What's The Difference Between Being Dependent & Being Codependent In A Relationship?

"Codependence" is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot when people talk about relationship issues. Chances are, you have a general idea of what it means — or at the very least, that it's not a positive dynamic in a relationship (despite kind of sounding like it would be. So confusing!). But if codependence is a bad thing, what about dependence on your partner? Is that OK? What exactly is the difference between being dependent and codependent in a relationship? Is one more OK than the other?

To answer that question, I reached out to the experts, and I was honestly surprised by their answers. As it turns out, according to psychologist Erika Martinez, "there's no difference between a dependent and a codependent relationship. It's the same relationship." Wait. What? Martinez goes on to explain the major difference comes down to the role you play in the relationship, "the dependent or the codependent."

What that means, Martinez tells Elite Daily, is that "the dependent relies on the codependent to take care of, support, fix, and generally enable him or her. In some cases, the dependent really can't take care of themselves, and in others, it's a state of learned helplessness," she explains. "The codependent does the enabling and grows accustomed to being the one that people (including the dependent) turn to for help. Thus, codependent's sense of self-worth and self-esteem are often tied to their ability to fix things, be proactive, help others, people-please, etc." Therein lies one of the main issues with codependence, as author and relationship expert, Alexis Nicole White explains, "Codependents cannot make their own decisions or own up to their own feelings." Which is why Martinez says, "Codependents tend to lose their sense of self in such relationships."

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So, the question becomes — if you are showing signs of being in a codependent relationship — what can you do about it? Martinez says there are definitely positive steps you can take to help resolve the dynamic in the relationship — but how you go about it will depend on which role you occupy. "If you're the dependent," says Martinez, "doing things for yourself, declining a codependent's efforts to help are good places to start."

For the codependent, it's all about stepping back and allowing the dependent to become more independent. In other words, "letting the dependent do things for themselves, only helping when asked to, teaching the dependent how to do things the first time so they can continue to do so in the future, and finding personal fulfillment from hobbies/activities that don't involve the dependent," says Martinez. But making a change like that, especially when the pattern in the relationship is so ingrained, can be really hard, which is why Martinez says you don't have to do it alone. "There's also CoDependents Anonymous (CoDA) support groups that meet regularly and many people find helpful," she says. She also recommends going to therapy, on your own or as a couple, to "[help] to change these interpersonal dynamics for the better."

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Ultimately, the goal is to create symmetry in the relationship, says sex and relationship therapist Stefani Threadgill, because, as she tells Elite Daily, "A healthy relationship involves navigating all three — dependence, codependence, and independence — to the benefit of the relationship. It requires balance." And although it's not always easy to course-correct a relationship, it is totally possible if both of you are willing to make changes. Fortunately, you don't have to do it alone. Listen to the experts and seek out counseling and support groups. It may seem scary at first, but you are stronger than you think.

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