How to Tell if Your Relationship is Healthy or Codependent

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

“Mama, the nerve of this guy. To leave me so easy. Am I gonna be alright? I wanna kick myself for fallin’ so hard.

Mama, can you die from a broken heart? Can your knees give out from prayin’ so hard? Can you go blind from cryin’ in the dark? Was it ever really real if he don’t feel like I feel?”

hese words are from a new country song I just heard today as I was pressing “seek” on my stereo button. It’s called “Die From a Broken Heart” by Maddie and Tae.

Upon listening to it I was reminded of a whole stream of other songs that to me sound like they were about relationships that were stormy entanglements that may have been one-sided — codependent ones where the partners are so caught up in each other to the exclusion of everyone else, one person is the other’s “all and everything”.

Other songs are of desperate longing for someone — for example, Billie Holliday’s “I Must Have That Man.” That song sounds like the man is a no-good that she really wants, even though he’s wrong for her. That theme has been sung about by different people, in different genres of music, since time began.

Over the years I — like many people in the world — have had a number of relationships that were good, bad, and horrible.

In my case let’s just say Joan Jett sang it perfectly: “I hate myself for loving you. Can’t break free from the things that you do. I wanna walk but I run back to you … you took my heart and you took my pride awaayyyy….”

Talk about codependent and unhealthy!

Anyway, as noted, there are good and bad relationships, “healthy” and codependent ones. The latter I began learning about more than 30 years ago when I started what I call self-educating about addictions and people who have them. This included reading several books including “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie, and others. I saw myself in Beattie’s words, just as I did in Joan Jett’s song and I seek to inform others who also see themselves in these words of desperate longing and unhappy twosomes.

We all hope for a happy, functional relationship. Unfortunately some people wouldn’t know one if they saw one because they might have never had a “true love” relationship modeled to them by their parents or others.

Many times people think (incorrectly, as it were) that they have “the real thing” because they, say, finish each other’s sentences, or seem to read each other’s minds, or they like all the same things (really? are you kidding me?) They are together all the time, laugh a lot, do many things together, and life is wonderful.

We all deserve a love that’s true and healthy and so it would help to know the difference from one in which Maddie and Tae seem to be singing about and one that is actually good for us.

So for those who might be wondering whether you have real love or have an unhealthy attachment — possibly bordering on obsession — with someone, here’s an excellent definition I found in an article in Medical News Today entitled “What’s to Know About Codependent Relationship?” (Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D. CRNP, and written by Jennifer Berry Oct. 31, 2017).

Berry defines these relationships ”(when) a person who is codependent will plan their entire life around pleasing the other person, or the enabler. In its simplest terms, a codependent relationship is when one partner needs the other partner, who in turn, needs to be needed.”

One could draw from this definition that a codependent “needs” the other person (like we need air, or a plant needs water) without whom he/she might literally die if that other person were to withdraw from the relationship. Although I actually love the song “How Do I Live Without You” by LeeAnn Rimes (and Trisha Yearwood sang it too), to my ears/perception it sounds like a sad, whiny woman begging a guy to stay or else she’ll just cease existing: “If you ever leave, baby you would take away Everything good in my life …” Or the Bee Gees’ tune from the 70s, “It’s over and done, but the heartache lives on inside …there’ll be nobody left in this world to hold me tight” as though there’s not even one person out of a couple billion on earth for that poor soul.

Either the relationships depicted in these songs were really tight-knit and loving, or they were forged out of a desperate need for affection/affirmation from someone so that the people’s lives were tightly intertwined … and not exactly in a healthy way.

Codependents are those people seen by others as clingy, needy, and/or insecure. As Berry’s article says, “The codependent’s self-esteem and self-worth will come only from sacrificing themselves for their partner, who is only too glad to receive their sacrifices.”

Looking down the lens of past relationships, I’m sure many of you might — if you’re totally honest about it and willing to see the signs — recognize yourselves in this description just as I do. Either this is true now, or was more correct 30 years ago. The excessive compulsion to always be pleasing to others (friends, lovers, others), or being a “people pleaser”, is an indicator of a codependent person.

Berry lists many features of “healthy dependent” and codependent relationships, as follows:

Dependent (“healthy) relationships let people be themselves; “provide love and support for one another; the partners find value in their union”.

It’s where “both parties make their relationship a priority, but can find joy in outside interests, other friends, and hobbies”; and “both people can express their emotions and needs and find ways to make the relationship beneficial to both of them,” Berry writes. In other words, healthy self expression — communication of needs, wants, emotions in an appropriate manner — is allowed, even encouraged.

These couples don’t have to be joined at the hip 24/7. They are allowed to have lives away from their partners without fear of losing the partner. They can trust their partners, count on them to “have their backs” at all times and be a comfort in sad/tough times, to name a few characteristics of this type of coupledom.

Codependent twosomes are ones in which the partners may “lose” themselves in the other person.

They don’t allow room for being one’s self, because one or both people plays a role in order to keep their bond. In other words, the two people truly do — as marriage vows say — become one. Berry writes, “The codependent has no personal identity, interests or values outside of their codependent relationship.” This includes repressing any of the codependent’s own feelings, wishes, or intimacy needs in order to please, and keep, the other.

“One person feels that their desires and needs are unimportant and will not express them. They may have difficulty recognizing their own feelings or needs at all,” the article says. This difficulty comes because they’re so used to bending themselves into what they think the other person wants in order to please them and keep alive (though not necessarily thriving) their closely intertwined relationship … on which their self-image and esteem is largely based.

Furthermore, the codependent “person feels worthless unless they are needed by — and making drastic sacrifices for — the enabler,” Berry says. “who gets satisfaction from getting their every need met by the other person. The codependent is only happy when making extreme sacrifices for their partner. They feel they must be needed by this other person to have any purpose.”

Clearly this type of coupling is the only means of identity for the codependent person, who usually suffers from low self-esteem which makes him/her more likely to get into an unhealthy relationship.

Sadly there are TONS of people in the world who fits this category, though lucky for those they get involved with (who will take full advantage of the clingy person, until they tire of the relationship and leave, which will literally devastate the codependent who built his/her whole world around the other).

ecause this is a subject of great interest to me, I found this article very informative and interesting. Berry goes on to write about the symptoms you should look for to see whether or not you are in an unhealthy codependent relationship. I’m not going to go into them here, as I’ve cited her authorship and article above for those interested in further reading.

It’s safe for me to say that if the aspects I listed above from her article in the “dependent” or healthy relationship aren’t present in your twosome, you might want to examine it further, especially if you recognize in the list of the aspects of a codependent relationship.

My own takeaway from Berry’s article is that insecure people without a firm sense of who they are and who have poor self esteem are vulnerable to being entangled in an unhealthy, codependent relationship. I’m betting that codependent people have targets on their foreheads that predators, addicts, and just plain unhealthy people can see and thus exploit to their benefit.

onversely, individuals with a better sense of self and healthy self-regard usually are candidates for more healthy relationships. So they are the ones who are more likely to sing praises for their partners, such as Garth Brooks’ song, Two of a Kind (Working on a Full House): “She’s my lady luck, I”m her wild-card man. Together we’ re building up a real hot hand. We really fit together if you know what I’m talking about.”

Now THAT’S the kind of love that we all deserve and should be lucky enough to have!! Hopefully this article will help people decide which kind of “love” they have and maybe take steps toward a more healthy relationship, such as therapy, if they don’t already have one.

Experienced professional writer/freelancer and former newspaper reporter-turned-online writer/blogger. Thinker. “Old soul”, young hippie, empath.

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