There are some things you can only learn by entering a serious relationship. For me, it was the fact that I was codependent.
According to WebMD, codependency is “relationship addiction,” or excessive reliance on a specific relationship.
While it’s natural to rely on your romantic partner for support, using them as your sole source of happiness and self-esteem isn’t healthy — especially when you’re neglecting or sacrificing parts of yourself to please the other person.
It’ll only build up resentment in your relationship, and make you lose sight of what you truly need in life.
Various resources online can tell you the most common signs of codependency. However, they can still be difficult to pinpoint in real life. That’s why I recommend being mindful of your behaviors and evaluating your intentions regularly.
To help you, I’ve listed the most common ways codependency showed up in my behaviors for reference.
1. You only make time for your partner
Spending quality time with your partner is important, especially when you’re both busy and can only see each other several times in a given month or week. That said, prioritizing your time with them doesn’t have to mean spending less time with other people in your life.
Such was the mistake I often made in my last relationship. My previous partner’s love language was quality time, so I wanted to make him feel as loved as possible by spending any free time I had with him. When my family or friends asked to hang out, I had to put them in the back seat because my boyfriend was my priority. The same goes for my “me” time.
What ended up happening was I began to associate time with my boyfriend as my only source of happiness and security. I forgot how to spend time with other people or myself without reaching for my phone and texting him all the time.
If you’re in this exact position and trying to justify this habit, know that it’ll cost you in the long run. The fact is, your partner has their own life to live and so do you. In times where he’s not present, you can’t always rely on them to feel secure and content, so you have to learn how to be comfortable on your own.
Furthermore, making time for yourself and other people in your life is incredibly healthy for a relationship. Often, spending too much time with one person can result in conflicts and make you lose your sense of self.
How to overcome this:
First, get into the mindset that you are your own person and your partner isn’t responsible for all areas of your fulfillment. If your partner happens to be codependent or anxiously attached too, communicate that there may be changes in how you spend time together, but it doesn’t mean you love them any less.
Additionally, it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate other types of love in your life. Love from yourself, friends, and family can provide just as much happiness and fulfillment, maybe in ways that your romantic partner can’t.
Second, focus on what you want to do — like the activities you can only enjoy without your partner. For me, it’s baking bread or watching an hour-long documentary. These hobbies are important for me to reconnect with my individuality, which, at the end of the day, is what makes me attractive to my partner in the first place.
When spending time with friends and family, don’t think about how happier you would feel if you were with your partner. Be present and practice active listening. If needed, tell your partner that you won’t reply to their message in several hours.
2. You focus too much energy on the relationship
Relationships aren’t always easy to maintain, so it’s good to dedicate some effort to having better communication and conflict resolution.
However, these things shouldn’t take the majority of your headspace 24/7. As with the previous point, you have a life outside of the relationship, so it’s important to tend to your own personal growth and needs.
For me, this sign showed itself in my near-obsessive tendency to look for relationship resources online, even when things were fine between me and my partner. As someone with an anxious attachment style, I craved validation and reassurance to calm down the negative, intrusive thoughts in my head and proved to myself that we were at a good place.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with looking for guidance to navigate our relational growth. Looking back, however, I do wish I’d focused more of my energy on myself. Namely, I wish I’d realized that this anxiety had less to do with whether the relationship was right, and more with the fact that I was using it as my sole source of self-worth and security.
How to overcome this:
The only tip I can offer you is to look inwards. Rather than focusing on the anxiety itself, consider questioning why you’re anxious about the relationship in the first place. Sometimes, that anxiety is warranted — maybe something does require fixing and you need to talk it out.
For many codependent and anxiously-attached individuals, however, this anxiety can point to something deeper. For me, it showed that I had a fear of abandonment that originated from my childhood that I was projecting onto my partner. For others, it can be unresolved trauma stemming from previous relationships.
I recommend working with a therapist to get a more comprehensive look at your anxious tendencies. If that isn’t possible at the moment, consider reading The Journey from Abandonment to Healing by Susan Anderson or Attachment Theory by Thais Gibson. Both books can provide some insights into how your past attachments affect how you navigate your current relationship.
Additionally, let your partner know about these anxious tendencies and involve them in helping you feel more secure. What that involvement looks like can differ from one relationship to the other, but if you don’t know where to start, check out these communication templates by Silvy Khoucasian.
