Whether you've been with your partner for a few weeks or for almost a year, you probably spend a lot of your free time together. It can sometimes be hard to tell if, early on, you're in a codependent relationship or if you're just really close. While the difference might feel hard to grasp, a few key signs can let you know if the dynamics are healthy or not, according to experts.
In a general way, finding a healthy balance in your relationship is about respecting boundaries and not feeling responsible for other people's feelings, Lauren O’Connell, a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice who specializes in working with codependency, tells Bustle. "It usually takes a fair amount of effort and self-reflection to understand what is happening that is codependent, and how to change it."
The line between a close relationship and a codependent one can sometimes seem blurred unless you know what to look for. "The main difference is the difference between being attuned, supportive, and aware of your partner's life and feelings versus 'in the thick of it,' where you are feeling all their feelings, thinking and living the way they live, and feel actively and compulsively engaged in managing, controlling, helping, or fixing what they are experiencing," O'Connell says.
Here are some signs that your relationship is becoming codependent early on, according to experts.
1. You Feel Like A Caretaker
"Most codependents will give away enormous amounts of their time and energy to take charge of another person’s life," Christine Scott-Hudson MA MFT ATR, a licensed psychotherapist, marriage and family therapist, and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. You might just think of yourself as a "helper," but this isn't necessarily a good sign for your relationship. "Empaths get their sense of power from giving their power to others, whereas narcissists get their sense of power from taking power from others," she says. "In codependent relationships, this power imbalance becomes a dance." If your relationship is truly healthy, you and your partner will both take care of each other.
2. You've Lost Your Identity
"It’s normal and healthy for a couple to feel close," Lauren Cook, MMFT, a clinician practicing emotionally-focused therapy, tells Bustle. "However, a codependent relationship can chip away at one’s sense of self." You are your own unique person, so it's important that your identity remains intact, instead of being based on your relationship. If you've lost touch with your personal values, interests, and life goals, that's a sign that codependency has emerged, Cook says. Take a step back and reevaluate whether you're doing things because you want to, or if your relationship is determining every step you take.
3. You Only Have A Social Life When Your Partner Is Busy
Prioritizing time with your partner isn't necessarily a bad thing. But if you realize that you're only making plans with your own friends or family members when your partner is unavailable, that could point to a codependent relationship. "This is often a sign that you are pretzeling yourself and your schedule too much around your partner, and prioritizing their time and availability over yours," O'Connell says. Instead of always putting your partner first, make a point to set aside time for the other important relationships in your life. You shouldn't have to feel guilty about having a social life separate from your partner.
4. You're Scared To Disagree
Do you love comedy movies while your partner opts for drama every time? Are you obsessed with rock music while your partner thinks pop is the absolute best? "In healthy, secure relationships we can disagree and still feel safe and loved," O'Connell says. "If you’re finding yourself compulsively changing your opinions to fit your partner's outlook on life, you may be losing track of yourself." Instead of trying to force yourself to love the things that your partner loves, try to introduce them to your favorites. They might discover that they actually really love Criminal Minds or can't get enough of Lizzo's latest album either.
5. Your Mood Depends On Your Partner's Mood
It's common to feel sad for your partner if they're mourning a loss or feeling discouraged. But if you feel like you can't be happy yourself unless your partner is also in a good mood, that isn't a good sign. "Feeling unable to be happy, content, or calm when your partner is having a bad day is a big sign that you are starting to feel codependent," O'Connell says. "There is a difference between being attuned and supportive of our partners' feelings compared to feeling all their feelings and feeling anxious about them," she says. Be empathetic, but also give yourself permission to acknowledge your own true feelings.
6. You've Changed To Match Their Lifestyle
When you're in a relationship with someone, adopting some of their habits can happen naturally. You might find yourself using a slang phrase that they love, or adopting their passion for chocolate chip cookies. But there's a difference between introducing each other to new things and purposefully becoming twins. For example, if you partner drinks a lot, rides dirt bikes, is obsessed with Star Trek and those are not things you were ever that into before the relationship, and now you're beginning to drink, love dirt biking, and wear Star Trek merch, it's worth considering the degree to which you are taking on your partner's lifestyle, O'Connell says. You should still feel like yourself.
7. You Feel Anxious Without Them
If you've gone on vacation with some friends and find yourself missing your partner, that's nothing to worry about. But if you realize that you feel anxious every time your partner isn't with you, that could be a sign of codependency. "Codependent relationships don’t have clear or healthy boundaries," Dea Dean, a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor, tells Bustle. "A practical way this becomes apparent is when one partner normally enjoys time with friends or investing in personal hobbies but becomes more and more anxious that engaging with those friends and hobbies could trigger anger, sadness, or abandonment in their partner," she says. You should feel free to have relationships and activities outside of the relationship.
8. You Worry About Your Partner All The Time
Do people in your life think of you as someone who always has to be in control? Maybe they say that you think you know more about what your partner wants than they do. "You may see yourself as helpful, caring, and concerned," Susan Harrington, a licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist, and founder of Maison Vie New Orleans, tells Bustle. "But others may say 'No, it’s really alright.” Although caring about your partner's happiness and wellbeing is part of a healthy relationship, if it starts to feel consuming, that's probably a sign that you aren't as independent from each other as you should be.
If you suspect that you are in a codependent relationship, it can feel scary to find your individual self again. But begin to set healthy boundaries and you'll slowly get back to a more balanced dynamic.