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What Does It Mean to Be In a Codependent Relationship?

Co-dependent relationships seem to have become a hot phrase—even Love in the Netflix show You mention her co-dependent relationship with her brother Forty. If you follow any psychologists on Instagram (which you definitely should, hello there, free therapy!), you’ve come across content that talks about codependency relationships—but what are they exactly? This is an important psychological concept that can make a big difference in how you navigate your relationships, so here’s what they are.

If you are a person with codependency, your emotions and sense of self will often be dependent—hence the term co-dependent—upon another person. For example, if your partner seems upset, this can ruin your day, too, even if their being upset has nothing to do with you, and there’s nothing you can do for them. Codependency means a person gains their sense of self—whether they feel good about themselves and the world around them or not—from another person. That other person can be a romantic partner, but codependency begins in childhood.

When you grow up with a partner who models behavior that shows us other people’s emotions are more important than our own, we learn codependency. Our partners are ultimately the first people who teach us what relationships “should” look like. If we often see our parents sacrifice their own needs—whether that be self-care in the form of rest or solitude or simply their peace and happiness—to prioritize the needs of others instead, we learn codependency.

In a relationship, codependency can cause significant problems, both for the co-dependent partner and their partner. When we continuously place other people above our needs, it’s easy for us to become resentful and to lose our sense of self. We can betray ourselves by overlooking things we otherwise disagree with or find hurtful, as long as we think it will cause more acceptance and love from our partner. Codependency can ultimately be thought of as a love addiction; the co-dependent person will do almost anything if it means they can get acceptance and love from their partner in return.

A co-dependent partner can be difficult for a non-codependent partner because the demands placed on them to be their partner’s happiness can become burdensome. It can be difficult when a co-dependent partner interprets things that are not personal in a way that makes them feel hurt and abandoned when this was never their partner’s intention.

It is possible to heal codependency, but it requires awareness and a willingness to feel some pain and discomfort. For your peace of mind and growth, that struggle out of codependency is worth it.