In any kind of relationship — be it with a friend, romantic partner, family member, or even a coworker — it's normal and healthy to have some level of dependence on another person. But if you find yourself making a lot of sacrifices for someone else's happiness and not getting as much as you want in return, that might be a sign that you're in a dysfunctional codependent relationship.
"Codependency is really about one person being reliant on the another to the point of being controlled or manipulated by that person," says Vera Eck, MFT, a relationship therapist in Los Angeles. "Like how an alcoholic is dependent on a substance, the codependent is dependent on the person and their relationship. They use the other person to fill the hole in the soul."
Eck says that codependents, or those who are overly reliant on another person in a relationship, tend to be givers, who will keep going above and beyond for someone else who isn't reciprocating that level of care. Eventually, the codependent person can become angry that they're not getting mutual treatment, and can begin to feel like victims.
"Codependency comes from a low self-esteem and loss of identity," she says. "It becomes a cycle, where the person continues to think, If only I did this one thing better, this person will love me, so let me give in a different way. And the cycle continues."
If this sounds like a relationship you're in, Eck says that you can start working towards addressing that unhealthy dependency through group or individual therapy. If, however, you find yourself on the receiving end of someone's codependency and are uncomfortable with how much they're relying on you, it may be time to have a conversation about your boundaries.
The bottom line is, you have to communicate your needs, even if that's easier said than done. If you think you might be in an unhealthy relationship, read ahead for a few signs that you might be veering towards codependency. It's by no means an exhaustive list, and on the flip side, identifying with one or more of these signs isn't a surefire indication that your relationship is unhealthy. But if you find yourself recognizing most or all of these signs, it may be time to think about setting healthier parameters.