If you've ever witnessed or been in a codependent relationship, then you know how obviously bad they can be. There's a lot of enabling and I-can't-live-without-you type stuff going on, and things can get messy. But sometimes there are more subtle signs of a codependent relationship that are just as bad (not to mention draining).
Whether the problem is obvious or not, the same thread runs throughout all codependent relationships. "The bottom line is this type of couple is mutual, they think they can not go on without the other person. That their life ends if the relationship does," says psychologist Nicole Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC, in an email to Bustle. Other major signs include a hefty dose of distrust, and a deep fear of losing the relationship, Martinez adds.
I'm sure it's not necessary to point out, but this type of relationship is totally unhealthy. "We want individuals who are comfortable and well-established each on their own, and are comfortable with an equal amount of alone time and togetherness," Martinez says of healthier relationships. "[Healthy couples] know that while it would be sad, they will survive and go on if the relationship ended. They are there because they want to be there, not because they need to be."
If any of the above sounds familiar, then it may be time to keep an eye out for symptoms of codependence from you, or your partner. Here are some of the more subtle signs.
1. You Are Quite The People Pleaser
Being in a relationship means doing loving, sweet things for your partner. So don't label yourself "codependent" if you cook him or her dinner, or let them choose what to watch on movie night. The problem only arises when you feel like you have to do these things. As Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT, noted on PsychCentral.com, "It’s fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice. Saying 'no' causes them anxiety." And that's not a good thing.
2. You Don't Think For Yourself
Because of the whole people pleasing mentality, you may start to lose your voice in the relationship. As Martinez says, it's a major sign "when they start to parrot things that their partner says versus their own unique thoughts." If this sounds like you, then consider this a red flag.
3. You Never Focus On Your Own Needs
Be wary if you totally lose yourself once in a relationship. A healthy one will mean both you and your SO maintain some semblance of your former lives — hobbies, friendships, etc. A codependent relationship, however, will make your separate identities a thing of the past. As Feifei Sun noted on WebMD.com, "One key sign is when your sense of purpose in life wraps around making extreme sacrifices to satisfy your partner's needs." That's no fun, and it's definitely not healthy.
4. You Feel You Don't Deserve Better
People stay in bad relationships for all sorts of reasons. When it comes to codependents, it's because "they do not believe that they are deserving of more than the relationship that they are in," Martinez says. Thus, you may stick around in a relationship, even when it's not working for you.
5. You Feel Guilty For Not Helping
Since one of the main pillars of codependency is that need to feel needed, it makes sense that you might feel guilty for not running to your SO's rescue. This is often due to something called emotional enmeshment, which means you feel your partner's struggle as if it's your own, and thus feel super guilty for not helping them, according to Shawn M. Burn, Ph.D., on Psychology Today. It's easy to see how that can spiral out of control.
6. You Feel Anxious All The Time
It's really no surprise that sacrificing your own needs 24/7 can lead to some emotional issues. As psychologist Seth Meyers said in an interview with Sun, "[Codependents will] feel anxiety more consistently than any other emotion in the relationship. And they'll spend a great deal of time and energy either trying to change their partner or ... trying to conform to their partner's wishes." So add "exhaustion" to the list, as well.
7. You Need To Feel Needed
Codependency often comes from some sort of self-esteem issue. When that's the case, you may find yourself getting a boost when your partner needs you. "Helpers prone to codependent relationships often find intimacy in relationships where their primary role is that of rescuer, supporter, and confidante," Burn said, speaking of codependency as a "dysfunctional helper relationship." You may find yourself attracting the slacker types who need tons of help (and cash, and support) — and you'll be more than willing to give it.
8. Your Boundaries Are All Messed Up
Sure, you may want to spend all your time with your partner, and that's great. But like I said above, it's still important to have your own, separate lives. Codependents, as you might have guessed, really struggle with this. As Lancer said, "They have blurry or weak boundaries. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else." The opposite may be true, as well, where a codependent has too rigid of a boundary. What you want is a nice, healthy balance.
9. Your Love Has Conditions
You may find yourself in a relationship that seems to exist solely to fill a role, or void, in your life. If you need to feel needed, for example, then you may look for a partner who can't really get on by themselves. When that's the case, you may find yourself preventing your partner from changing, or growing, in any way. "This is conditional love (as opposed to unconditional love), which doesn't allow the other person to be who they really are: in other words, your happiness is dependent on them being how you want them to be," said Jennifer Kass on MindBodyGreen.com. Try not to do this, for your sake and theirs.
10. You Suck At Communicating
By "you" I mean you and your partner, because communication is definitely a two way street. This poor communication on your part usually comes from the aforementioned people pleasing mentality, where you're afraid to say the wrong thing. "You’re afraid to be truthful, because you don’t want to upset someone else," Lancer said. "Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when you try to manipulate the other person out of fear." It's totally not good.
11. You Feel Distant
As odd as it may seem, a subtle sign of a codependent relationship is when one or both partners seems to grow more distant, according to Martinez. This could be for any number of reasons, including the realization it's time to move on. "The unhealthiness and togetherness becomes too much to handle, and they realize it is time to back away, and hopefully be healthier," Martinez says.
If you think you're in a codependent relationship, it is possible to work on it with your partner. It may also be necessary to get some outside help. Don't be afraid to do either, and certainly don't be afraid to move on, if you choose that route instead.
Images: Pexels (12)