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Co-dependent relationships

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

In a co-dependent relationship, the relationship may be more important to a person than they are to themselves. Patterns of co-dependency include denial, low self-esteem, compliance and control.

The idea of co-dependency was first looked at in relation to couples where a partner had problems with alcohol or drugs. Other issues in a couple's lives can foster co-dependency too. One partner may have trouble controlling other impulses or simply not show much interest in the partnership. The other partner - who is the co-dependent one - may then work hard to 'fix' the problem.

Co-dependency can also arise if a partner becomes more self-absorbed or is not interested.

The co-dependent partner may still find some type of reward in this relationship, perhaps through a sense of control.

Simply being in a relationship - even one that’s not ideal - may also be comforting for a person.

A common feeling is a person feeling worthless, with low self-esteem, and feeling they have to stay in the relationship because no one else would want to be with them.

People who are co-dependent often grew up in a household with similar issues, such as someone with an alcoholic parent growing up to be attracted to people who drink too much.

Is your relationship codependent?

Questions that can help identify a co-dependent relationship include:

  • Is this relationship more important to me than I am?
  • What is the price I am paying for being with this person?
  • Am I the only one putting energy into this relationship?

Dealing with co-dependency

Relationship counselling may help a couple learn more about the problems they need to work on together. Often, one partner, such as someone with an alcohol abuse problem, needs individual counselling.

Support groups for people affected by someone else’s addictions may help.

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Reviewed on September 26, 2016

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