3. You give unsolicited gifts or acts of service
It’s natural to make your partner feel loved through the smallest acts. After all, it’s the little things that often count.
But at times, expressing love can be a manipulative act, particularly when it’s done excessively and out of fear. The true driving factor of doing this is to make sure they won’t leave. They may also do this out of their own insecurity since they’re drawing their self-worth entirely from being someone else’s significant other.
Such expressions of “love” can manifest themselves in different ways. For me, it was buying gifts and volunteering to handle tasks that my partner was perfectly capable of doing.
I’m not saying gifts or acts of service are wrong — there were times I did these things truly out of affection. But on some occasions, I was doing them because I wanted to feel appreciated for how “selfless” I was and make sure I was good enough for them.
How to overcome this:
One way to know for sure whether you’re doing things out of love or fear is to see if the action feels like a sacrifice. Maybe you’re spending more money than you’re capable of to buy the gift, or you’re taking more time than necessary for the act of service.
While such gestures can be nice from time to time, there’s no need to constantly do this. When you’re in the right relationship, your partner can accept you for who you are and the value you already add without making any sacrifice in the first place.
Of course, I’m explaining this in the context of dating. What counts as sacrifice or compromise may look different when you’re already married or have a family.
4. You curate yourself to your partner’s “preference”
Differences in interests and points of view are normal and healthy to have in any connection. But for codependent individuals, they can feel like a threat to the stability of the relationship.
Instead of appreciating these differences, you may respond by curating your self-presentation to your partner, which can look like:
• Not expressing your opinions to avoid arguments
• Avoiding topics that can result in disagreements
• Neglecting your stance in favor of their approval
If you’re doing any of these things, it’s likely that you do them to prevent conflicts, keep the harmony alive, and ultimately, keep your partner happy so that they won’t leave. However, there’s a dangerous side effect to neglecting yourself little by little — even if you’re not feeling it now.
How to overcome this:
One thing to remember is that no matter how compatible two people, there’s always bound to be some level of conflict, disagreement, or differing opinion. So instead of avoiding them, it’s best to embrace your differences.
Additionally, empower yourself with healthy communication skills so that you can deliver your needs and opinions clearly and empathetically.
It’s also good to note that the right partner will accept you for who you are and can respect your positioning.
This notion can be difficult to understand, especially if you’re like me who believes that a perfect relationship is one that involves two completely enmeshed individuals. Just like in that Pablo Neruda poem, where you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends.
In reality, you are and will always remain two separate individuals. If you’re lucky, the differences you exhibit may be just the things that your partner is attracted to in the first place.
It takes two to tango
These codependent signs and many others may root from your own insecurities and fears as a person and a significant other. However, it doesn’t excuse the possibility that your partner may also exhibit these same signs or other toxic behaviors that trigger these responses.
For example, there’s a chance you may feel inclined to spend all your time with your partner because your partner demands you to. Even if they don’t explicitly make the request, they may be guilt-tripping your sensitivities into doing it.
Or, they may be the one who never initiates any energy into the relationship, making you exert more effort and time on it to make it work.
Either way, I highly encourage you to evaluate the relationship and see whether you’re together for the right reasons.
If, however, your partner shows signs of secure attachment, this relationship may be worth exploring. These individuals can be emotionally available, and at the same time, set healthy boundaries to maintain their sense of selves. You may learn a thing or two to develop your own interdependence.
Admittedly, these things can be difficult to figure out on your own, so I recommend working with a therapist or a relationship coach. The books I mentioned in the second point can also help develop mindfulness over these behaviors.
Recognizing these behaviors has helped me identify a core issue — that I tend to neglect myself to put others’ first for the sake of “harmony.” In reality, communicating my needs and expressing myself authentically rarely ever made my loved ones leave. The cheesy notion is true — the right people will stay and embrace you as you come into your own being.
But if the person you’re with is displaying toxic traits that draw out these codependent behaviors, I will say this: relationships can often be a mirror to what you need to work on.
If you’re with someone that constantly makes you have to give so much of yourself, you may be chasing some sort of fulfillment or approval so you can feel enough.
Here’s the sad truth — they will always make you chase, and this sense of fulfillment is only temporary. Unless you work on these traits and have the self-respect to express why you deserve better, you will always be riddled with anxiety.
But once you recognize your wholeness within, even being alone will make you happier than being with someone that makes you less than.