Is it love – or is it a co-dependent relationship?

A loving relationship should be a safe and secure foundation for you to express your love for your partner – while retaining your own identity and interests. Experiencing love can cause the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain.

In a co-dependent relationship, you get your self-worth from another person – yet the same chemical reaction occurs in your brain, causing you to believe you’re in love. This feel-good response can mask the underlying feelings of guilt and shame that occur in a co-dependent relationship, which can erode your self-esteem and make you feel even more reliant on your partner.

As a result, your self-esteem, confidence and overall well-being are negatively impacted.

A co-dependent relationship isn’t a healthy one –and it’s unlikely to be successful in the long term.

“The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much and forgetting that you are special too.”

-Ernest Hemingway

A Co-dependent Relationship: It’s Never Enough

Having a connection with your romantic partner is important. As humans, we’re wired to make bonds with others and create emotional connections, ideally in a relationship that enables our growth- but retains the freedom we need to be ourselves.

It’s not unusual to fall in love and want to do everything you can to make your partner happy.

Every relationship should be based on give and take, but sometimes things can go too far – and you begin to get a sense of self-worth from your partner to the point of becoming dependent on them to be happy.

My client Evan realized something was wrong in his relationship. A successful accountant, Evan fell head over heels in love with Gill. Everything was going well, so they moved in together and were making plans for the future.

But Evan began to realize that he was making more of an effort to please Gill and ensure her happiness than doing things for himself. It was getting problematic. Evan was in a co-dependent relationship with Gill.

Characteristics of a Co-dependent Relationship

When you’re co-dependent on another, you lose the ability to distinguish where your sense of self ends, and your partners begins. This results in a sense of responsibility to meet your partner’s needs – believing it will meet yours. It is also possible for both of you in a relationship to be co-dependent on each other.

Common behaviours in a co-dependent relationship:

    • blaming each other
    • difficulty getting intimate
    • low self-esteem
    • no independent interests outside the relationship
    • people-pleasing behavior
    • poor boundaries (not asserting your own wants and needs)
    • tolerating your partner’s hurtful behavior

Co-dependence in a relationship doesn’t give you the room you need to be yourself or to figure out what your wants and needs are. Why?

Because you are too busy figuring out how to please your partner. As Evan discovered, if he wasn’t working long hours at his accountancy firm, he was constantly with Gill. He no longer spent time with his friends, gave up his gym sessions and felt guilty spending time alone pursuing his hobbies.

The relationship began to sour. Evan felt resentful towards Gill for his feeling trapped: the only time he felt good about himself was when he tried to make her happy.

Caretaker – or Equal Partner – in The Relationship?

Evan came to me for support when he realized that he had taken on more of a caretaker role in the relationship than that of an equal partner. He wasn’t getting back what he was putting in.

When Gill wasn’t around, Evan felt at a loss and tried to do things that would please her – instead of spending time on himself and his interests. All of this wore Evan down: he was suffering from low self-esteem and was losing confidence at work.

During our therapy sessions, I was able to help Evan see the truth of the situation: being co-dependent on Gill was affecting his lifestyle and his well-being.

We worked together on helping Evan establish some boundaries, such as:

    • Being a better communicator
    • Putting his own needs at the same level he’d been putting Gill’s

Over time, his relationship moved away from co-dependence and became stronger as a result.

When a relationship is co-dependent, it can’t be a successful and happy one, because you’re putting your partner’s happiness and needs before yours. You should be working together to create a truly equal partnership.

Here’s the great news: Positive change is possible with the support of therapy, so feel free to contact me to talk about a path forward. Together, we’ll work on defining your own needs and establishing boundaries, all so you can enjoy happy, successful relationships.

Developing elegant solutions to complex personal issues

Daniel Lichtman MA (Couns Psych)

Daniel offers single session and multi-session packages of in-person and online counseling.  Online coaching allows you to gain support privately and discretely, wherever you are in the world.

Registered Psychotherapist (PACFA Australia) and Certified Transformational Coach (Circling Institute, USA) with over 8,000 hours experience.


Daniel White Integrated Way coaching and counselling Hong Kong