My partner and I are
that super annoying couple. You know, that one that does everything together. We live together, we hang out all the time, and for long periods of our relationship, we've even worked together. Ugh, I know. Unbearable. But the question is, is it also unhealthy? I mean, it doesn't feel like it is, but how do you know for sure if your seemingly OK (if deeply enmeshed) relationship is healthy or not? What are the signs you're? too co-dependent on your partner
To help answer that question, I contacted relationship experts who walked me through how to recognize if your connection is problematic, and their answers were really helpful. The difference between healthy dependence and unhealthy co-dependence is really blurry, so knowing what it looks like in action can make all the difference.
First thing's first: What does being in a co-dependent relationship actually mean? There are a lot of complicated and confusing explanations online, but I think the best and most succinct definition is one by John Amodeo, Ph.D., MFT, in his piece
for Are You Codependent or Just a Caring Person? Psychology Today. In the article, he describes co-dependence as "ignoring our own wants in order to serve others or gain approval." This, I believe, really gets to the core of co-dependence. It’s the sublimation of your needs in exchange for the approval of your partner. Yikes. When you put it like that, it's pretty clear why that wouldn't be a healthy situation you want any part of. With that in mind, here are the signs of co-dependency to look out for in your own relationship. 01
You base your emotions on their emotions.
When you're close to someone, it can be hard to separate your emotions from theirs, especially if you're an empathic person. Where this becomes a problem, says
licensed psychologist and relationship expert Jennifer B. Rhodes, is when “you turn to your partner when you know you should engage in self-care to manage your emotions and choose not to.” The core issue, she explains, is that “co-dependency stems from deep disconnection between yourself and your emotions.” So, for folks who are co-dependent to cope, they “fill the gap with another person as a source of your happiness, energy and success,” explains Rhodes. 02
You have trouble forming your own opinions.
You hold off on making plans with others — just in case.
When it comes to your social life, do you find yourself waiting around to see what your partner wants to do before committing to anything? Rhodes says if “you wait around to make plans even if it means losing friends,” this is a clear sign of co-dependency in your relationship.
You’re preoccupied with how they perceive you.
We all, to some degree, care about what people think of us — especially the people we love and respect the most. However, if you “measure your self-worth by the way other people value you,” it’s a clear sign that you have crossed the line into unhealthy co-dependency, says Dr. Walfish. The only way to break out of this pattern, she says, is to “nurture and praise yourself
[in] incremental steps toward separation. We must prepare and equip ourselves to deal with life and then let things fly on their own.” 05
You prioritize their future plans over your own.
When you talk about your future plans together, how much of a say do you have in what that looks like? Does it feel like a plan you built together? Or are you just along for the ride? Rhodes warn that if “you wrap your entire career around what he or she wants to do without thinking about your long-term plans,” that’s a sign of co-dependency. It’s also a really clear example of how co-dependency holds you back personally, because it “does not allow for partners to grow to their highest potential,” says Rhodes. She adds, “Interdependence should be the goal — meaning that both parties can achieve their individual goals without fear that they will hurt their partner and work together to achieve couple goals.”
You’re afraid to express any anger toward them.
When you're upset with your partner, do you feel safe bringing it up, or do you just avoid the topic — or maybe just get passive aggressive about it? If you don't “express anger directly” or feel like you can be open about negative emotions with your SO, that's a sign of someone who has become co-dependent, says Dr. Walfish.
You’re afraid to be alone.
Perhaps the clearest sign that you're co-dependent is that you're terrified of losing your partner. We all want to hold on to the people we love. The difference, Dr. Walfish explains, is when
“you have an obsessive need to cling to significant others and do not like to be alone.” She adds, “Healthy relationships require two willing and whole people who are self-contained and maintain separateness while enjoying bonding, attachment, and intimacy with reasonable boundaries.” 08
What do you do if you're too co-dependent?
If all of this is resonating, then the next step is to figure out what to do about it. Is a currently co-dependent relationship salvageable? The experts agree that it is — if you're willing to make changes and get to a healthier level.
Some of this work you can do on your own, says Dr. Walfish, by “[having] individual one-on-one special time with yourself. Continue to implement this quality uninterrupted time with yourself and extend the quantity of time gradually and incrementally. True independence can only come out of a feeling of healthy security.”
But it can also help to get some professional guidance, which is why Rhodes suggests considering psychotherapy “to explore what is really going on with your emotions.” She adds that “meditation, yoga or dance” can also be really helpful because they “can be used to help connect your mind and your body which will facilitate emotional growth and further a mind-body-soul connection.”
Co-dependency, while not healthy, often comes from a good and loving place of wanting to take care of and be in tune with your partner. It may feel like changing those patterns is being selfish or uncaring, when in reality it’s the exact opposite. As Rhodes explains, “Your partner deserves a partner who is functioning at his or her highest potential — it is a gift to them to learn how to care for yourself while simultaneously supporting them.” Most importantly, you owe it yourself, and that self care starts with you.
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