Codependent relationships are characterized as relationship that are dysfunctional rather than healthy. Codependent relationships typically involve an unhealthy helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s drug addiction, maladaptive behavior, alcoholism, gambling, substance abuse/addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. One of the most significant indicators of codependent behavior includes engaging in people pleasing behaviors, excessively relying on other people, and the constant need for approval. Unfortunately, a lot of codependent people often base their sense of self-worth, purpose, and identity on fulfilling the needs of their partner. Too often, those that are codependent will make extreme personal sacrifices to satisfy the needs and desires of others.

Codependent behavior can happen to anyone, however, persons with an abused past, i.e., neglect, physical/emotional/sexual abuse are more likely to develop codependent behaviors than those that do not have a history of abuse or neglect. Persons with an abused past are also more likely to enter into codependent relationships. Previous studies conducted on codependent behavior and abused past suggest persons that grow up in an abusive or otherwise dysfunctional environment often develop an unhealthy need to please others.

Potential Signs of a Codependent Relationship Include:

  • Constant need for approval and acceptance
  • You repeatedly disregard or minimize your own needs and desires for the sake of meeting your partners needs and desires
  • You have low self-esteem, engage in self-depreciating behaviors/comments, or experience constant criticisms from your partner
  • Your mood and self-respect are dictated by your partner’s mood and behavior
  • Instead of growing together, you tear each other down, minimize or deny there is concern about your partner’s behavior
  • You feel devalued or disrespected by your partner
  • You enable your partner’s unhealthy behavior, drinking, substance abuse, mental illness, etc.
  • You are unable to happy, satisfied, or fulfilled with yourself in the absence of your partner

Codependent relationships often include a “helper”. A helper typically cover up, minimizes, denies, or rescues his/her partner from self-imposed predicaments (abusing alcohol, drugs, mental decompensation, etc.), bearing their negative consequences for them, accommodating their unhealthy or irresponsible behaviors, taking care of them, and preventing them from suffering the negative consequences of their actions (being hung over and being unable to go to work, stealing, failing to show up for scheduled appointments, etc.). Although these unbalanced relationships can go on for some time, they are ultimately unsustainable due their consumption of the helper’s physical, emotional, psychological, or financial resources, fostering resentment and relationship strain.

The helper shows love primarily through the provision of assistance and the other feels loved primarily when they receive assistance. The intense shared experiences of the other’s struggles and disasters and the helper’s rescues deepen the emotional connection and feelings of intimacy. Person’s in the helping role of a codependent relationship are often enmeshed with their partner, leading to dysfunction. The helper’s emotional enmeshment allows his/her partner to avoid unpleasant feelings associated with their behavior, preventing them from building resiliency, and developing appropriate coping skills. Helpers prone to codependent relationships often find intimacy in relationships where their primary role is that of rescuer, supporter, and confidante. These helpers are often dependent on the other’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs such as the need to feel important or needed. The helper will often keep his/her partner close due to fears of abandonment.

In a codependent relationship, the partner’s dependence on the helper is also profound. The partner is bound to the helper because the helper’s lengthy aid has impeded their maturity, life skills, resiliency, or confidence, enabling their addiction, poor mental/physical health, allowing them to remain dependent on the helper’s assistance. Their poor functioning brings them needed love, care, and concern from the helper, further reducing their motivation to change.