Identifying a Real Codependent Relationship: 6 Questions to Ask Yourself


Identifying a Real Codependent Relationship: 6 Questions to Ask Yourself

Co-dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship.

It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. The disorder was first identified about ten years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics.

Co-dependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behavior.

Who Does Co-dependency Affect?

Co-dependency often affects a spouse, a parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker of a person afflicted with alcohol or drug dependence.

Originally, co-dependent was a term used to describe partners in chemical dependency, persons living with, or in a relationship with an addicted person.

Similar patterns have been seen in people in relationships with chronically or mentally ill individuals. Today, however, the term has broadened to describe any co-dependent person from any dysfunctional family.

What is a Dysfunctional Family and How Does it Lead to Co-dependency?

A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame that is ignored or denied. Underlying problems may include any of the following:

  • An addiction by a family member to drugs, alcohol, relationships, work, food, sex, or gambling.
  • The existence of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
  • The presence of a family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness.

Dysfunctional families do not acknowledge that problems exist. They don’t talk about them or confront them. As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs. They become “survivors.

” They develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions. They detach themselves. They don’t talk. They don’t touch. They don’t confront. They don’t feel. They don’t trust.

The identity and emotional development of the members of a dysfunctional family are often inhibited

Attention and energy focus on the family member who is ill or addicted. The co-dependent person typically sacrifices his or her needs to take care of a person who is sick. When co-dependents place other people’s health, welfare and safety before their own, they can lose contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of self.

How Do Co-dependent People Behave?

Co-dependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to “be themselves.” Some try to feel better through alcohol, drugs or nicotine – and become addicted. Others may develop compulsive behaviors workaholism, gambling, or indiscriminate sexual activity.

They have good intentions. They try to take care of a person who is experiencing difficulty, but the caretaking becomes compulsive and defeating.

Co-dependents often take on a martyr’s role and become “benefactors” to an individual in need.

A wife may cover for her alcoholic husband; a mother may make excuses for a truant child; or a father may “pull some strings” to keep his child from suffering the consequences of delinquent behavior.

The problem is that these repeated rescue attempts allow the needy individual to continue on a destructive course and to become even more dependent on the unhealthy caretaking of the “benefactor.” As this reliance increases, the co-dependent develops a sense of reward and satisfaction from “being needed.

” When the caretaking becomes compulsive, the co-dependent feels choiceless and helpless in the relationship, but is unable to break away from the cycle of behavior that causes it. Co-dependents view themselves as victims and are attracted to that same weakness in the love and friendship relationships.

Characteristics of Co-dependent People Are:

  • An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
  • A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
  • A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time
  • A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
  • An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the feeling of abandonment
  • An extreme need for approval and recognition
  • A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
  • A compelling need to control others
  • Lack of trust in self and/or others
  • Fear of being abandoned or alone
  • Difficulty identifying feelings
  • Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
  • Problems with intimacy/boundaries
  • Chronic anger
  • Lying/dishonesty
  • Poor communications
  • Difficulty making decisions

Questionnaire To Identify Signs Of Co-dependency

This condition appears to run in different degrees, whereby the intensity of symptoms are on a spectrum of severity, as opposed to an all or nothing scale. Please note that only a qualified professional can make a diagnosis of co-dependency; not everyone experiencing these symptoms suffers from co-dependency.

1. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments? 2. Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you? 3. Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem? 4. Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you? 5. Are the opinions of others more important than your own? 6. Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home? 7.

Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends? 8. Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be? 9. Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others? 10. Have you ever felt inadequate? 11. Do you feel a “bad person” when you make a mistake? 12. Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts? 13.

Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake? 14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts? 15. Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done? 16. Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss? 17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life? 18.

Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help? 19. Do you have trouble asking for help?

20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?

If you identify with several of these symptoms; are dissatisfied with yourself or your relationships; you should consider seeking professional help. Arrange for a diagnostic evaluation with a licensed physician or psychologist experienced in treating co-dependency.

How is Co-dependency Treated?

Because co-dependency is usually rooted in a person’s childhood, treatment often involves exploration into early childhood issues and their relationship to current destructive behavior patterns.

Treatment includes education, experiential groups, and individual and group therapy through which co-dependents rediscover themselves and identify self-defeating behavior patterns.

Treatment also focuses on helping patients getting in touch with feelings that have been buried during childhood and on reconstructing family dynamics. The goal is to allow them to experience their full range of feelings again.

