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Sometimes, even the best intentions can be taken too far. This is the case with a codependent person. Think of someone with a good heart. Their default setting is to help others. If such a person enters into a relationship, this desire to help can become unhealthy. It could reach the point of becoming a martyr.

Humans are social beings who typically live in communities. Therefore, collaboration and support are necessary. But this does not mean we must engage in self-sacrifice to an extreme point. In a relationship, such a dynamic can arise without either partner initially noticing. What appears to be compassion may actually be compulsive.

An Imbalance of Power

Codependency was first coined to describe what happens when you have a partner struggling with substance abuse. This remains true but the term now has a far greater reach. Simply put, codependency can thrive where an imbalance of power exists. One person — knowingly or unknowingly — expends far more energy on another person. The other person — knowingly or unknowingly — takes advantage of this scenario.

It can feel like symbiosis. You can think you’re in a healthy give-and-take situation. But, when you’re aware of the signs of codependency, you are empowered to avoid this subtle trap.

Signs of Codependency in a Relationship

Here are some common threads:

  • Doing anything to avoid conflict
  • Lack of boundaries causes a blurring of each other’s individuality
  • Changing yourself to please your partner — even at the expense of your needs
  • Trying to know in advance what your partner will say, do, or need
  • Resorting to controlling situations in order to maintain and manage them
  • Taking on more than you can handle
  • Resenting when you don’t get credit for it
  • Not being able to feel good unless your partner feels good

Here are some specific behaviors you may catch yourself engaging in:

Canceling plans to be with your partner

You may fear that sustaining relationships with others will come at the expense of your primary relationship. Going out without them feels tantamount to missing a chance to further connect with your partner. Whenever you do socialize, it is as a couple. Related to this trend is a growing unwillingness to be alone.

You need to hear from them on a regular basis

If you and your partner are apart (perhaps for work), you can’t relax if you don’t check in often. You find yourself constantly checking your phone for updates. You’ve become so reliant on your partner that you cannot handle the separation. If you don’t hear from them, your mind immediately conjures up worst-case scenarios. These can range from terrible accidents to your partner no longer caring about you.

A desire to change and/or save them

Of course, this can be intricately connected to any situation that involves addiction. Yet, it does not need to be that obvious. You imagine yourself seeing what your partner “really” needs to be happy. Maybe they need to dump that friend or change jobs or get more organized. The possibilities are endless. Codependency inspires you to engage in whatever you think it takes to accomplish such goals. You can suddenly become quite manipulative and controlling — all in the name of doing “what’s good for them,” of course.

You feel guilty

Any time you focus on yourself feels selfish. If your partner has a bad day, you blame yourself. To avoid such guilt and shame, you further commit to a lifestyle of helping, helping, helping.

You and Your Partner Can Recover

Codependency is not a mental health diagnosis. However, it is a very, very valid reason to consult with a therapist. Counseling is an ideal starting point for addressing the imbalance of power in your life.

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Therapy for Men is a practice led by Dr. Rick Pomfret which offers counseling and psychotherapy services tailored to the needs of men. Their services encompass anxiety therapy, depression therapy, relationship therapy, men’s issues and support for those navigating life transitions or divorce. With offices in San Francisco and Corte Madera, Therapy4Men provides convenient access to mental health care for men in the Bay Area and online across California.