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What is codependency?

Codependency refers to unequal emotional balance in relationships in which one partner is a “giver” and one partner is a “taker.” Oftentimes, the giver feels love and fulfillment by giving to their partner. This can include behaviors like actively avoiding hurting or upsetting the other person, apologizing even when you have done nothing wrong, feeling sorry for the other person even when they hurt you, or struggling to find time for yourself or an inability to disentangle yourself as an individual within the relationship. Essentially, this refers to any behaviors in which someone puts their partner before themselves. The taker, on the other hand, benefits from the giver, in such a way that they may not be able to cope on their own without the support of the giver and typically does not give back.

How does codependency affect me?

Codependency does not refer to all helping, caring, or supportive behaviors. In a healthy relationship, both/all partners assume the role of giving and taking at some point. Codependency refers to when these caring or supportive behaviors are given in excessive amounts, and when there is an imbalance between who is giving and who is taking. This is harmful and unhealthy because: 1) it creates unnecessary power dynamics within the relationship, 2) it opens the door for the giver to begin self-abandonment, and 3) it creates a relationship in which both partners lose their individuality within the relationship. Prolonged codependency in relationships can lead to cynicism, resentment, anger, depression, breakups, and more.

How can I manage codependency?

If you feel that you are currently in a codependent relationship, or that you consistently find yourself in one, there are several things you can do. Some things you can do are to spend time apart from your partner, practice self-compassion, and become comfortable setting boundaries and saying “no” (especially with your partner). You and your partner may also consider couples counseling if you find that these behaviors are impacting your relationship quality substantially. Research also shows that codependency in relationships is often linked to an underlying issue such as attachment anxiety, self-esteem, abandonment, and trauma. If this rings true for you, seeking support through therapy may be beneficial as well.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.