When Co-dependency Hits Home

The first step in changing unhealthy behavior is to understand it. It is important for co-dependents and their family members to educate themselves about the course and cycle of addiction and how it extends into their relationships. Libraries, drug and alcohol abuse treatment centers and mental health centers often offer educational materials and programs to the public.

A lot of change and growth is necessary for the co-dependent and his or her family. Any caretaking behavior that allows or enables abuse to continue in the family needs to be recognized and stopped.

The co-dependent must identify and embrace his or her feelings and needs. This may include learning to say “no,” to be loving yet tough, and learning to be self-reliant.

People find freedom, love, and serenity in their recovery.

Hope lies in learning more. The more you understand co-dependency the better you can cope with its effects. Reaching out for information and assistance can help someone live a healthier, more fulfilling life.


Are You in a Codependent Relationship?

Identifying a Real Codependent Relationship: 6 Questions to Ask Yourself

From the WebMD Archives

Do find yourself making lots of sacrifices for your partner's happiness, but not getting much in return? If that kind of one-sided pattern sounds yours, you don't have to feel trapped. There are lots of ways to change a codependent relationship and get your life back on an even keel.

The first step in getting things back on track is to understand the meaning of a codependent relationship. Experts say it's a pattern of behavior in which you find yourself dependent on approval from someone else for your self-worth and identity.

One key sign is when your sense of purpose in life wraps around making extreme sacrifices to satisfy your partner's needs.

“Codependent relationships signify a degree of unhealthy clinginess, where one person doesn't have self-sufficiency or autonomy,” says Scott Wetzler, PhD, psychology division chief at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “One or both parties depend on their loved ones for fulfillment.”

Anyone can become codependent. Some research suggests that people who have parents who emotionally abused or neglected them in their teens are more ly to enter codependent relationships.

“These kids are often taught to subvert their own needs to please a difficult parent, and it sets them up for a long-standing pattern of trying to get love and care from a difficult person,” says Shawn Burn, PhD, a psychology professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

“They're often replaying a childhood pattern filled with development gaps,” Wetzler says.

Watch out for these signs that you might be in a codependent relationship:

  • Are you unable to find satisfaction in your life outside of a specific person?
  • Do you recognize unhealthy behaviors in your partner but stay with him or her in spite of them?
  • Are you giving support to your partner at the cost of your own mental, emotional, and physical health?

“Individuals can also assume they are in a codependent relationship if people around them have given them feedback that they are too dependent on their partner or if they have a desire, at times, for more independence but feel an even stronger conflict when they attempt to separate in any way,” says psychologist Seth Meyers.

“They'll feel anxiety more consistently than any other emotion in the relationship,” Meyers says, “and they'll spend a great deal of time and energy either trying to change their partner or … trying to conform to their partner's wishes.”

Giving up your own needs and identity to meet the needs of a partner has unhealthy short-term and long-term consequences.

“You can become burned out, exhausted, and begin to neglect other important relationships,” Burn says. “And if you're the enabler in a codependent relationship — meaning you promote the other person's dysfunctions — you can prevent them from learning common and needed life lessons.”

Breaking up isn't necessarily the best or only solution. To repair a codependent relationship, it's important to set boundaries and find happiness as an individual, says psychologist Misty Hook, PhD.

She recommends that partners talk about and set relationship goals that satisfy them both.

“It's also important to spend time with relatives, friends, and family to broaden the circle of support,” she says. “Find hobbies of your own. Try separating for certain periods of time to create a healthy dependence on one another.”

But do keep in mind that your actions may unintentionally worsen a codependent relationship, Wetzler says.

“Sometimes people delude themselves into thinking they are helping a codependent partner by continuing to cater to his or her anxiety,” he says. “But ask if you are truly helping or simply fostering that negativity.”


Shawn Burn, PhD, professor, department of psychology and child development, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Misty Hook, PhD, psychologist, Allen, TX.

Seth Meyers, PsyD, psychologist, Los Angeles; author, Dr. Seth's Love Prescription, Adams Media, 2010.

Scott Wetzler, PhD, psychology division chief, vice chairman for managed behavioral care, professor, department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, New York; co-author, Is It You or Is It Me? How We Turn Our Feelings Inside Out and Blame Each Other, Harper, 1998.

Burn, S. Psychology Today, July 14, 2013.

Anderson, S. Social Work, November 1994.

