Are You and Your Partner Super Close—or Codependent? Here's How to Tell the Difference
There is such a thing as being too connected to each other, and it can put your relationship in jeopardy.
October 25, 2017
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Signs you're in a codependent relationship
Sharing a tight bond with your partner is a wonderful thing, especially if you spend time doing activities you both get a kick out of and are on the same page in terms of values and goals.
But there is such a thing as being too closely connected to the point that it hurts you and your relationship in the long run. It's called codependency, which means you're too encapsulated in your significant other—dependent on them for approval and a self-esteem boost and always allowing their emotions and actions to take the lead and influence your own.
Codependency can be defined as "an unhealthy, dysfunctional, or dangerous reliance on another person," says Andrea Miller, author of Radical Acceptance: The Secret to Happy, Lasting Love. "I think of it as a relationship that’s characterized by scarcity and fear over love and abundance." While it's normal to want your partner's support and feel certain that what you two have is unique and special, people who are codependent need validation all the time.
A codependent relationship can be one where both partners have this dysfunctional reliance on the other, or it can be totally one-sided, with only one person looking to the other, who may actually like having so much control. If you think you might be the codependent one, this expert-backed checklist will help you figure it out. (And if any apply to your partner, they might be codependent on you.)
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You’re afraid to make decisions on your own
If you feel a need to have your partner weigh in on every aspect of your life, from when you should hang out with your friends to whether you should go for a promotion at your workplace, it could mean you're codependent.
"You shouldn’t not listen to how your partner feels, but if at the end of the day you can't consider anything without their agreement, then you may be too dependent," Gail Saltz, MD, a New York City–based psychiatrist, tells Health. While committed relationships require compromise from time to time, finding yourself anxious about making a decision without you partner's input could mean you're insecure about your own judgment. Instead of trusting what you think is right, you go with what your partner says or wants.
Finding yourself agreeing with your partner more often than not, whether it's about a political issue or where to go for dinner, can be a sign that you're a good match. But being in cahoots 100% of the time can indicate codependency, says Dr. Saltz. It suggests "you don’t have your own opinion or identity," she explains.
"A person who is emotionally mature and healthy, [who feels] love and abundance and trust," won't be afraid to voice an opposing viewpoint, says Dr. Saltz. But a codependent partner would rather stay silent, afraid that disagreeing could spark an argument that threatens the entire relationship. Having disputes shouldn't be anything to fear, and partners who have a healthy connection accept that they won't always see eye to eye.
So-called "people pleasers" who consider their significant other's wants and needs before their own are susceptible to entering codependent relationships, says Dr. Saltz.
Codependent types are "fixers and have a great propensity to caretake to an unhealthy degree," explains Miller. Codependency in the form of people pleasing can manifest in non-romantic relationships, too. Take Miller's example of a mother-daughter duo. "One woman I was talking to said she would ask her adult daughter, who was living with her, a million questions every night, like Can I make you dinner? even though the daughter was an adult. The daughter was pulling back like Woah, I'm getting smothered."
While the mother was trying to be helpful and please her daughter with the best intentions, she was ultimately undermining their relationship by not trusting herself or her daughter to make the best decisions, says Miller. Codependent romantic relationships follow the same pattern.
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You do favors that normally make you uncomfortable
We all set our own personal behavior boundaries, prohibiting us from doing things we're not comfortable with. But if you catch yourself stretching those boundaries specifically for your partner, it could mean you're codependent.
Lets say you have a longstanding rule never to loan anyone more than $50, for example. Yet when your partner says they need a loan for a larger sum but don't offer any major reason why, you decide to write the check—convincing yourself that it's because you love them. "You're changing your standards," says Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a New York City–based clinical psychologist, and that's a sign you're losing sight of who you are and what you're comfortable with.
Your life revolves around activities you don’t really enjoy
While showing interest in your significant other's passions and interests demonstrates that your willingness to try new things and share activities together, you're not required to love those things just because he does—and close but healthy partners understand this by allowing each other to do things on their own.
But if you catch yourself adopting your SO's hobbies even though you don't really enjoy them, you should consider why you feel the need to accompany them to every football game or listen to hardcore bands if your true preference is soft pop. "If what you're doing doesn't feel authentic to your personality anymore, ask yourself, Does this person really make me feel desirable and secure?" says Carmichael. Typically, changing your interests and values in exchange for love is a sign you feel insecure in your relationship—a hallmark of codependency.
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You get jealous easily
People in codependent partnerships typically have low self-esteem and therefore become threatened by other relationships their partner has with friends and family, for example, says Miller. That breeds lots of jealousy and resentment . . . which they tend to keep bottled up, since revealing it can rock the relationship.
"They think, If you have other relationships, you may not need me as much," she explains, and that sets off passive-aggressive behavior toward the partner. Healthy couples, on the other hand, might occasionally envy their significant other's connection to a family member or friend. But the envious partner doesn't let it rattle the relationship—or they voice their concern without anger or accusations.
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You have to know where your partner is at all times
Text messages and emails are normal forms of communication in this day and age, but how often you're hitting up your spouse could suggest you're codependent.
"Of course you want to know if something bad happens, but [constant texting] can come from a lack of trust," says Miller. While checking in with your partner a few times a day is no biggie, sending text after text when they're out with friends or getting anxious or angry when they don't answer (and then calling until they finally pick up) are signs your relationship has a rocky foundation. Partners who aren't codependent give each other space—and they aren't threatened when they spend time apart from each other.
Agreeing with your partner no matter what is one sign of codependency—and constantly nagging, making demands, and complaining about who they are or something they did (or didn't do) is a sign your relationship is based on codependency too.
"Part of emotional maturity is saying I'm going all in with this person and to not nag and cajole, but not to be a doormat either," says Miller. In a healthy relationship with reasonable boundaries, you can voice your thoughts and emotions—but at the end of the day, you can't expect your partner to be anyone but their true self. If you can't deal with who they really are, it's time to re-evaluate your relationship, rather than expect that your significant other will change for you.