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Are You in a Codependent Relationship?

Three simple questions to ask yourself that can help create a healthier bond.

Codependency's Possible Roots

People who are codependent often grew up in a household with the same issues. For example, a girl with an alcoholic father could grow up to be attracted to people who drink too much, Tessina says.

"Their whole definition of love is codependent before they even start," she says. "Most people who didn't grow up in a codependent atmosphere aren't going to put up with it for too long. The ones who start with the impression that love is sacrificing for my partner and putting up with whatever my partner wants to dish out are the ones who get deeply stuck in it."

Signs of Relationship Codependence

Ask these three questions to help you identify whether yours is a codependent relationship.

Question 1: Is this relationship more important to me than I am?

Tessina says love does have a selfless element through which you want to make your partner happy. You may say to yourself "I'm willing to give a lot for him because I love him." But you also need to say, "I shouldn't be destroying myself to give it. If I have to do that, something's wrong."

Question 2: What price am I paying for being with this person?

Someone with an anxiety disorder may only realize it when she sees what it costs. For example, the price of her anxiety may be that she can't fly somewhere fun for vacation, Wetzler says.

Similarly, it can be helpful to jot down a list of things you're giving up to be in your relationship. Bochner says, "If you seem to always be putting yourself last, that's not generally healthy."

Question 3: Am I the only one putting energy into this relationship?

If your tennis partner is too distracted or not interested in hitting the ball back to you, the game isn't going to be much fun. The same is true for a couple when only one person is putting forth any effort, Tessina says.

Back from the Brink

If you find that codependency seems to be a factor in your relationship, can it be fixed? Maybe.

Marriage counseling can help you learn more about the problems you need to work on together. Wetzler says, though, that often one partner -- for example, someone with a drinking problem -- needs individual counseling.

Bochner points out that you may also benefit from going to a support group. For example, if the problem is alcohol, you might benefit from a group for people affected by someone else's drinking, such as Al-Anon.

The moment that can nudge a relationship toward healthy change is the moment you decide you've had enough.

"Often the thing that gets an alcoholic to go to AA, or narcissists to see that something's wrong," Tessina says, "is losing somebody. It's ironic that the person who wants to stay there forever and give and give has to say 'OK, I'm through. I'm done. I'm leaving,' before the partner will turn around and say 'Oh, wait a minute, I really do care about you.'"

Bochner has seen clients go through the same realization. "The willingness to leave is often what sets things straight. They have to get to a point where they have to save themselves by saying 'I love you, but I have to take care of me.' Then, sometimes, the relationship actually changes."

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Reviewed on April 29, 2011

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