© 2014 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


Are You In a Codependent Massachusetts Relationship? | Law Offices of Renee Lazar

Identifying a Real Codependent Relationship: 6 Questions to Ask Yourself

We've all heard the saying, “Relationships are about give and take.” And it's true when you love someone, it's natural to make small concessions so that your Massachusetts partner feels loved and appreciated.

But what happens when one person in the relationship gives too much-sacrificing his or her own responsibilities, friendships and even identity? That person might be participating in what psychologists call a “codependent relationship.”

Here's what you need to know about codependent relationships:

What is a codependent relationship?

In the codependent relationship, one person is doing the bulk of the caring, and often ends up losing themselves in the process, according to relationship experts. 

There are two opposing roles that each person in a codependent relationship typically plays: the giver and the taker.

Givers tend to have an incessant, subconscious need to keep their relationship alive; the fear of being alone causes them to overexert themselves physically and emotionally in order to please their partners.

Takers, on the other hand, benefit from this dynamic of getting much more than they give. The typical taker lacks maturity, or suffers from an addiction or personality disorder. 

This relationship dynamic forms a cycle that's not easy to break: The giver continues to overcompensate for his or her partner, while the taker avoids assuming responsibility. They become codependent, relying on each other not for love and care, but for relief from insecurity.

Why do people get into codependent relationships?

To understand how codependent relationships form, it's important to know the characteristics of people who are predisposed to getting into them. Codependent tendencies often trace back to childhood, when we start to develop patterns in how we connect with people, or what psychologists call “attachment styles.”

A 2012 study in The American Journal of Family Therapy found that those who perceived conflict between their parents growing up were more ly to become codependent in adulthood.

The reason you develop an insecure attachment style is because you probably didn't have secure attachments with your parents. 

In codependent relationships, givers have anxious attachment styles – they define themselves by their relationship, and will do whatever it takes to stay in it.

Takers tend to have avoidant attachment styles, meaning they try to avoid emotional connection at all costs.

They make exceptions for anxiously attached people, however, because they get much more the relationship than they have to put in.

Givers and takers are drawn to each other – often subconsciously. Over time, givers wear themselves out as they fight for the reassurance they may never get from the taker, while the takers continue avoiding their emotions and taking responsibility for their actions.

How can you tell if you're in a codependent relationship?

One question you should ask yourself is: how much time in a given day do you spend thinking about your relationship? If the answer is most of the time, your relationship is probably codependent.

Also, if you are constantly seeking reassurance, asking questions , “Do you love me? ” and “Do you promise you won't leave me?,” you may be codependent. 

Other signs of codependency include putting your partner on a pedestal, idealizing that person despite his or her faults and making excuses for your loved one when he or she neglects important tasks. Givers often think they're helping their partners, when in reality they're actually preventing them from personal growth. 

And if one partner in your relationship has an addiction, it's much more ly to become codependent.

One partner's addiction to alcohol or drugs can take a toll on both partners, and can cause more imbalances in the relationship. So can addiction to money, ego, power, lying, or love and sex.

The person with the addiction can neglect his or her partner in the process, while the other may feel the need to give more to that person fear, guilt, or habit. 

It's important to take note of the signs, as codependent relationships can often mimic healthy relationships at first. As time passes, givers become laden with their responsibilities to the takers, and takers become overwhelmed by the giver's emotional neediness. Without changing course, the relationship will ultimately become unhappy and unsustainable. 

What should you do if you're in a codependent relationship?

If you've noticed traits of codependency in your relationship, therapists advise seeking professional help. Through therapy, codependent relationships can become more balanced and fulfilling-but both parties need to be committed to making the relationship work. 

The anxiously attached partner shouldn't let the fear of losing his or her loved one prevent the suggestion of professional help. It's important to take that risk anyway. If that person is going to run away, they're going to run away anyway.

When both partners are on board, therapy helps couples identify their insecure attachment styles, and then they can “take opposite action.

” For givers, that means learning to be on their own, strengthening their friendships, or focusing on passions outside of their relationship.

For takers, it involves taking time to initiate meaningful conversations with their partners and showing more affection.

People in codependent relationships aren't bad people. In fact, most people have some degree of insecure attachment. But the key is to learn when it's time to give, take, or walk away.

Should you be in the midst of a divorce or contemplating divorce, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.


6 Signs of a Codependent Relationship

Identifying a Real Codependent Relationship: 6 Questions to Ask Yourself

Source: Sjale/Shutterstock

Many people find themselves repeating the same unhealthy relationship patterns—despite their best intentions. 

Consider codependency—when two people with dysfunctional personality traits become worse together. Enmeshment happens when clear boundaries about where you start and where your partner ends are not clearly defined.

