In a romantic relationship, codependency looks like an addiction to helping your partner improve themselves.
The definition of help is to improve a situation for someone else.
Those with codependency seem to repeatedly find themselves with a wounded partner “who needs their help.”
Once emotionally attached, the codependent partner spends most of their energy feeling obligated to “help” their partner improve themselves and overcome an issue like addiction, insecurity, debt, depression, laziness, narcissism, or trauma.
The codependent partner becomes consumed and obsessed with their partner’s self-diagnosed needs and gives their love, care, encouragement, and acts of service without boundaries or limitations.
Oftentimes, the perceived “struggling” partner doesn’t even ask for help or may even reject the help, but this in no way deters the codependent partner from inserting their help and requiring their partner to make improvements on themselves—for the sake of the relationship.
Many individuals with codependency prefer to see themselves as extremely helpful, loving, and caring. And they find their partners to be hurtful, uncaring, selfish, and unmotivated.
After trying hard to please their partner, the codependent person feels resentful, neglected, and taken advantage of by their partner. Feeling frustrated and unseen, the codependent partner might end the relationship and shift blame onto the other party, solely labeling them as “the problem” in the relationship. This addictive cycle inevitably continues with a new partner, and it is only a matter of time before the codependent partner is feeling dissatisfied all over again.
A person with codependency has a higher susceptibility to link to a narcissistic or avoidant partner, but can experience the same hurt feelings even with a healthy partner due to a dynamic that they create.
If this sounds like a familiar pattern for you, it’s not your fault. Codependency is an attempt to heal from childhood trauma, like emotional neglect or abuse.
It’s common for people stuck in codependent patterns to engage in extreme people-pleasing behaviors, like having a hard time saying “no” and setting boundaries, struggling with low self-worth, anxiety, and a fear of abandonment.
Codependency can also be a learned behavior that was passed down generationally.
The question is: why would someone become obsessed with taking care of others and neglect their health, boundaries, and values to please others?
The codependent person’s addictive need to help and, more importantly, please their partner gives them a temporary “high” of feeling valuable, important, and worthy of receiving love. The praise and validation given (or sometimes demanded, if withheld) allows the codependent person to feel special, lovable, and close to their partner for several sweet moments—until the feeling passes, and it’s time to earn their partner’s love and attention all over again.
As I see it, codependency is the fear that you’re not wanted, so you make yourself needed.
If we are lucky, we grow up feeling wanted and emotionally cared for by our caregivers; no matter how “needy” we are. With an emotionally unavailable parent, children are made to feel like they can’t or shouldn’t ask for what they need—attention, compassion, understanding, patience—and learned to feel loved only when their parent is pleased with them.
Codependency is a desperate and addictive attempt to temporarily feel worthy of love by doing for others. The myth of codependency is that pleasing your partner while neglecting yourself will bring a sense of security, increase one’s desirability, and bring unconditional love.
In truth, codependency, like all addiction, creates suffering and pain. A person who is codependent may act this way with anyone who they want to feel close to, including parents and friends.
My advice to those struggling with codependency is this: learn to say “no” to balance out the times you say “yes,” start taking care of yourself, prioritize doing what you enjoy, get adequate rest, start expressing your true desires to your partner, and remind yourself daily that you are worthy of being loved.
It is not selfish to take care of yourself before attending to others, it is simply common sense.