Many of us have grown up with an unhealthy ideal of love popularised by romantic comedies, and even society.
The idea of being one half of a whole is a troublesome one as it reinforces the belief that we aren’t complete unless and until we have a partner. Pop culture has made us believe that our partners need to be our be-all and end-all.
But has that given rise to codependency in relationships?
To understand what causes codependency, it is essential to first define it and to be able to recognize it. Here is everything you need to know about codependency and how it manifests itself in relationships.
Before we figure out what causes codependency, it is important to first look at what is codependency.
John and Sarah had been in a relationship for five years. While they loved each other very much, they were quite unhappy with certain aspects of their relationship. The two of them did everything together and felt anxious if and when they were away from each other.
Their friends would often joke that the two of them were joined together at the hip and were a “buy one get one deal.” Sarah was a graphic designer who worked from home and didn’t have many friends.
She would spend most of the day at home working and also managing the household chores. In the evenings, she would wait for John to come home so that they could do something fun or chores like grocery shopping together. She would feel anxious ordering food by herself without John’s approval.
On the other hand, John was very independent and worked as the marketing head at an International firm. He had various hobbies and interests and a large friend group. He thrived on being independent and lived a pretty balanced life.
While he had a lot going on for himself, his life felt empty without Sarah in it. He liked how she needed him and felt useful and whole around here.
Co-dependency may look different for different people, as the story above highlights.
The telltale sign of codependency in a relationship between two adults is when one of them has intense physical and emotional needs. The other partner spends a significant amount of time trying to fulfill those needs.
In Sarah and John’s story, Sarah is the one with the needs, and John is the guy who tries to meet them.
Keep in mind that co-dependency is not restricted to romantic relationships! Any relationship can be a codependent one.
Most of our troublesome behaviors, such as codependency, find their root cause in our childhood. In a sense, your childhood finds ways to influence your adulthood and can be one of the causes of codependency.
What causes codependency in adults? Often codependent adults have long been a part of this cycle as they shared an insecure attachment with their parental figures, which became normal for them.
Reasons for codependency can include parenting techniques. Codependent adults usually had either an overprotective parent or an under-protective parent. So, this means that people either got too much independence when they were growing up or no independence at all.
Parenting and codependency
How does codependency start? What are the causes of codependent behaviour?
We need to explore one’s childhood to understand what causes codependency. You can call codependency a response to certain parenting styles.
Let’s explore more about that in this section.
The overly protective parent
Overprotective parents are over-involved in their child’s lives and are extremely protective of them.
They never give the child a chance of developing a sense of independence and self-reliance as they’re always there for them–so much so that the child may even have issues in making day-to-day decisions, like what to eat, without their involvement.
The constant coddling and overprotective behavior is what causes codependency, as the child isn’t ever given a chance to develop independence.
The under protective parents are the opposite. They don’t necessarily meet the child’s emotional needs or support them. So, the child starts to become independent as a way to cope with this neglect.
Under protective parents may be neglectful or extremely busy and may not have the time to interact with their child. This behavior is what causes codependency as the child learns that he can only rely on himself and no one else.
Codependent parent-child relationships can also be the root cause of codependency in adults.
For example, if your parents treated you more like a fellow adult or a friend and shared things with you that they shouldn’t have, such as their emotional needs, problems, worries, etc., you might have felt responsible for them as they depended on you to fulfill these needs.
On the other hand, if your parents had mental health or substance abuse issues, you might have acted as the parent in that relationship and felt responsible for them.
Now that we know what causes codependency, it is time to address the question, “How does codependency develop?”
Most people in codependent relationships find themselves living these patterns since childhood. So, codependent relationships are the definition of normal for them.
Codependency does develop in a relationship, but it starts in each of the partners’ childhood.
If you’ve found yourself in a codependent relationship, the chances are that you were both codependent even before your first date. You see, codependent relationships start when two adults–one who is passive and the other who is more dominant meet.
Many people fail to recognize that they may be codependent since they might not have the insight into what normal intimate relationships should look like, which is why they struggle with relationships.
Most people think that needing reassurance in a relationship is a sign of codependency in a relationship. That, however, is a common misconception. We may all need some relief from our partners repeatedly, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Here are some signs of codependency in relationships:
Codependent relationships from childhood to adulthood
Unresolved issues from your childhood follow you into your adulthood. You may find that you’ve been living and re-living the same patterns over and over until you’re finally able to break away from them.
While you may not be able to change your childhood incidents, you may still be able to overcome this pattern through work and the help of mental health professionals.
Taking out some “me time” in the week during which the two of you will spend time apart–can be the opposite of date night.
Not letting bad behavior slide and addressing it as it happens.
These changes may seem scary and intimidating at first but will help you in the longer run. If the separation process feels too anxiety-provoking, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional.
If you fear you are codependent and wish to change it, here is a book by Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Darlene Lancer to help you identify the signs and cope with them.
Did we help you go over everything you needed to know about codependency in relationships?
Don’t judge yourself or be too harsh on yourself for being codependent.
Keep in mind that you were only a child when you developed codependency to respond to a challenging situation. While codependency did serve you for the longest time, it isn’t working anymore and may even be hindering your relationships.
Be kind to yourself and seek help and support if you think you need it.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Rachael Pace is a noted relationship writer associated with Marriage.com. She provides inspiration, support, and empowerment in the form of motivational articles and essays. Rachael enjoys studying the evolution of loving partnerships and is passionate about writing on them. She believes that everyone should make room for love in their lives and encourages couples to work on overcoming their challenges together.