How can you tell if your relationship is codependent?

If your relationship really struggles with boundaries, struggles with infidelity, or struggles with substances, there is a high likelihood that your and your partner are struggling with codependency. However, there are plenty of relationships that don’t have those challenges, and still have some codependent characteristics. Codependency is not the most sustainable kind of relationship which is why we like to draw attention to it. There’s a better way of building a relationship that is more likely to last for the long haul.

#1 – Codependent relationships are born when one or more partners have an insecure relationship style.

They tend to become overly reliant on their partner, and too fused with their emotions. You can actually be too close to your partner. For example, if your partner is having a crappy day, you might actually take on their energy. Before you know it, you’re having a crappy day also, because their feelings are a little too fused with your own.

Now, secure relationships are the healthiest kind of relationships that are we are all secretly, or not so secretly, longing for. If we compare and contrast with insecure relationships, people who have secure relationships have a sense of security in themselves. As individuals, they are comfortable being separate from their partner or even having a different opinion from their partner. Stable relationships have an ability to balance autonomy and inter-reliance, an ability to lean on a partner and need them.

#2 – Codependent couples are afraid of and avoid conflict.

They are generally pretty uncomfortable with negative emotions, and don’t spend much time focusing on them or talking about them. That is a problem because uncomfortable feelings will arise in any longterm relationship, and we need mechanisms to name these feelings and address the underlying issue.

#3 – Codependent partners feel guilt.

They also tend to feel guilty about what someone else is going through. When they feel guilty, they start lowering their own boundaries. Imagine the person’s boundary like a roll down window in an old car. They start with a good, healthy boundary (like the car window being rolled all the way up), but then they feel bad, and they slowly roll it down until they’re not protecting their own boundaries anymore.

#4 – Codependents sympathize rather than empathize.

With that, they do a lot of sympathizing. For example, if I notice that you’re having a crappy day, I end up feeling the same way. It’s not my crappy day, but I’ve taken on your feelings. Sympathizing is not sustainable for any of us, and although it is an attempt at being helpful, it often backfires for the one sympathizing. In contract, healthy couples have empathy, and they can be supportive without taking it on themselves. That’s a more sustainable way of being.

#5 – Secure partners will stay in a relationship as long as both their needs are being met.

If we think of a relationship like a house, secure relationships are the most structurally sound. We need the foundational beams to be just far enough apart to support the relationship. On the other hand, codependent relationships struggle, because there is a belief system that we have to stay together regardless. That is not a healthy place to operate from, especially if your partner is engaging in something really toxic or violating your boundaries. In that instance, the healthiest thing to say is, “I will and can leave you if you don’t knock that off.”

If we were to draw a codependent relationship’s structure, the foundational beams are placed too close together. The dimensions are off, and it can topple it over at any time. In fact, these couples tend to have the most volatile relationship histories — breaking up and then getting back together, or separating and then moving back in, because this thing is just not built for the test of time.