Can Codependency Be Healthy? (Updated 2024)

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Author Name: Beth Rush
Date: Monday January 29, 2018

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“I need you.” How many times have you uttered those words to your romantic partner while you cuddled on the couch? Have you ever started to wonder whether your attachment to the one you love benefits or harms your well-being? Can codependency be healthy if it’s with your partner?

People do need to lean on each other, and every relationship has times when one partner carries the other. However, overreliance on one individual can lead to a dysfunctional power dynamic and even open the door to abuse. Can codependency be healthy, and if so, under what circumstances? 

What Is Codependency? 

“Honey, can you stop at the store on the way home to pick up milk?” Is this codependency? Most likely, it isn’t — asking for favors is part of the give-and-take of any relationship. Even if you or your partner pays all the bills, that doesn’t necessarily imply an unhealthy balance of power. 

The term “codependency” refers to forming and maintaining relationships that are one-sided and emotionally or physically abusive. Maybe your partner continually hurls insults at you, but you remain convinced that if you try harder, you will win their approval. Perhaps they insist that you act and even dress a specific way, and they use threats — including withdrawing love — to keep you in line. Often, this dynamic occurs when one partner struggles with substance abuse or addiction, but the term has come to apply to dysfunction in general. Some people might even see it as “an addiction to love,” which can be more harmful than anything else.

This dynamic is often learned — people whose parents struggled with codependency tend to adopt the same behaviors and attitudes. This principle explains why so many individuals who grew up in abusive households go on to perpetuate the cycle as adults. They aren’t consciously choosing despair, but they are retreating to the familiar as it lends a sense of security, unhealthy as their unique situation may be. So, can codependency be healthy? First, you have to ensure what’s going on is actually codependency at work.

What Are the Signs of Codependency?

If you are questioning whether codependency exists in your relationship, ask yourself the following questions to determine if you need help:

  • Do you feel free to express yourself around your partner? In healthy relationships, partners have freedom of choice and encourage each other’s growth. In codependent relationships, every interaction becomes guarded because you have to become the person your partner expects you to be. You may feel like you’re “walking on eggshells.”
  • Is your relationship consistent and predictable? Codependent relationships are marked by turbulence and cycles of behavior from good to violent. Healthy relationships, while they may involve disagreements, rarely erupt into fireworks. 
  • Do you feel a need to control or obey your partner? Do you demand to know where your partner is at all times, or do you feel the need to check in with them multiple times daily — maybe to the dismay of your boss? Do you try to restrict the people they associate with, or do you sneak around to see friends behind their backs? Do you engage in behaviors like checking their phone or email without permission?

If you notice any of the above behaviors in your relationship, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doomed to fail. With the help of the right marriage counselor, you can learn healthier ways to interact with your partner. The critical factor is that both of you need to be willing to put in the effort. You might wonder, “Can codependency be healthy?” The answer is a bit complicated — what you want to attain is interdependency.

Can Codependency Be Healthy? What is Interdependency? 

Ideally, you want to strive for an interdependent relationship. Unlike in codependent relationships, you don’t look to your partner for your sense of identity. Nor do you desperately cling to the union when it descends into abuse — you set boundaries and enforce them. 

Interdependence recognizes the value of vulnerability, and it fosters trust because you open yourself up without compromising your core identity. For example, if you lost your job during a round of layoffs, an interdependent partner will lend you a shoulder to cry on and help out with the bills while you get back on your feet. They’ll encourage you to find something better, and they won’t let you wallow in despair. 

A codependent partner, on the other hand, uses vulnerability as a weapon to keep you reliant on them. They might say things like, “You could never make it without me.” Such statements not only make you feel terrible but after a while, you also start to believe those messages. Before you know it, your life becomes all about keeping your partner happy instead of productively addressing your needs. Every thought begins to revolve around keeping them calm and avoiding their verbal jabs.  

Making Your Relationship Healthier

Can codependency be healthy? Usually not, as you may not have an identity outside of your partner. If you fear you are in a codependent relationship, take the following steps: 

  • Do some soul-searching: Take the time to reflect honestly on your relationship. Do you and your partner work together toward mutual goals? Or is your primary objective pleasing them — or keeping them under your thumb? 
  • Have a heart-to-heart: Sit down with your partner when you both feel calm. Express your concerns and gouge their reactions. It’s natural if they appear taken aback a bit, but the crucial question to ask yourself is, do they express a desire to work on improving your union?
  • Seek outside help: Even if you have the best intentions, codependency is learned behavior often reinforced over a lifetime. It’s challenging to break the cycle independently, so seek a qualified therapist if you have the means to do so.

Can Codependency Be Healthy? No, but You Can Lean on Your Partner

All relationships entail a degree of give-and-take. However, if your union has become controlling or obsessive, you may have an issue with unhealthy codependency. So, can codependency be healthy? There’s a fine line between what’s healthy and unhealthy, and you should instead strive for interdependency. Do some soul-searching and take proactive steps to build a more equal partnership. 

Updated on May 3, 2024

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