Navigating love and relationships can be like walking through a maze. Sometimes, we think we’ve found a partner who’s our perfect match, only to realize something’s not quite right.
I recently watched a close friend go through a heart-wrenching breakup with someone who she realized was dependent on her.
And it got me thinking about the subtle signs that can indicate you’re in a relationship with a co-dependent partner.
It is much more than just “needing each other” — it can turn love into a burden rather than a joy. Of course, that’s what you want to avoid.
So, here are 7 red flags to help you figure out if you’re in such a relationship.
1) They’re an emotional rollercoaster
Love can get messy, so of course there will be ups and downs in any relationship. But there should still be an overall sense of stability, rather than constant emotional turmoil.
When my friend dated her ex, it felt like she was on a never-ending rollercoaster ride, and not the fun kind.
One moment, he’d be ecstatically planning their future together, painting vivid pictures of dream homes and travels.
But the next, he’d plunge into depths of despair, doubting their love and questioning her commitment.
She later realized he was hyper-reactive to even the slightest changes he perceived in her. If he felt like she was having a bad day, he found it impossible to enjoy his.
It’s natural for partners to influence each other, but with co-dependency like this, nobody is there to support and lift up the other. Instead, you find yourself both dragging each other down a downward spiral.
No matter how much your partner empathizes with you, they should always be in charge of their own emotions, and capable of holding their own happiness.
2) They seem to have weak or no boundaries
Personal space isn’t just physical; it’s emotional and mental too. A loving partner respects that space, but in a co-dependent relationship, those boundaries often get blurry.
My friend’s ex had a hard time understanding this concept. If she was on the phone with a family member, he’d hover nearby, listening intently. When she hung up, he’d bombard her with questions about the conversation.
Even when she tried to establish boundaries, like asking for some “me time,” he’d act hurt and rejected. For him, her need for personal space felt like a direct hit to his own sense of worth.
That’s the thing: in a co-dependent relationship, boundaries are seen as threats, not as frameworks that allow love to flourish.
If you find your partner constantly poking their nose into your personal affairs, remember that love and respect should walk hand in hand.
A relationship where boundaries are constantly crossed is a breeding ground for unhealthy dependency, not a setting for true love.
3) They have low self-esteem
It wasn’t just that he put himself down; he almost seemed to thrive on her reassurances. He seemed to feel super insecure on his own, and relied on her to feel worthy.
Whenever they were apart, he’d text her often, asking if she missed him, if she still loved him, as if her love was the only thing keeping his self-esteem afloat.
And soon enough, my friend started to feel the weight of being his emotional anchor. It was exhausting.
Low self-esteem in a partner isn’t just their problem; it becomes a shared burden in a co-dependent relationship. While it’s great to boost each other up, it shouldn’t be a full-time job.
This is why I hate the expression “my other half” — because both partners are whole people on their own. That’s the only way they can give their best to the relationship.
4) They need to “fix” your problems
Being a supportive partner is one thing, but feeling the compulsive need to solve each other’s problems is another.
In my friend’s previous relationship, her ex was always eager to “fix” things for her, even when she never asked for help.
When she was dealing with stress at work, he even took it upon himself to confront her boss at a barbecue, thinking he was being supportive. But in reality, he was crossing a line she never wanted crossed.
His need to “fix” things wasn’t about her at all; it was about his own sense of self-worth. By swooping in to solve her problems, he felt needed and important.
But what he didn’t realize was that every time he did this, he robbed her of her agency and independence.
There’s something profoundly disempowering about having someone constantly try to fix your life for you. Love should be about empowerment, allowing each other the space and freedom to tackle challenges head-on, offering a helping hand only when they want one.
5) They play the blame game
When you’re in a healthy relationship, both partners take responsibility for their actions and mistakes.
But if you notice that your partner is consistently blaming you or others for their emotional state or life circumstances, take it as a red flag.
My friend’s ex had a knack for blaming everyone but himself. When he was unhappy, it was somehow her fault for not making him happy. When something went wrong at work, it was his colleagues who were to blame, never him.
Playing the blame game is a co-dependent tactic to avoid taking personal responsibility. It creates a dynamic where one person becomes the “savior” or “victim,” and the other the “villain.”
This kind of thinking is not only toxic but also unsustainable in the long run — and for my friend, it definitely created a lot of tension as the relationship felt imbalanced.
It’s in everyone’s best interest for the co-dependent partner to process their fear of making mistakes. We all make them, and there is nothing wrong with that — it’s much more important how you decide to react to them.
6) Their world revolves around you
At first glance, it might seem flattering that your partner is so invested in you, always wanting to spend time together and showing deep interest in your life. But be cautious if you find that their entire world seems to revolve around you.
When my friend was with her ex, he made her the center of his universe to an unhealthy degree.
If she was busy with work or wanted to spend time with other friends, he would get anxious or upset, as if her life outside of their relationship was a threat to him.
What’s worse, he didn’t seem to have any strong passions outside their relationship — he spent most of his time reading random things on his phone.
Being someone’s “everything” isn’t romantic—it’s a burden. In a co-dependent relationship, it’s almost like your partner has made you responsible for their happiness, purpose, and emotional wellbeing.
Relationships should be an addition to your already full life, not the sole focus of it. Your partner should have their own interests, friendships, and responsibilities outside of what you share together.
7) They find it hard to make decisions alone
Good decision-making is a skill we all have to learn in order to navigate through life. In a balanced relationship, you and your partner can make decisions together, but you also should be able to stand on your own two feet.
My friend’s ex, however, would agonize over the smallest choices without her input.
He even once bought a new sweater, but when he found out she didn’t like it, he took it back to the store for a refund.
It got to the point where she felt more like a parent than a partner, always having to make the decisions for both of them.
The ability to make decisions gives us a sense of agency in our lives. If your partner struggles to make even basic decisions without consulting you, it shows they lack confidence in their own judgment.
And what happens if you’re not around to make that decision? It leaves your partner feeling helpless and reliant, creating a cycle of dependency that can be difficult to break.
This may not be the case for everyone, but with my friend’s ex-relationship, it actually really helped her ex to be single again for a while. He had no choice but to start relying on himself and it helped him build up some self-assurance.
If you and your partner decide to stay together, make sure you work on making decisions separately, where appropriate.
You’re with a codependent partner — what now?
Realizing you’re in a relationship with a co-dependent partner can be overwhelming, but it’s also a wakeup call. What’s the next step?
It’s essential to address the issues openly and honestly with your partner. Therapy or counseling can offer helpful tools for both of you to establish healthier boundaries and build a more balanced relationship.
However, some relationships may have reached a point where it’s best for both parties to move on and grow separately. And that’s okay.
Ultimately, love should lift you up, enriching your life, not pull you down. So assess your relationship and choose the path that allows both of you to thrive.