Are you in a codependent relationship? Expert shares 10 signs you are, why it's not a great thing and what to do about it

Identifying codependence is the first step to making positive change

Husband consoling upset wife on the sofa
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Have you ever wondered if your relationship could be codependent? An expert shares 10 sure signs it is, and how to manage codependence if they sound familiar.

Relationships are difficult to navigate, and many mitigating factors can cause them to turn unhealthy. Too much compromising from one partner can lead to resentment, and lack of boundaries in relationships can worsen these feelings and make the relationship feel even less satisfying. In some cases, one or both members of the partnership rely on others for the affirmation they need and resort to emotional cheating, or full-blown infidelity.

The codependent relationship is another branch of unhealthy partnerships. It can be more difficult to pinpoint, with some people failing to realise they're in one or know how to manage one. Essentially, codependency is a form of relationship addiction, with one person feeling the need to 'save' the other. Often, this results in one partner building their identity around the other, sacrificing their happiness to attend to their needs. 

To understand the codependent relationship better, we spoke to relationship expert, Dr Tara Suwinyattichaiporn. Dr Tara shares "If you think you might be in a codependent relationship, the first thing to do is to do an audit of your relationship. Do you feel unsatisfied? Is your relationship equitable or inequitable? Does it seem like someone is always giving or taking? Does it feel like one person is a caretaker and the other is entitled to it? If your answers reveal codependent tendencies, it’s time to do inner work."

Dr Tara shares the top 10 indicators of a codependent relationship us. These include: 

10 signs of a codependent relationship

  1. Overt need for approval from the partner – in a codependent relationship, one partner would do anything in order to get attention and approval from another partner. For example, a girlfriend regularly dresses in a way that her boyfriend prefers (not her personal choice) in order to please him.
  2. Overly apologetic and consistently taking the blame – this is where one partner expresses their entitlement to be right and the other is the apologiser ultimately enabling the entitled person’s behaviour. For example, a partner that says sorry often and constantly asking the other partner if they’re okay. 
  3. Idealising your relationship – thinking you can’t live without your partner and that this relationship means more than yourself or thinking without this perfect relationship you’re nothing. For example, telling friends how obsess you are with your partner and how amazing they treat you (not actually reflecting real life).
  4. Excessive worry about your partner – since your co-dependence is based on how your partner is doing and not yourself, one person tends to be overly concerned about the other. For example, constantly texting your partner to check-in. 
  5. Ignoring your own needs – this is a classic case of codependency since one’s worth is based on the other, the giver in the relationship often neglect themselves. For example, you had a hard day at work and need to relax and unwind but your partner is again stressed out about their projects so you drop your relaxation plans to help and pamper them.

"If being yourself isn’t something that your partner enjoys, one partner often tries to become someone that their partner is attracted to. For example, a woman can’t talk about her career successes in the relationship because she doesn’t want her partner to feel bad or envious."

Dr Tara, relationship expert
  1. Doing more than you should in order to earn affection – a healthy relationship is an equitable relationship but when one does way more for the other it’s often because one is a giver and the other is the taker and it’s a case of codependency. For example, a girlfriend goes over to a boyfriend’s apartment to take care of him, clean up after him and his place after he had a binge drinking night out with the boys.
  2. You can’t be yourself in a relationship – if being yourself isn’t something that your partner enjoys, one partner often tries to become someone that their partner is attracted to. For example, an outgoing and extroverted man who loves going out completely stops enjoying his night out and stays home every night in order to appease his jealous girlfriend or a woman can’t talk about her career successes in the relationship because she doesn’t want her partner to feel bad/envious.
  3. Feeling emotionally exhausted at the end of the day – codependency is emotionally taxing and one way it sneaks up on you is when you feel super tired after a normal day because you’ve been catering to your partner all day. For example, you feel exhausted but you haven’t physically done much that day.
  4. Comparing your relationship to others – codependent partners know deep down that their relationship isn’t healthy so they often compensate by verbalizing to each other how amazing their relationship is comparing to so and so in order to maintain their relationship.
  5. Lack of self-care – this is simple, the giver is often so focused on the taker that they don’t really engage in self-care activities. With no self-care practices, one will get burned out and eventually feeling dissatisfied in the relationship.

If any or a combination of these sound familiar, there are ways you can find help. If you feel this is something you'll need professional help with, Dr Tara recommends seeking out a counsellor or therapist with experience in this area.

If it's something you'd like to work on yourself in the first instance, Dr Tara suggests "You can seek out help from life coaches, or read books about overcoming codependency. You need to start prioritising your own needs and desires. Self-love practices like positive self-affirmations, reflective journaling, and confidence meditations can contribute to rebuilding yourself and maintaining a healthy relationship." 

If you're looking to spice up a relationship, try our 27 top tips, or these ten ways to connect once the kids are in bed. Using these five phrases is a sign your relationship is stronger than most, and you should continue to use them every day.

Dr. Tara Suwinyattichaiporn
Dr. Tara Suwinyattichaiporn

Dr. Tara is a tenured professor of relational and sexual communication, and quantitative research at California State University Fullerton (recieved her tenure at the age of 33), an award-winning researcher, expert on Celebs Go Dating, and the host of Luvbites by Dr. Tara Podcast that focuses on sexual wellness. Her work has been featured in ABC News, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health Magazine, Insider, and other media outlets. 

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.