Common wisdom suggests that a parent can encourage independence in their child from the ages of 11-12. In fact, a child can be left alone more often because they are equipped with the right tools to be by themself. Now, imagine a situation where the parent and child are unwilling to let go of each other. Only the child is an adult and the other person in the equation is not necessarily their parent. There you have them – the signs of a codependent relationship.
Codependency is one of the most toxic and dysfunctional bonds you can share with someone. This does not necessarily have to be a romantic partner – it could be a parent, friend, sibling, or relative. The bond is as intense as it is unhealthy and educating yourself on the warning signs of codependent relationships will be a wise step toward prevention (or damage control).
We’re addressing the different facets of codependency in consultation with relationship and intimacy coach Shivanya Yogmayaa (internationally certified in the therapeutic modalities of EFT, NLP, CBT, REBT, etc), who specializes in different forms of couples counseling. Let’s empower you with the knowledge to identify the red flags and signs of a codependent relationship.
What Does A Codependent Relationship Feel Like?
It is important to define codependency before we proceed to look at its signs. Shivanya says, “When one partner slips into the role of a caretaker and the other becomes a victim, you’ve got yourself a codependent relationship. The former is a giver/supporter against all odds, making sacrifices for the victim/taker. They enter into a cycle where one partner needs constant support, attention, and help while the other is quite willing to provide it.”
From the perspective of the caretaker, a codependent relationship feels like a full-time job. This unhealthy relationship takes up most of their time and energy besides occupying most of their mental space. This partner feels a compulsive need to (micro) manage their better half and do everything for them. Their whole life revolves around their partner and they are the ‘benefactor’ in the relationship; they don’t know how to be independent in a romantic relationship.
On the other hand, the victim/taker feels completely dependent on their partner for the most trivial things. They struggle with basic tasks on their own and require hand-holding every step of the way. The dependent’s direction of life is determined by the caretaker and they are okay to surrender their autonomy. Needless to say, you don’t want to end up in either of these roles.
Most people realize the state of their situation quite late. If you have an inkling that the signs of a toxic codependent relationship are written all over your dynamic, you’re probably in too deep. But worry not, we’re here to help you analyze your situation better. After all, troubleshooting is not possible without a diagnosis.
10 Indisputable Signs Of A Codependent Relationship
Codependency is a circular relationship that feeds into and is fed by a vicious cycle. The giver can not help but give while the taker’s instinct is to extract as much as possible from their partner. Both provoke each other to maintain this unhealthy cycle of codependency.
We’ve curated this list of 10 sure-shot warning signs of a codependent relationship. A perusal should reveal the problem areas in your relationship (if any). In case these signs resonate with you, don’t worry. Bonobology won’t just be there for the analysis, we’ll give you a few pointers on healing too. All we ask of you is honesty and objectivity when you go through this list. Don’t let anything cloud your judgment and strive for objectivity.
We recognize that identifying one’s unhealthy patterns is difficult. But it is also important. As Benjamin Franklin wisely said, “How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults or resolution enough to mend them.” Without further ado, here’s presenting some top signs of a codependent relationship.
Related Reading: 11 Signs You Are In A Codependent Marriage
1. Excessive TLC
This is a hallmark among codependent relationship signs – one partner takes excessive care of the other in all spheres of their life. Shivanya says, “The caretaker is a mother/father figure in their partner’s life. They feel responsible for the dependent to a large extent and monitor or manage their schedule. Despite their best intentions, the caretaker cripples the dependent, increasing their sense of victimhood. Disproportionate concern and care are the beginnings of an unhealthy bond.”
Since codependent relationships are largely seen in cases of addiction or substance abuse, the need to care for an ailing partner intensifies. Allow us to illustrate with an example. Stacy and Mark have been together for over a year. While they started off pretty well, Stacy’s friends have begun to notice the early signs of a codependent relationship in their equation. She is unnecessarily worried about Mark’s sobriety as he’s a recovering addict.
In an attempt to take good care of him, Stacy has become his housekeeper, manager, cook, and bodyguard. From doing his laundry to checking his emails, she does everything for him. This is often done at the expense of her own work but Stacy believes that this is a part and parcel of unconditional love. We hope you see where this couple is going wrong.
