I have been involved in romantic connections in the past that were codependent.
The partnership that I’m currently in is asking of me to release remnants of such ways that I still have—especially when facing triggers.
What makes a relationship codependent is the prominence of the traits stated below compared to the healthier aspects of a romantic connection. If you have felt yourself doing one of these in the past rather regularly, you may simply have further inner work to do.
Here is what I have learned about how to identify traits of codependency and how to heal such dynamics within our relationship:
1. Time spent apart is lived as a threat.
In a codependent relationship, fear may arise when one takes space out of the partnership unit. Time spent with families and friends can be lived negatively for one or both.
As the relationship progresses, one may start to disallow their lover to do things without them. It develops slowly and insidiously, but once the relationship is settled, its container starts to feel like a trap because every attempt to be away from the couple or with others is received negatively. This can also lead one or both to hide part of their activities, to avoid the drama that may follow the announcement of time about to be spent away.
This pattern obviously finds its roots in a lack of trust—one fears the love isn’t strong enough to endure separation or the presence of others. They don’t trust the solidity of the connection, they think it must be controlled or managed to work. As a consequence, when away from one another, partners may have to over-function to not feel the void.
2. We feel that we are losing our sense of self.
We are scared of sharing our dreams, visions, or goals when they don’t correspond to what our partner wants or their own image of us. We hide parts of our passions because we feel we may be less loved if we were to share fully who we are.
We are trying to be the man or the woman of our partner’s dreams. It becomes more important for us to keep the connection than to develop and mature ourselves. We are scared we could lose them if we were to fully embrace our own journey. What if one of our goals doesn’t fit the relationship framework as defined so far? We may even feel like changing ourselves to fit into our partner’s expectations and images of us. We may also see ourselves asking for approval and losing self-agency.
For the two reasons stated above, we may not be feeling anymore that we have our own, independent life as an individual.
3. Feelings, wants, or needs are not fully spoken out to avoid rocking the boat.
When there is a disagreement, we say what we think is going to be accepted by our partner. We avoid expressing fully what feels wrong or what we need because we are scared our partner could break up with us if we were asking too much.
Communication doesn’t feel safe, it’s not a grounded share of how we both feel, instead it comes like a storm when really too much pressure or misalignment has been let in by one or the other. Hard conversations are difficult to have, it feels risky to fully share our truth. Disagreements are avoided or come in a fiery, intense way because they couldn’t take place before feelings of disrespect, lack of boundaries, or of attention have reached a climax.
4. Partners are not equals—one plays the role of mentor or parental figure.
In codependent relationships, oftentimes one plays the role of caretaker or guide. The other has energetically attracted them as a reenactment of childhood, or to receive the love that one of their parents failed to give.
If we didn’t receive the love, attention, and support that we needed from our mother, we may draw partners who will bring comfort, reassurance, and protection. And we end up paying less attention to other aspects of their behavior that may be unhealthy because this protection is what we were primarily and subconsciously seeking. In such cases, they are soothing our inner child—instead of being the adult, equal partner that we thought we were looking for.
If we have a weak sense of what our purpose is or if we need guidance for our own path at some point during our journey, we make ourselves a match to partners who will give us the guidance that we can’t find within. Our partner is not truly there because we love them, more because they are fulfilling a deep need that we have and that we can’t satisfy on our own.
5. One of the partners comes up with tests to get attention from the other.
As one or both individuals may be in the relationship to fill inner voids, they want it proven often that their partner loves them and pays attention to them. If this doesn’t flow naturally, one may generate circumstances in order to receive evidence that their partner is still there.
They may act flirtatiously to see if their lover will get jealous. They may pretend something to see if they get a reaction. They may threaten to break up if the other doesn’t instantly change. These are unhealthy ways that one uses to be reassured.
6. Either one makes excuses for the other’s disrespectful behavior.
Something feels off, but we “need” the connection and overall, perhaps for a reason that we can’t even nail because it is subconscious, we want to stay. Also, we don’t feel that we can express our doubts or insecurities freely to not rock the boat. It is too uneasy to share with our partner or assert ourselves in a healthy way, and almost impossible to move through arguments maturely. So we just make excuses for what is wrong, and passively accept the situation as it is.
7. We are never truly sure if the relationship is solid and feel a constant need for reassurance.
A codependent relationship fulfills us at some level (otherwise, we wouldn’t be there) while leaving us empty, disappointed, sad, or disrespected at the same time for other reasons. Our partner may be supporting our dreams, but they try and make us feel jealous. They may text us a lot but not be there if we truly need them. They may tell us a lot about their beautiful feelings about us while not actually committing to the relationship fully and taking real steps.
In fact, there is always something that is off or dubious in a relationship based on codependent foundations. It is like something is fake, or the relationship has two facets. As a consequence, we feel a constant need for reassurance and we always wonder what our partner is doing or thinking. This reinforces the energy of control within the relationship. Something doesn’t feel clear or fully there, so the other party asks themselves questions. The connection doesn’t make you feel calm, grounded, and serene—instead nervous or agitated.
Of course, some relationships have codependent traits without belonging to the category of codependent bonds. We all have wounds to heal that are processed within the framework of romantic love. That’s okay because we can’t learn without experiencing and actually moving through processes of growth. We can’t know how we will behave in love if we don’t accept to experience it to its fullest—with all the tests, triggers, and deep wounds that may resurface on the way.
What should one expect from a healthy romantic partnership?
We both feel free to express our authentic selves, follow our passions and dreams.
We don’t feel like the connection is restricting our individual path of evolution.
We are not worried about each other’s commitment.
We don’t need to be around one another constantly to feel the love.
We are not scared of causing a drama when taking time away or doing something that our partner dislikes.
Communication is easily facilitated.
We feel seen and loved for who we are, not for what we bring to the table.
Our partner doesn’t have excessive jealousy or fears but trusts the connection.
We don’t need to control to feel secure.
If I had to sum this up, I would say, “We feel free.”
Lastly, there is a key thing to always remember—what we see in another is also a reflection of ourselves. When one’s partner shows codependent traits, then it must be true that we entered the relationship with some of these as well.
Always ask yourself, “What are the codependent pieces that I’m bringing to the relationship? How could I shift this individually?”
But there is magic in love. When one changes, the dynamics shift. If we work on ourselves, either our partner will grow with us and step out of unhealthy patterns fully, or the bond will dissolve with time because energetic alignment will be gone.
In all cases, one thing is sure, the work that we do individually will always pay off. It will lead us to healthy, trusting, and fully respectful romantic relationships.