to change this dynamic.

Sometimes, codependency can happen in relationships that are toxic and unsafe. It’s important to seek support through trusted family, friends and professionals to help you safely navigate your way through and out of an abusive relationship. If you’re experiencing this, learn about different supports available to you here.

How to change being codependent in a relationship

If you feel like you’re in a codependent relationship, it doesn't mean you're a bad person or that anything is wrong with you. Seeking feelings of safety is a totally natural human instinct and you’re definitely not alone! 

Codependency can also show up with friends, family or anyone else when you depend a bit too much on each other. It might also be something that shows up at different stages of your life, and that’s okay.

To change being codependent in a relationship takes a mix of different strategies. Here are some things you could try:

  • Have honest conversations with the other person. This means talking openly and truthfully with them about how you feel and what you need from them. It’s important to be clear and direct, but also kind and respectful. You can start by saying something like: ‘I really care about you, but I’m feeling overwhelmed and need some space’; or: ‘I feel like I’m relying on you too much and I’d like to change this.’ Then, listen to what the other person has to say and try to find a solution that works for both of you. 

  • Set clear boundaries. Reflect on what you are and aren’t willing to accept in the relationship, and then communicate those boundaries to the other person. For example, you might say: ‘I’m not comfortable with you calling me after midnight. Please don’t do that anymore’; or start the conversation by saying something like: ‘I’d love for us to talk about each other’s boundaries so we can be more mindful in our relationship.’ It’s important to be firm and consistent with your boundaries, even if you find this difficult.

  • Get support. Talking to a trusted friend, family member or professional about your feelings and experiences can help you to gain insights into why you might be struggling with codependency and provide you with tools and resources to help you overcome it. 

  • Practise being comfortable doing things or being on your own. This could start simply with some self-care practices that you can do by yourself, or you could identify one or two things where you rely on your partner(s) but want to become more independent. Perhaps this relates to doing the grocery shopping or preparing a meal on your own or going to an event by yourself.

You can also hop into the ReachOut Online Community to share your experience and connect with other people who might be feeling the same way or chat to an experienced peer worker through ReachOut PeerChat.

Shifting a codependent relationship dynamic is a little like untangling a messy knot – it takes time and effort, but is totally doable.

How can I help someone who’s in a codependent relationship? 

You might start to recognise signs of codependency in other relationships, and sometimes it can be hard to sit by and say nothing.

If you know someone who is in a codependent relationship, there are a few things you can do to help them.

First, it’s important to understand that they might not be aware they’re in a codependent relationship and you don’t want to come across as judging them or telling them what to do. Start by talking to them and asking questions. Let them know you care and are there to support them.

You can also encourage them to seek professional help. However, if they’re not ready to do that, you can suggest that they read books or articles about codependency to learn more about it. 

It’s also important to set boundaries and to make sure you’re taking care of yourself, too. Remember that you can’t fix their problems for them, but you can be there to support them as they work through their issues.

Can a codependent relationship be saved?

Talking openly with your partner(s) about what's going on can be a game-changer. 

Creating boundaries that respect everyone’s needs can help to transform your relationship. But it takes a lot of effort and commitment from everyone involved in a codependent relationship to flip the dynamic and create something more sustainable and healthy. If you’re feeling unsafe and struggling to get out of a codependent relationship, it might be a good idea to get some professional help to navigate through this tricky process. 

So, while it’s possible to save a codependent relationship, it’s also important to recognise when to step away if it’s negatively impacting your life. Sometimes leaving a codependent relationship is the healthiest choice for everyone involved, and that’s okay. It's not giving up; it's giving yourself a chance to grow.

What can I do now?

  • Talk to an experienced peer worker through ReachOut PeerChat.

  • Share your story and learn from others in ReachOut’s OnlineCommunity.

  • Find a mental health professional if you feel like you need more support.

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