NYC Couples Therapist: The Ins And Outs Of Codependent Relationships

Nov 02, 2023
NYC Couples

NYC Couples Therapist: The Ins And Outs Of Codependent Relationships

Have you ever found yourself in a relationship where you felt insecure or dependent on a friend or partner’s feedback to determine your identity or self-worth? Or maybe you feel the need to be a caregiver to those around you, regardless of whether they ask for help. If you recognize this pattern, chances are your relationships could be showing signs of codependency. 

Read more to understand the dynamics and signs of codependency, who it is most likely to affect, and strategies to overcome this behavioral pattern and achieve healthy relationships.

What is codependency? 

Codependency refers to a relationship dynamic in which one individual seeks another’s approval, love, or appreciation through compulsive caretaking. The caregiver’s identity and self-worth are wrapped up in the feedback they get from partners and friends. When appreciation is not received, the caretaker feels rejected, worthless, or resentful.

The behavior in a codependent relationship is driven more by the role each person plays – “caregiver” and “cared-for” – than it is by feelings of warmth or a desire to connect.  Since codependent partners’ self worth depends upon the care they give and receive, they tend to lose sight of the rest of their identity. As a result, the codependent’s world and identity shrink, and so does self-esteem. Almost always, codependent friends blame one another for their sense of being “stuck.”

Is codependency considered to be a mental disorder?

Codependency is not a mental disorder; it is a relationship style. In such a relationship, one party takes on the role of people pleaser, while the other maintains some impairment in order to justify the other’s care. Examples of impairment include addiction, poor health, unemployment, and low motivation. The people pleaser enables their partner by making excuses for them and offering greater care when the weakness manifests.

Are women more likely to be codependent in friendships than men?

Men and women enter into codependent friendships at more or less equal rates.  What really determines codependence is history, not gender. All it takes to evolve into a people pleaser is time spent in a close relationship with a neglectful, absent, abusive, or self-absorbed parent.

Is there a specific age group that is more prone to codependency than others?

Codependency occurs in all age groups. The pattern usually begins in childhood and often continues throughout life. Just like the codependent child, the codependent adult avoids burdening friends and finds avenues of rescuing and helping others, even when help isn’t wanted. Unfortunately, the appreciation received is never lasting or sufficient enough to compensate for the people pleaser’s belief that they are unlovable and insufficient. Repeatedly, relationships leave codependent’s feeling underappreciated and used, reinforcing the relationship expectations that were first formed in childhood.

What are some of the obvious signs that someone is in a codependent friendship?

The major signs of codependency are as follows:

1.      Enabling behavior, such as displaying affection or justifying behavior when the other acts out.

2.      A relationship is built upon roles people play rather than on a mutual exchange of needs, concerns, and emotions.

3.      Caregiving is compulsive and automatic, rather than driven by a genuine desire to connect or express warmth.

4.      Feelings of resentment or victimization.

5.      Low self-worth and lack of identity outside of the relationship.

What are some of the more subtle signs that someone is in a codependent friendship?

The effects of codependency on mood and self-esteem are insidious and challenging to overcome. These more subtle signs that someone is in a codependent relationship are low self-esteem, resentment, isolation, reluctance to share openly, and minimal engagement in activities outside the relationship.  Because a codependent is overly focused on their partner’s feedback, and shares little about herself, she feels invisible and alone. And since investment in the relationship is at the sacrifice of personal growth, codependents feel increasingly insecure about the possibility of living on their own.

How does codependency in relationships develop?

Codependency usually develops early in life, when a child’s needs for nurturance and affection go unmet by a parent. The parent is too weighed down by their own afflictions, like alcoholism or depression, to tend to those of their child.  The child, feeling burdensome, stops reaching out for comfort and eventually loses touch with their inner experiences.  Instead, they turn their focus to the parent’s needs and gain some approval when they successfully meet the parent’s needs. The child’s hope is that by being “good enough,” they will once and for all win the love and admiration they long for.  In adulthood, the caretaker continues to gravitate toward wounded individuals, who seem a natural match for their rescuing abilities.   

What should you do if you feel as if you are showing signs of codependency?

To determine whether you’re in a codependent relationship, write down your personal and life goals and ask yourself whether your relationship hinders or facilitates your movement toward those goals. Healthful relationships are ones that encourage and facilitate change, whereas codependent relationships undermine growth.

It’s also important to consider why you’re in the friendship. Is it driven by genuine fondness as well as shared interests and values or by needs for security and reassurance?  If it’s the latter, it’s time to look outside of the relationship for sources of self-worth.         

Examine how you feel in the relationship. Codependent friendships foster self-doubt and unwanted feelings like depression and anxiety, whereas mutually supportive relationships bolster confidence. 

Can codependency be reversed or fixed?

Because it’s a relationship style learned early in life, the behaviors and decisions that reinforce codependency occur automatically and outside of awareness. Therefore, it can be a hard pattern to reverse and might require professional assistance. Perhaps most important, codependents need to choose friends and partners who see them as whole people, not simply as playing a role. And codependents need to engage in a variety of activities and friendships that reinforce the different aspects of their identity.  

How can you have a healthier friendship with someone who exhibits behaviors that are codependent?

It’s important to set firm boundaries with anyone who displays codependent behaviors.  Be clear about when help is appreciated and when it’s not.  Make sure to engage in other friendships and activities and encourage your friend to do the same. Share openly and display an interest in your friend’s unique needs, concerns, and ambitions. The goal is to establish a supportive relationship while also carrying out your separate, individual lives. 


While codependency is a difficult relationship dynamic to untangle, it is possible to make strides in overcoming these behavioral patterns and move on to healthier relationships in the future.