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What are the Characteristics of Codependent Relationships?

A. Pasbjerg
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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People engaged in codependent relationships may behave in ways specific to their particular situation, but most of these types of relationships have some common characteristics. One person typically feels responsible for the happiness of the other and is compelled to take care of him or her; the other uses the situation to get what he or she wants. The giver will always put the other's needs before his or her own, even if that means neglecting personal needs. This partner will usually have low self-esteem, and will define his or her self-worth based on being in a relationship and gaining the other's approval.

Codependent relationships involve an unequal situation in which one partner makes it his or her responsibility to ensure the happiness of the other. These types of people often seek out those who are needy; in many cases, the other person will engage in self-destructive behavior, such as alcoholism. The first partner will become the caretaker for the other, many times enabling the destructive behaviors by making excuses or providing resources for it to continue. Even if the relationship does not involve such behavior, one person still will constantly give everything to keep the other person satisfied, often feeling compelled to find solutions for him or her and anticipate the person's needs.

Another characteristic of codependent relationships is one person's repression of his or her own needs in deference to the other's needs. These people feel uncomfortable putting themselves first; they are much more comfortable focusing on the needs of their partners. Even if they feel anger or resentment that their needs are not met, they will bury those emotions and put all of their energy into pleasing their partners. They also tend to deny that they are in a bad, inequitable situation and ignore the pain it is causing them. This often leads them to feel depressed and may lead them to their own self-destructive behaviors.

The people who are the constant caretakers in codependent relationships often suffer from a lack of self-esteem as well. They only see themselves as valuable when they are involved in a relationship, even if it is negative and destructive, and define their lives based on this. They may only feel validated by love and approval from their partner, who many times will not or cannot provide it. If they leave their codependent relationships, they often will seek out the same type of person again and end up in the same situation.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
A. Pasbjerg
By A. Pasbjerg
Andrea Pasbjerg, a WiseGeek contributor, holds an MBA from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Her business background helps her to create content that is both informative and practical, providing readers with valuable insights and strategies for success in the business world.
Discussion Comments
By sneakers41 — On Mar 02, 2011

SauteePan - What I think is particularly sad is when a teenager is engaged in a codependent relationship and deals with constant abuse from her partner.

This is a really vulnerable situation because the teen already suffers from identity issues as a normal teen and when they get involved with someone like this they do not have the life experience to realize that they can do better and that someone else will come along.

In addition, these relationships destroy the codependent person’s self esteem and their overall potential and their life goes downhill really fast.

By SauteePan — On Mar 01, 2011

Crispety - I wanted to add that the book, “Love is a choice: Recovery for codependent relationships” written by Dr. Robert Hemfelt really helps people learn how to get out of a codependent relationships.

It really outlines the typical signs of a codependent relationship and even offers a codependent relationship quiz so that you can judge the level of codependency of your relationship.

They say that people that suffer from codependency also have a propensity to become addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, food, and gambling as a source of treating the emptiness that they feel.

They also do more in the relationship and sometimes become a martyr. People in these relationships have a deep fear of abandonment and will do whatever it takes to remain in the relationship.

They usually are attracted to unhealthy people that they feel they can help or change. They feel a lot of guilt and in order for them to begin to heal experts say that they have to express the suppressed feelings of anger that will eliminate their guilt.

By Crispety — On Feb 27, 2011

Cafe41 - I think that it is sad when a thing like that happens.

It is important to understand the one thing that all codependent people experience is their constant feeling that the future will be different.

They are always putting their happiness into the hope of what the future will bring. They prolong their happiness in order to have the possibility of happiness in the future that never comes.

These are signs of a codependent relationship. I think that these people do not want to look at the reality of their situation which is why they hope or dream of a different reality.

Sometimes a codependent person gets involved in an abusive situation where domestic violence occurs. This is particularly dangerous because the violence often escalates and the abuser may even kill the codependent partner.

This is why it is important to learn how to get out of a codependent relationship because it will only get worse.

By cafe41 — On Feb 25, 2011

I have to say that the symptom of a codependent relationship is when you are asked to do something that prolongs the other person’s problem because you are afraid of losing the person.

A codependant relationship could also exist between a mother and her child. For example, I recently read that a story about a mother who had a 36 year old son who lived with her and did not have a job.

He would frequently ask her for money and never took responsibility for finding a job and moving out on his own.

The mother felt enormous guilt and cannot bring herself to throw her son out or give him an ultimatum that he learn a trade or get a job.

As long as she continues to give him money whenever he asks he will never break this pattern of behavior and will always have this problem.

A. Pasbjerg
A. Pasbjerg
Andrea Pasbjerg, a WiseGeek contributor, holds an MBA from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Her business background helps her to create content that is both informative and practical, providing readers with valuable insights and strategies for success in the business world.
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