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Codependent relationships

When it comes to adult relationships, you need to be able to depend on others – and have them depend on you in return. This is natural and healthy. However, when dependency begins to shift from a shared dynamic to a one-sided expectation, your relationship may begin to suffer from something called ‘codependency’.

What is codependency?

Codependency is an unhealthy relationship dynamic in which one person is usually ‘the giver’ and the other is ‘the taker’. The giver assumes responsibility for the taker’s needs, often neglecting their own needs and feelings in the process. This dynamic can happen in all kinds of relationships, including family members, friends, and romantic partners [1].

It's important to note that sometimes relationships may require one person to be more dependent on the other for a time. This can include parents/carers and children, illnesses, periods of bereavement or unemployment, and more. While these situations may include elements of codependency, they are different from codependency itself.

What causes codependency?

There are many reasons codependency can become a dynamic in a relationship. This can include: poor boundaries, low self-worth, empathy, adverse life experiences, substance abuse, and unequal family roles. Often it is a mixture of reasons on both sides.

What does codependency do to a relationship?

Left unchecked, codependency can create a power imbalance within relationships. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy, frustration, insecurity, loneliness, anger, isolation, and anxiety. While it is more likely that ‘the giver’ will be impacted most, ‘the taker’ may also feel some of these feelings as well.

Without proper communication codependency can lead to relationship breakdown, or in extreme cases, abuse (physical, mental, emotional).

Signs of codependency in a relationship

It can be hard to recognise a codependency dynamic in your own relationships, especially if you enjoy caring for others. There is also a difference to relationships where coercive control is a significant problem. If you feel forced into the giving role or if someone is making decisions for you against your will, it’s important to reflect on why this is happening and whether you might be in a controlling relationship.

Some of the following behaviours may be signs of codependency in your relationship [2]:

  • ‘Walking on eggshells’ when you’re around someone.
  • Asking for permission to do anything.
  • Apologising even if you haven’t done anything wrong.
  • Feeling sorry for someone, even if they hurt you.
  • Trying to ‘rescue’ or ‘fix’ someone.
  • Doing anything someone asks, even if you are uncomfortable.
  • Putting someone on a pedestal.
  • Needing someone to ‘like you’ in order to feel good about yourself.
  • Having no free time to yourself.
  • Feeling like you don’t know who you are.
How to create balance in your relationships

It’s important to spend time with others in order to build healthy relationships and improve your own mental health. However, it is equally important to make time for your own interests alongside any romantic relationships or friendships.

Pursuing individual interests can help strengthen your sense of who you are. In fact, studies have found that working on yourself (alongside working on your relationships) actually helps your relationships to thrive [3, 4].

To help you create this balance in your relationships, try some of the following practical tips and tricks:

  • Practice solitude. Take some time to be by yourself every day and do something that is just for you.
  • Reflect on your current relationships. This can help you identify problem areas and safe spaces with those closest to you.
  • Recognise your emotions. Being able to understand and accept how you are feeling can help you build emotional resilience and intelligence.
  • Use a gratitude journal. Taking note of the things in your life you are thankful for will help you build a strong sense of what is important to you.
  • Invest in your own hobbies. Make time or set aside budget for activities and interests that you enjoy to enhance your sense of self.
  • Take small steps. Think about what you can do in the short term to help establish boundaries with your loved one.
  • Be assertive. It may be difficult to put yourself before others, but it is important to value and consider your own thoughts and desires.

Many of these actions may feel counterintuitive, especially if you take genuine pleasure in helping others or making them happy. Just remember – independence in a relationship does not mean you are cut off from someone or need to suddenly say ‘no’ to everything! It means you are taking positive steps towards balancing your relationships in a way that encourages both sides to thrive.

Please note that the above advice and actions do not apply to anyone who is in a relationship that is controlling or otherwise abusive. If you feel this is you, visit our resource page to receive help from the right sources.


[1] Knapek, E., & Kuritárné Szabó, I. (2014). A kodependencia fogalma, tünetei és a kialakulásában szerepet játszó tényezők [The concept, the symptoms and the etiological factors of codependency]. Psychiatria Hungarica : A Magyar Pszichiatriai Tarsasag tudomanyos folyoirata, 29(1), 56–64.

[2] Gould, VeryWellMind.(2022). How to Spot the Signs of Codependency. Codependency: How to Recognize the Signs (

[3] Barlow. A, Ewing. J, Janssens. A & Blake. S. (2018). The Shakleton Relationships project. Microsoft Word - Shackleton Report Master Copy Final Draft 28-06-18 JE - updated v2.docx (

[4] Hansen, H. (2024). How mastering the art of being alone can boost your mental health. NewScientist.


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