Being in a relationship means relying on each other on some level, but some couples can take it to an extreme level and end up being what’s known as codependent.
“A codependent relationship is unhealthy because instead of both people taking responsibility for their own feelings and actions, one partner is taking on those responsibilities for the other,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Lesli Doares, author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage. When you’re in a codependent relationship, your identity is so enmeshed with that of your partner that you have trouble even knowing who you are without them, she explains.
And while it can seem like you’re incredibly intimate with your significant other when you’re codependent, you’re actually not, says relationship psychologist Karin Anderson, PhD. “True intimacy necessitates two independent, fully-formed people choosing to be together as opposed to needing each other to fill some emotional void or to have a purpose in life,” she says. Basically, this is not a relationship style you want to be a part of. Here’s how to tell if you’re in a codependent relationship without even realising it.
You do things for your partner that they should be doing for themselves
There’s a difference between helping your partner out here and there (which is normal), and actually treating them like a child, Anderson says. If you find that you’re constantly needing to do things like making sure your partner wakes up and gets to work on time, packing their lunch every day, filling their car with gas, and reminding them to do things they should otherwise be able to handle on their own, it’s not good.
You give in to your partner, but feel angry about it
Every relationship requires compromise, but it’s not an actual give and take if you’re always on the losing end of things. “If you’re giving in all the time, you’re going to feel resentful,” Anderson says. “Often with people in codependent relationships, there’s a fear that if you speak your mind, your partner will leave.”
You tend to date people with “issues”
This can be bad on several levels, Anderson explains. One is that it can cause you to see partners as projects, which isn’t healthy. Another is that you’re setting your partner up to be reliant on you and your help from the start. Sometimes people in codependent relationships even secretly hope that their “project” never actually gets it together so they won’t leave, says clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?. Bottom line: If you notice this is a pattern of yours, it should be a red flag.
You take responsibility for your partner’s behaviour and actions
Yes, you can probably influence your partner to some degree, but you can’t actually make them behave a certain way. In a codependent relationship, you may feel like the things your significant other says and does are ultimately on you—and your partner can even start to believe it, too. “When we take responsibility for someone’s behaviour, we render them more dependent too,” Durvasula says. “It’s a never-ending cycle.”
You talk about your partner’s issues all the time
It makes sense to talk to friends when you and your significant other are going through a rough patch. But if this is a constant topic of conversation, it could be another sign that you feel like you don’t exist apart from your partner. “They are the centre of the universe and you merely orbit them,” Doares says. “Your life is a reflection of theirs, so what is going on with them is of primary importance.”
Your partner’s mood affects your day
In a healthy relationship, it’s normal to feel upset if your partner is upset—but you’re otherwise able to shake things off as you go about your day. “If you have good boundaries, you can maintain your mood and allow them theirs,” Doares says. But in a codependent relationship, their mood can seriously drag you down. “If you feel that it’s your job to try to help your partner out of their sour mood all the time, it’s not going to work,” Anderson says.
You always want to know what they’re doing and thinking
Sure, people in healthy relationships are aware of each other’s schedules. But people in codependent relationships can be obsessive about keeping track of the other person’s thoughts and movements. Why? “You need to know how to act,” Doares says. “Because you are a reflection of them, this is not possible if you don’t know what is happening in their head.” Ultimately, feeling this way “comes from a place of insecurity,” Anderson says.
You put their needs in front of your own
This is a huge issue in codependent relationships, Durvasula says. “The codependent person often struggles with their dependency needs, and will give themselves over to the needs of the other simply because they cannot endure being alone,” she says. It can even feel like you can’t be okay if your partner isn’t okay since their needs have to come first, Doares says.
You have trouble IDing your own feelings
Most people can quickly and easily identify how they’re feeling. But people trapped in a codependent relationship can actually struggle with this.
“Their own emotions are often so conflated with their poor boundaries that it can be hard for them to identify where theirs end and their partners’ begin,” Durvasula says. Anderson calls this a “hallmark” of codependency. “You are so tuned into everyone else that you’re not even in touch with your own feelings. You’ve minimised them,” she says.
You don’t do anything without checking in with your partner first
Every relationship has a power balance, but constantly checking in with your significant other before you do anything is giving someone a lot of power, Anderson says. “When we have a sense of self, we know that we bring a lot to the relationship,” she says. “Someone who is checking in at all times is questioning their power.”
You have trouble saying no to your partner
Boundaries are important, and at some point, people in healthy relationships will tell their partner that they can’t or won’t do something. But people in codependent relationships seriously struggle with this. It’s due to an “inability to deal with their disappointment or disapproval” and ultimately keeps you from being able to do what you want, Doares says.
You keep quiet to avoid arguments
Some people just can’t deal with arguments and may feel that it’s safer to just avoid them altogether, Doares points out. While this alone isn’t a tip-off that you’re in a codependent relationship, it definitely doesn’t help. “People in codependent relationships can’t deal with their partner being angry at them, so they just do their best to avoid fighting,” Anderson says.
You cancel plans to accommodate your partner
Sometimes this is necessary, even in healthy relationships. Maybe your significant other is only off on the one night that you scheduled to meet a friend you see often for dinner, or your partner really needs your help last-minute. “That’s going to happen here and there,” Anderson says. “But if that’s a pattern, it’s not good. It shows a lack of respect for yourself and the other relationships in your life.”
You’re always trying to be upbeat, even when you don’t feel like it
Being in a codependent relationship is emotionally exhausting, especially if you’ve nominated yourself as the unofficial cheerleader for the two of you. As a result, it can feel like it’s your job to make things better if your partner is in a mood, Doares says. “You have taken on the responsibility for their feelings and this is one manifestation of it,” she adds.
You feel anxious in your relationship a lot
This is normal in the beginning of a relationship given that you may not have figured out where things stand yet, Anderson says. But if you’ve been together for a while and you’re still feeling anxious a lot, it’s not healthy. “You want to be with someone you can feel super comfortable with,” she says. “Anxiety could be your antennae letting you know something is off.”
This article originally appeared on Prevention US.