29 January, 2024

Some dependence is healthy in a relationship, where both people can rely on each other when they need support. 

But what happens when you rely on each other too much? This can lead to codependence. 

A codependent relationship is an unhealthy dynamic where one partner needs the other partner, who in turn, needs to be needed. 

Both people can get “lost” in the relationship, abandoning their individual sense of identity and neglecting other relationships and goals. 

We explore what codependency can look like in relationships and how to change unhealthy patterns for a happier partnership. 


Signs of Codependency in Relationships

Some people mistake being ‘clingy’ for being codependent. While clinginess can be a sign of codependence, there’s much more to codependent relationships than this. 

A codependent person gets all their self-worth from sacrificing themselves for their partner, who enables this behaviour because it benefits them. Many codependent relationships involve emotional abuse. 

It’s important to remember that codependent relationships aren’t always romantic – they can also exist between friends or family members. 

Some signs of codependency in relationships include: 

  • Fear of rejection or abandonment 
  • Trouble making decisions for yourself 
  • Planning your life around your partner 
  • Needing constant reassurance from your partner 
  • Doing more than your fair share to keep the peace 
  • Discomfort or anxiety being away from your partner 
  • Consistently putting your partner’s needs above your own
  • Neglecting other relationships and areas of life for your partner
  • Having poor or no boundaries, e.g. saying “yes” when you want to say “no”
  • Your self-worth and mood relying on the behaviour and approval of your partner
  • Making excuses for your partner’s behaviour, even at the expense of your wellbeing
  • Feeling responsible for your partner’s feelings and wellbeing and wanting to fix their problems
  • Feeling like you can’t speak up about your own needs, or feeling guilty for having them in the first place. 

    People who are codependent in adult relationships often learned these behaviours from the adults around them growing up. 

    Perhaps they had a parent with boundary issues who self-sacrificed for others. Or maybe they didn’t have their needs met by their parents, learning from a young age to ignore their own needs and instead focus on what they can do for others to keep the peace. 

    Learning your attachment style can help you understand your patterns in relationships. We explore further in our blog post How Your Attachment Style Can Impact Your Relationship.


    How to Overcome Codependency in Relationships 

    Codependency can be a deeply rooted part of who we are and how we relate to the people around us. 

    It may not be an easy fix, but there are some strategies you can take to start to heal and move away from unhealthy behaviours. 

    Work on your self-esteem 

    People who are codependent often struggle with low self-esteem, feeling unworthy of having their own needs and preferences considered. 

    You can start to work on your self-esteem by challenging negative self-talk and focusing on your strengths and all the positives you have to offer in your relationships. 

    Establish healthy boundaries 

    Boundaries are key for protecting our wellbeing and maintaining healthy, lasting relationships. Once you start setting boundaries with your partner, you may find it gets easier and easier to advocate for yourself and your needs. 

    We offer some advice to identify and communicate your boundaries here. 

    Maintain social connections 

    You can’t get everything you need from one person – even the love of your life. 

    Maintaining relationships with friends and family can help improve your self-esteem and prevent loneliness. It’s also important to have a support network separate from your partner for those days when you need advice or an outside perspective on your relationship. 

    Enjoy life outside of your relationship 

    While it’s normal to love spending time with your partner, it’s not healthy for your world to revolve around them. Your romantic relationship should be just one part of a happy and fulfilling life. 

    Make an effort to maintain your personal identity and independence with your own hobbies, goals, and social connections. 

    Consider counselling as a couple and/or individual 

    Communication is key when it comes to nurturing a healthy and equal relationship. But it can be difficult to talk about complicated issues – especially if you’re prone to bottling up your feelings. 

    If you need some support to overcome codependent behaviours or address underlying issues as a couple or on your own, speaking to a professional counsellor can help. 

    You can call 1300 364 277 to make an appointment or learn more about our counselling services here.