When we are in a relationship, we all lean on our partner from time to time, right? So what is the difference between a healthy relationship and a codependent one? As this month is National Codependency Awareness Month Lovehoney teamed up with relationship expert Ness Cooper at TheSexConsultant to discuss the issue. Cooper explains what an unhealthy codependent relationship is, the signs to look out for, and tips for avoiding them.
What is a codependent relationship?
When you really look into relationships, most people will have some form of consensual codependency as a natural and consensual part of their relationship dynamic. When codependency dominates the relationship and couples fall into a dynamic that is very one-sided, it’s then when it becomes unhealthy – as often those involved lose their individual identity.
Healthy or not?
A healthy relationship dynamic needs to be able to allow room for not just the couple’s joint identity, but each individual’s self-identity too. Most relationships will have moments where either individual is needed and the other individual fulfills that partner’s need, but typically in unhealthy codependent relationships the needs that need to be fulfilled become very one-sided and control other aspects of the relationship.
When someone falls into an unhealthy codependent relationship, the individual self can become lost and this can affect the individual’s ability to communicate their needs and even consent in situations.
This can in terms act negatively on other areas of an individual’s wellbeing. There is no room for them to look after these needs positively as they are always fulfilling the other person’s needs and wants.
What is the main cause of codependent relationships?
When an unhealthy codependent relationship forms, it is typically seen as one person controlling the other in the relationship. It’s hard to say what has triggered this need for control, and it will frequently vary from relationship to relationship. It could be that a person is reacting to their past where they themselves lost control, and haven’t yet worked out a way of gaining autonomy independently in a healthy way themselves.
Controlling the relationship in this method may be the way they think things should be to gain this form of safety and autonomy, when in fact it regularly just results in a different type of toxic relationship.
Some individuals may fall into unhealthy codependency as a way of making sense of fear that their relationship is being challenged, or as a way to try and work through things after finding out that a partner has been disloyal. In a way, they may be trying to keep the relationship alive. Unfortunately, during the process lose the importance of a trusting relationship dynamic. Often when our relationships are threatened, we can react drastically, and it’s very easy to fall into a toxic coping method.
Sometimes we can think someone is in an unhealthy codependent relationship, but in fact they are in a consensual relationship where one person has more control over another, such as consensual BDSM relationships.
However, it could be that if you find yourself in an unhealthy codependent relationship, that in fact you are in a relationship with someone who has narcissistic personality traits. Often these types of people need to be in control of everything.
What are the signs of a codependent relationship?
Being too pushy and challenging boundaries regularly.
Requesting things repeatedly, even when you have said you’re uncomfortable with them.
Controlling schedules of where, when, and who you meet.
Stating what you can and can’t do.
Constantly checking-up on you even when you’ve just popped out on a task they’ve asked you to do.
Not allowing you to have your own social life.
Lying to get their own way.
5 tips to avoid codependency in a relationship
Here are 5 tips to ensure you avoid codependency in your next relationship.
Stick to your boundaries
If dating and the person you’re with makes you question your boundaries and deep inner beliefs, whilst expecting you to conform to theirs, then it may be a sign that you’re not a good fit.
They put you down often
People who like to engage in unhealthy codependency will often start taking control of the situation early on with comments that will put you down, such as criticizing what you wear or even the types of food you pick during your date nights.
Listen out for lies
If it’s more than just a slip of the tongue, and happening regularly, particularly when used to control other parts of your relationship, then it may be that they are trying to initiate an unhealthy codependent relationship.
They blame you for things
Typically when trying to fulfill a partner’s requests when in an unhealthy codependent relationship they will see wrongs in your efforts and blame you for these, rather than when in a healthy relationship, thank you. This adds further to lowering self-esteem and can make it harder from leaving the relationship even early on.
They are checking in on you too much.
If you’ve just left the house to even do a task they’ve asked, you may find your phone already buzzing with them asking about how long you’ll be. This also puts you in a panicked taste where you feel pressured and rushed to live up to their expectations.
Avoid the codependent trap
There are times when relationships require more dependency, such as sudden illness and disability. To avoid these situations becoming unhealthy, try and both maintain an individual self and connect positively with your partner.
About the expert
Ness Cooper is a Clinical Sexologist who works as a Sex and Relationship Coach at The Sex Consultant http://thesexconsultant.com . She has worked as a sex and relationship expert for over ten years. She has a background in sex and relationship therapy, coaching, education, and pelvic floor biomechanics.
Ness believes that we need an integrated approach to helping individuals and couples gain authentic sexual wellbeing. On top of helping people with their sex and relationship needs, she runs courses on Human Sexuality for other sexual wellbeing professionals.