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Recognizing signs of codependency is important in order to understand how it can impact addictive behaviors.


Codependency is a term that is often applied to relationships, and it’s often used incorrectly for how it relates to our personalities. Codependent relationships can be found in couples, caretakers, and even platonic companions, but many people are still confused about what the term actually means and why it’s always talked about in a negative light. 

To better understand if you may have a codependent personality or to begin to evaluate whether or not you may be prone to codependent behavior, you’ll need to know what it means. Here is more information on what exactly a codependent relationship is, and how it compares to dependency.

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What Is a Codependent Relationship?

 signs of codependency  

A codependent relationship is any relationship where someone becomes so highly invested in another partner that they become unable to function and live as independent people. They will eventually become entirely defined by their partner’s emotional state, happiness, and personal identity. 

Another term frequently used to describe codependent relationships is “relationship addiction,” which is often more descriptive and easier to grasp for many people. This term defines the people in the codependent relationship as being addicted to being in a relationship and how they feed off their partner.1


The difference between codependency and dependency is confusing for many people. Codependency differs from dependency in that it is impacted by the type of partner involved in the relationship. 


Codependency traits include getting some level of satisfaction or reward from the control they can exert over the other partner. A codependent personality may also have trouble asserting themselves, and by being more passive, they allow the other partner to make many life decisions for them. This may not always be intentional either and can sometimes also be a subconscious behavior.


Dependent relationships are signaled by the ability of both partners to assert themselves to some extent, as well as being able to express their emotions. While these relationships may still qualify as unhealthy depending on many other factors, the partners in the relationship will often find ways to create mutual benefit from the relationship in some way. Dependent relationships are more mutually beneficial, whereas codependent ones tend to be more one-sided.


Being able to spot the signs of codependency is crucial to know when you may be in an unhealthy relationship and when treatment or therapy may be needed. Even though having a codependent personality isn’t a DSM-5 diagnosable condition, some signs are common to those affected by it.

Compulsive Attention to Someone

One of the biggest indications of a potential codependent personality disorder is someone feeling like their partner is essential to their survival. This compulsion often requires them to be in constant contact in one way or another with their partner.

Fear of Abandonment

Fears of being abandoned are common in these relationships, as are an exaggerated or even obsessive need for their partner’s approval.

Lack of External Support Systems

This is not necessarily an indication but is one of the risks of becoming codependent. Those in codependent relationships will generally rely solely on one person to meet all their emotional needs.

Enmeshed Sense of Self

One of the foundational traits of codependency is having little distinction between oneself and their partner, particularly in emotional matters. Not being able to be happy unless your partner is happy is a strong indicator.


Consistently seeing themselves as less capable or simply not as good as their partner is one of the common signs of codependency. Doubting decisions that someone has already made would fall into this category as well.


One partner may eventually come to resent the other, feeling like they cannot function normally without their partner. This is one of the strongest characteristics of codependency as a whole, since it takes time to develop.2


Since codependency is not a natural behavior, it is learned by previously encountered behavior or emotional challenges. It can develop from many different formative relationships.

  • Damaging Parental Relationships: Codependency issues often stem from challenging or problematic relationships with their parents. This may be due to a lack of proper development emotionally, or from an underlying substance use disorder.

  • Mentally or Physically Ill Family Members: Many codependency traits stem from one person feeling like their only worth lies in their ability to care for another person. Living with and caring for an ill family member isn’t a guarantee that codependency will occur later in life, but it can be a factor.

  • Abusive Families: Families that have inherently abusive relationships can create lifelong psychological and emotional challenges for the abuse victims in the household, whether that be for their children or a spouse. This can be the result of physical, sexual, emotional, or even financial abuse.

  • Controlling or Overprotective Caregivers: Caregivers that are controlling, overbearing, or overprotective can leave their wards with lasting psychological damage and resulting challenges. This will often contribute to the self-doubt and fear of abandonment that is common in many codependents.


signs of codependency

Codependent Relationships Issues

In a healthy relationship, the needs and emotions of both parties will be able to be expressed. They will often work together to find ways that can benefit both partners. Addiction can often create codependent relationships because one partner will require more support from the other while sometimes not giving any in return. 

This can eventually result in the person’s needs taking priority over the codependent partner's needs, often to the point of mental illness and even physical deterioration.3

Can a Codependent Relationship Be Saved?

In many cases, being in a codependent relationship doesn’t mean there isn’t value in that relationship, it just means that there may be a significant amount of work required to make it healthy. Here are some ideas for starting to heal from your codependent relationship if you think you might be experiencing one.

  • Get a trusted outside perspective
  • Check-in with yourself and re-examine your value system
  • Create a timeline of your relationships
  • Set healthy boundaries

Why Codependency Is an Unhealthy Dynamic?

The entire concept of codependency in relationships grew out of a desire to more thoroughly understand the relationship dynamics of those in dysfunctional relationships, particularly addictions, and how those relationships molded their future mental health. By definition, codependency only occurs in unhealthy relationships where there are unaddressed emotional or psychological challenges.4
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