2. Codependent relationship signs – Lack of individuality
Hmmmm, you can’t talk about the warning signs of codependent relationships without addressing the lack of individuality in both partners. It is a widely known fact that balancing independence in relationships is vital for the health of both people involved. When the relationship becomes whole and sole to someone, trouble looms. A romantic bond is an integral part of one’s life but it cannot be life itself.
Shivanya says, “The caretaker or benefactor devotes everything to their partner. There is no sense of individuality because they continue to give, give, and give. Most of their time is occupied by the tasks they do for their partner. On the other hand, the victim has surrendered their decision-making powers; they are happy to exist in a limited way of life.” If you suspect your relationship to be going down this path, ask yourself – does my life revolve around my partner?
3. Boundaries? What’s that all about?
Setting healthy boundaries is non-negotiable in any relationship. Shivanya says, “A codependent connection is essentially dysfunctional. And this is because both partners lack the ability to draw boundaries. They invade each other’s space often and this has harmful repercussions. The dependent, for instance, completely relies on the caretaker for their emotional needs. This is bound to get exhausting eventually – the latter will experience burnout.
“In some cases, codependency leads to a breach of financial and sexual boundaries as well. This occurs when the caretaker gives the victim complete access to their finances or sets no ground rules in the bedroom.” When you begin to notice a loss of boundaries, know you are witnessing the signs of an unhealthy codependent relationship. Respecting the other’s personal arena is the cornerstone of any healthy romantic relationship.
4. Signs of a codependent relationship – Constant stress
If being with your partner does not bring you joy, comfort, and security, something is going wrong. One of the most evident signs of a toxic codependent relationship is constant stress on one or both partners. And isn’t this quite natural? The caretaker experiences anxiety, burnout, and stress because they are in charge of their partner at all times. The emotional and physical responsibility takes a toll on them; by extension, they become unhappy and bitter in the long run.
The victim might experience comfort in giving up their autonomy initially but after a certain point, they also get stressed due to the caretaker’s micro-managing. The setup is quite unsustainable (more on this later) and both partners end up reinforcing each other’s worst tendencies. They are trapped in a cycle where they are constantly worrying about the relationship. Tell us, is this something you are going through?
Related Reading: Trauma Bonding: Why People Stay In Abusive Relationships
5. Missing: Self-esteem
The signs of a codependent relationship are invariably indicative of low self-esteem. This holds for both the caretaker and the victim. Shivanya explains, “It’s definitely a question of self-worth and self-image for both codependent partners in the relationship. The caretaker derives their self-worth by looking after their partner – their source of fulfillment is another individual. There is a need for approval and recognition. And on the other hand, the victim is not willing to take ownership of their life. They too, are running low on self-worth.”
The intrinsic sense of self is compromised because of the codependent behavior examples described before. If you determine worthiness based on how useful you are to your partner, then some serious recalibration is the need of the hour. A person has to be tethered and secure in themself before being available for a significant other. When you seek completion or meaning through your partner, you’re exhibiting the early signs of a toxic relationship.
6. Codependent relationship traits – Ineffective communication
A dysfunctional couple dynamic is characterized by bad communication. No wonder it is one of the top signs of a toxic codependent relationship. Shivanya says, “Both individuals have trouble communicating with honesty. The caretaker does not express what the victim needs to work on.
“It is important to convey your partner’s flaws to them – if you don’t identify their tendencies, who will? But the caretaker fears that they will be abandoned by the partner if they are empowered. Worried that they will lose their sense of purpose, the caretaker never makes their partner self-sufficient. The victim also doesn’t stop the monitoring or stand up for themselves.”
In the absence of open conversations and honesty, the relationship takes a beating. Even if the partners’ behavior is unintentional, it results in a very unfortunate situation. Communication problems pave the way to assumptions, resentment, anger, and constant fighting in the relationship.
7. S for sacrifice
Everything has an opportunity cost. The caretaker doesn’t just look after their partner; they do so at the expense of their own life. Shivanya puts it quite well, “One partner is constantly Mr/Miss Fix It. They want to troubleshoot and do everything for their dependent partner. This often involves making sacrifices. The caretaker makes these with a sense of glory of service and they take pride in these choices. It could be anything – turning down a promotion, paying off debts, moving cities, etc.”
