None of us really know if love is blind, but it does have a way of making things blurry when they might otherwise be clear. When you’re in a relationship, you know it the whole way through. You know all the hurts and pains, but you know the reasons too—why you stayed when someone else might have left. You know how good it is when it’s good, which sometimes makes it hard to remember how bad it is when it’s bad.
We grow up surrounded by pop culture that glorifies stormy relationships and tempestuous love affairs. But how do we know when timeless romance has turned toxic? What makes a relationship codependent? In today’s article, we’ll look at some signs that you’re locked into an unhealthy pattern.
The Pattern of Codependency
Codependency can be thought of as a kind of love addiction—as dangerous in its own way as any addiction to drugs or alcohol. It often falls into a familiar pattern—a cycle of stages that repeat themselves again and again—with serotonin, dopamine, and other hormones luring us deeper and deeper.
The early stages of a codependent relationship are defined by the slow obliteration of the self. Your relationships with friends and family are sidelined in favor of spending time with your new partner. Hobbies and interests are set aside. By the time you’ve fully settled into the relationship, you may not even recognize yourself anymore.
Because codependent relationships often start off as intoxicating love affairs, you may find yourself glossing over red flags and rationalizing away unhealthy behaviors. It’s tempting to pretend everything is perfect, even when you know deep down it’s not.
Some common features of a codependent relationship include:
- Loss of independence.
- Isolation from friends & family.
- Obsessive thoughts.
- Relaxing personal boundaries.
- Sacrificing personal interests.
Buried Feelings & Desires
While chemistry can sometimes mask communication issues, they’re often present even from very early on in a toxic or codependent relationship. Biting your tongue when your partner says or do something that hurts your feelings—burying your desires because you’re worried it might trigger their temper and ruin the honeymoon phase. When one or both parties have expectations and needs that go unexpressed, it’s a recipe for long-term resentment.
Big Tempers, Soft Voices
People in codependent relationships often feel as if they’re walking on eggshells around their partner. Every interaction feels like its high-stakes because it is—any disagreement could end in an explosion. What’s worse, frustrations that result from keeping things bottled up often lead to passive aggressive behaviors, like sarcastic comments and little jabs.
Need for Constant Reassurance
Codependent partners often need much more reassurance than the average person. Think of this as a kind of hunger for validation that they have trouble satisfying themselves. This is often rooted in low self-esteem, and gets worse over the course of a codependent relationship.
Unequal Power Dynamics
In a codependent relationship, one partner takes on the role of enabler, and the other is the enabled. The enabler covers for the bad behavior and poor decisions of their partner, enabling them—often at their own expense. As a result, the behavior often gets worse over time, and the codependent enabler feels taken for granted and used.
Patterns of Withdrawal & Reconnection
If you understand toxic and codependent relationships as an addiction, it’s easier to recognize that there will be times where one or both of you, being aware that this is unhealthy, try to end things. Like addicts, however, you may feel yourself drawn back to one another—feeding off the promise of chemical bliss that comes from making up and starting the cycle all over again.
Consider reaching out to schedule a consultation if you’re tangled up in a toxic or codependent relationship. Breaking these unhealthy cycles can be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. It’s possible for you to free yourself so you can enjoy smooth seas, instead of stormy waters, in Dating and Relationship Issues Therapy.