10 signs you’re in a codependent relationship, according to psychology

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Codependent relationships are exhausting and frustrating. 

But it’s not always easy to see what’s going on, even when it’s right in front of you. In fact, being in the middle of a relationship makes it hard to look objectively at what’s going on. 

When codependency comes up in a relationship it can rot away the core of everything that once was good and lead to a very toxic situation. 

If you can see that your relationship is codependent and become conscious of that, there are steps that can be taken to improve communication and the relationship. But it has to start with knowledge and awareness. 

Here’s a look at signs your relationship is codependent. 

1) Your priority is to please your partner

The need to please others is often ingrained in us at a young age by overly critical parents and guardians. 

This is especially true when we are made to feel that we are a burden or have to “earn” love and prove our value. 

If you are in a relationship where your main priority is to please your partner, it’s a sign of serious codependency. 

To be clear:

Wanting your partner to be happy and trying to ensure they are entirely healthy. But making it your priority and your focus becomes a form of basing your well-being on how happy you make them. 

2) You crave your partner’s validation

Closely related to the previous point is the need for validation from your partner. 

As psychological studies show, codependent individuals base their own self-identity and self-worth on how their partner sees them. 

This often breaks down into a “savior” and “victim” role, where one of you is trying to “fix” the other and the other is playing the role of the one who needs “fixing.”

If you’re the savior then you crave your partner needing you and being broken in order for you to feel (temporarily) needed and whole. 

If you’re the victim then you crave your partner wanting to save and fix you in order for you to feel (temporarily) valuable. 

It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s not love. It’s codependency.

3) You feel empty when your partner is away from you

Being in a relationship means you enjoy being close to your partner. 

But psychologists such as Jacquelyn Johnson Psy.D. note that a  sense of emptiness when your partner is away is a sign of codependency. 

Missing somebody is one thing. But feeling like you’re not you or can’t get on with your day because your partner isn’t there crosses a line. 

It becomes a form of you feeling insufficient unless you’re always around your partner, and that’s not love, it’s codependency.

4) You both have few interests outside the relationship

For a healthy relationship, each partner is able to give space and freedom when necessary and you each have interests outside the relationship. 

If you find that you rarely do anything alone and that your only interests are “couple interests” then it’s a sign of codependency. 

There should be activities, friendships, and pursuits that you go after on your own, not just in the strictures of the relationship. 

5) You find it very hard to assert your own desires 

Part of people-pleasing and focusing so much on your partner is that it leaves your own needs unaddressed. 

Psychology notes that this is generally due to low self-esteem and not enough self-knowledge

Because you feel low about your own self-worth and aren’t quite sure about your own self apart from your partner, it’s very hard to say what you want. 

You feel worried your partner won’t agree or that you will want something “wrong” or that your partner doesn’t understand

6) You’re very jealous of time and energy your partner gives others 

Extreme jealousy is a common feature of highly codependent relationships. 

If you find that you can’t tolerate the time and energy your partner gives to others then it’s a sign of codependency and of trust issues needing to be worked on more. 

Minor feelings of jealousy are normal and are actually good for the emotional health of the relationship.

But when it goes overboard into feeling consumed by jealousy over your partner’s energy that’s not directed to you then there is a real problem occurring. 

7) You or your partner sometimes use emotions as weapons

Emotional blackmail is another aspect of codependent connections which can be very damaging. 

If you or your partner sometimes use emotions as weapons, it’s good to become aware of this and talk through it so you can avoid this sad occurrence. 

Common examples include demanding loyalty tests, making your partner feel guilty for not doing something with you or asking that your partner negatively undercut their own life and plans in order to do what you want them to. 

Emotional blackmail is a part of many relationships, and it’s almost always a sign of codependency.

8) Your relationship exhausts you but you can’t imagine leaving it

The experience of deep mental fatigue is a common feature of codependent relationships. 

Every relationship has stresses and problems, but when it seems like your relationship is like lifting a giant weight, it’s usually because there’s a lot of unresolved baggage in it. 

Codependency takes whatever real love and affection exists and turns it into neediness. It feeds on low self-esteem and feelings of being not good enough and turns the real intimacy you may have into a shadow of its former self. 

This is why it’s so exhausting and why you may wonder if this is all there is?

At the same time, the thought of starting over again fills you with dread, partly because you feel like your own value is low and you won’t meet someone new. 

9) You or your partner suffer from addictions and mental health struggles

Mental health struggles like borderline personality disorder are especially common in codependent relationships. 

When you are codependent or your partner is, it often means that you struggle with addictions as well. 

These addictions may be gambling, sex, drugs, alcohol, or even an addiction to self-pity or complaining. There is no rule for what addictions are present or not: there may be one or many in either of you. 

Mental health struggles with anxiety, depression and other concerns up to and including psychosis may also be present, making it even more difficult to separate yourself out from the drama and problems going on in the relationship. 

10) Your relationship doesn’t have healthy boundaries 

How firm are the boundaries in your relationship? 

In a codependent relationship, it’s common for there to be few emotional or logistical boundaries. 

You both expect each other to talk when the other wants to talk. You ask favors and expect them granted immediately. You vent when you’re upset and provide comfort when asked, or if you’re in the “savior” role. 

Your relationship has no real restraint and is just going down the hill at full speed ahead with no brakes. 

You’re sure that this is normal, but when it gets overwhelming sometimes you wonder. 

Should you say no more often to your partner? Should you be having your own friendships and interests that aren’t inside the container of the relationship?

The answer is definitely yes. 

10 simple ways to show a friend you truly appreciate them

10 behaviors that make you seem cold (but are easy to stop)