However, it is important to remember that these sacrifices are made of the codependent person’s own volition in the spirit of selfless love. Compromising one’s own present/future constantly and willingly is detrimental, to say the least. As Ayn Rand wrote in her ground-breaking novel, The Fountainhead, “Self-sacrifice? But it is precisely the self that cannot and must not be sacrificed.” Keep reading for our final lap of the signs of codependent relationships.
8. The many forms of abuse
Codependency involves a significant amount of psychological and emotional abuse. And don’t get us wrong, it’s a two-way street. As we explained, both individuals reinforce problematic behaviors. Consequently, both suffer emotionally. Besides the toxic loop they are in, abuse creeps into the relationship due to hostility. There are two common instances at play – a) the victim taking advantage of the caretaker or b) the caretaker becoming abusive toward the victim.
Scenario A happens when addicts (recovering or otherwise) begin to take their partners’ feelings for granted and put them below their own feelings and own needs. When everything is done for them, they become insensitive toward the caretaker. They think, “Where can she/he go after all?” Physical and financial abuse are not unheard of in codependent relationships. Scenario B occurs when caretakers become bitter over time and begin keeping score of the sacrifices they have made for their partner. They engage in verbal abuse and manipulation to control their better half.
9. What’s past is prologue
So said Shakespeare. And we couldn’t agree more. The past contains the key to the present codependent behavior patterns. You see, codependency is indicative of unresolved issues and emotional baggage. Nobody wakes up one fine morning and decides to take charge of their partner’s life. There are other, much deeper factors at play. Shivanya says, “There can be a host of factors responsible for a codependent person’s current behavior.
“Maybe the partner playing the role of the caretaker learned to take care of people early on in their life (perhaps their childhood was spent taking care of an ailing family member). Similarly, the victim must have a history of helplessness. There must be reasons underlying their surrender of selfhood.” A tumultuous history exercises control over both partners – they have not made peace with the past. Make note, for this is one of the most crucial signs of a codependent relationship.
Related Reading: Addictive Relationships- 13 Signs To Identify You Are In One
10. Where is this going?
A huge question arises when we speak of unhealthy relationship patterns in general – how sustainable are they? If you are in a codependent one, you will find yourself grappling with it too. The relationship will have no long-term direction. You can’t possibly spend the next five decades taking care of your partner’s needs. There has to be more to life than that. Shivanya adds, “The caretaker will reach burnout and the victim will break free at some point. The end will be quite painful for both parties involved.”
A realistic evaluation of your bond will reveal where it is going (if at all it is going somewhere). If you reach the conclusion that you and your partner exhibit the signs of a codependent relationship, please attempt to rectify things. Breaking up is a wise course to pursue – you both can focus on self-growth for a while. But if this is not something you prefer, we have a few other alternatives too…
Coping strategies for the warning signs of codependent relationships
Take a look at these quick tips designed to help you heal from codependency:
- Set healthy boundaries: You must define what is acceptable and what is not. This can be accomplished through open communication. Taking a healthy amount of space from each other is advisable. Don’t invade each other’s privacy and be respectful of emotional triggers
- Prioritize yourself: Compromising on your own good is a very poor choice. Take care of your well being – eat healthy, exercise, focus on your career, socialize periodically, and practice mindfulness. Remember, healthy individuals make healthy relationships
- Seek professional help: Reaching out to a mental health expert can be highly beneficial. Many individuals have emerged stronger from codependent relationships with the help of therapy. At Bonobology, we offer professional help through our range of licensed therapists and counselors – you can embark on the path of recovery from the comfort of your home
- When one partner slips into the role of a caretaker/giver/supporter and the other becomes a victim/taker, you’ve got yourself a codependent relationship at hand
- A circular relationship is one in which one partner needs constant support, attention, and help while the other is quite willing to provide it
- A lack of individuality, healthy boundaries, self-esteem and efficient communication should be seen as codependent relationship traits
- Other top signs of a codependent relationship are the existence of abuse, a sense of sacrifice, constant stress, and excessive TLC
- Coping strategies for both the codependent partner and the giver partner include setting healthy boundaries, prioritizing oneself, and seeking professional help
And just like that, we’ve covered all the signs of an unhealthy codependent relationship and their antidotes. Hopefully, these have helped you gain a better understanding of things. Feel free to come back for more advice anytime – we’re always glad to have you. May your relationships be healthy and filled with love, sayonara!