Think of the most unhappy couple you’ve ever met. (Hopefully you're not a part of this duo.) You may wonder why these people are still together. Adults are willing participants in partnerships. And as unhealthy as relationships may be, there can be gains for both parties.

Common reasons for sticking together include children, finances, time invested, and fear of the shame that may come with splitting up. But the bigger issue is the belief that one or both people believe they deserve to be mistreated.

(For an in-depth article about this dysfunctional dynamic, click here.)

Signs of Codependency

The traditional definition of codependency has focused on control, nurturing, and maintenance of relationships with individuals who are chemically dependent, or engaging in undesirable behaviors, such as narcissism. A classic codependency model is the alcoholic husband and his enabling wife.

Dupont and McGovern (1991) argue that codependent individuals “share the responsibility for the unhealthy behavior, primarily by focusing their lives on the sick or the bad behavior and by making their own self-esteem and well-being contingent on the behavior of the unhealthy family member.” (p. 316).

Le Poire (1992) supposed that the functional (or healthy) partner nurtures the afflicted partner when he or she engages in an undesirable behavior. This behavior is ultimately pleasant to the afflicted partner, which serves to reinforce it.

The partner who controls the most rewards (which builds his or her power base) is assumed to be the powerful one, while the other is indebted to him or her (Beattie, 1987). Borrowing a phrase from my clinical mentor, Reevah Simon, “Whenever there is ongoing conflict, there is underlying agreement.

” In other words, it takes two to tango, and the dependent or subservient partner may not be as weak, passive, or innocent as they appear.

The following questions can serve as a guide to determine if your relationship involves codependency:

  1. Does your sense of purpose involve making extreme sacrifices to satisfy your partner's needs?
  2. Is it difficult to say no when your partner makes demands on your time and energy?
  3. Do you cover your partner’s problems with drugs, alcohol, or the law?
  4. Do you constantly worry about others’ opinions of you?
  5. Do you feel trapped in your relationship?
  6. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?

The Development of Codependency

At birth, we are intrinsically vulnerable and utterly dependent on our caregivers for food, safety, and regulation. An infant’s attachment and bonding to one or more caregivers is critical for physical and emotional survival. This fundamental attachment makes the infant reliant on the needs and vulnerabilities of the caregiver.

Growing up with an unreliable or unavailable parent means taking on the role of caretaker and/or enabler. A child in this situation puts the parent’s needs first. Dysfunctional families do not acknowledge that problems exist.

As a result, its members repress emotions and disregard their own needs to focus on the needs of the unavailable parent(s).

When the “parentified” child becomes an adult, he or she repeats the same dynamic in their adult relationships.

Resentment builds when you don’t recognize your own needs and wants. A common behavioral tendency is to overreact or lash out when your partner lets you down. Lacking an internal locus of control means searching for external sources of validation and control.

You might try to control your partner’s behaviors so you can feel OK. You might act self-righteous and bossy, and make unreasonable demands on your partner.

And when you realize you cannot control his or her moods or actions you become disappointed, and may slide into a depressed state.

Recovering from Codependency

Treatment for codependency often involves exploration of early childhood issues and their connection to current dysfunctional behavior patterns. Getting in touch with deep-rooted feelings of hurt, loss, and anger will allow you to reconstruct appropriate relationship dynamics.

Psychotherapy is highly recommended as these personality characteristics are ingrained and difficult to change on your own. Choosing the right therapist can make all the difference in your recovery. You’ll know you’re on track when the following traits become part of your personality:

  • You nurture your own wants and desires and develop a connection to your inner world. You see yourself as self-reliant, smart, and capable.
  • You say goodbye to abusive behavior. Awareness, change, and growth are necessary for you and for your partner to overcome unhealthy relationship habits. Caretaking and enabling behavior is acknowledged and stopped.
  • You respond rather than react to your partner—and to others. Setting clear, firm boundaries means that you don’t automatically react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. You tolerate other people’s opinions and do not become defensive when you disagree. You recognize that your reaction is your responsibility. You adopt a healthy skepticism regarding what others say about you (good or bad), and your self-esteem doesn't rise and fall as a result. You say no, and you accept hearing no.

When you've recovered from codependency, you no longer feel compelled to stay in an unhealthy, painful relationship. You know that you are not responsible for anyone's happiness except for your own, and you can feel comfortable with the decision to walk away.

Copyright 2016 Linda Esposito, LCSW


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