There is an old 80s song called Addicted to Love that shares about the need to be loved. While there are several basic human needs like food, water, shelter, oxygen, and even love, people often mistake this for requiring a specific person’s love. That is where the inaccuracy lies. We do not necessarily need the romantic love of a person to survive. We do need love and nurturing from caretakers when we are young, but these needs change as we age. We want others to love us and need a support system, but there is a balance to find. If you depend on one specific person for all the love and support, you will end up disappointed. In fact, such dependence can strain a relationship greatly. This is how codependency starts. Below, we will discuss what codependency is and why it is best to avoid it.
Codependency is not a medical diagnosis, but it is a frequently used term in psychology. It has a broad definition, but is best described as two people who are so intertwined that at least one person’s value and sense of self is dependent on the other person. The dependent person may feel guilty about their life outside the relationship and make choices solely for the other’s happiness. Codependency is possible between friends, family, or romantic partners, though this article focuses on romantic partner codependency.
Codependency may seem healthy, but it is far from it. It is detrimental because it keeps a person from seeking happiness on their own separate from the other person. When you are codependent, you need or want others to validate you and be responsible for your happiness. This can quickly lead to disappointment. It is much healthier to independently seek things to make you happy, then have a partner that adds further joy.
There are different types of people that gravitate toward codependent relationships. A description of some of these are shared below.
- The Helper – People who are fixers and like to help others tend to end up in codependent relationships because they feel valued because they are helping others. While helping is great, this is not a basis for a good relationship. Instead, search for confidence and self-worth within yourself.
- The Helped – In codependent relationships, there is a helper and the helped. The helped person has needs and is seeking a fixer to be coddled. Instead of fixing themselves or seeking professional help, they look to their partner. This is not optimal because it is supposed to be a romantic relationship, not a therapist. The helped person will also end up disappointed because they will never get to where they want to be. They must seek stability on their own.
We all deserve to be in a relationship where we are loved deeply by a partner, but this is different from codependency. Codependent relationships are rarely true love. Loving relationships are about both people caring and loving themselves as well as the other person. This is an important distinction to make to avoid codependency.
What is Love Compared to Codependency?
Love is an intense emotion in which you have a sense of affection for someone else. Loving someone means you care deeply about them, their feelings, and their life. You want to see them achieve whatever goals they have in a positive manner. Codependency, by comparison, is a learned behavior that not only negatively affects you, but others as well. Codependent individuals rely on the approval of others and will often feel abandoned if a partner chooses to take care of themselves. A codependent helper will sacrifice themselves for others allowing some relationships to become abusive and toxic. This is most likely in the following situations.
- Codependency and Substance Abuse – Substance abusers struggle with honesty and if in a codependent relationship with one, the lies will take over.
- Codependency After Childhood Abuse – Neglected children often seek approval from outside sources as adults because this was not available when younger. This is the hallmark behavior of codependency. If this is you, seek professional help to learn to cope.
If you are starting to wonder if you are in a codependent relationship, then ask yourself the following:
- Do I rely on my partner to feel good about myself?
- Can I take care of myself or do I rely on my partner for everything?
- Can I imagine life without my partner?
- Will I survive life without my partner?
If you answered yes to one or more of the questions, you may be codependent. It is important to learn to enjoy being alone. We can have relationships we cherish, but others do not provide our happiness. Work on yourself and gaining stability and practicing self-love. Therapy is a great place to learn these skills if you need help. Codependency is not fatal, but your life will be better if you work through the underlying issues.