Co-Dependency in Romantic Relationships

Co-Dependency in Romantic Relationships

Co-Dependency in romantic relationships

Interpersonal romantic relationships are usually perceived to be positive, enabling bonds that provide support and affection to the person to strive for better. Within such relationships, there is a predominant nurturer and a predominant nurturant, despite the two of them switching their roles occasionally. Dependency on each other in this dyad keeps the vehicle moving while maintaining one’s individuality and having a space for expression beyond the dyad. The vehicle moves smoothly until one side gets deflated and the other side is over-inflated.

Co-dependency, a dysfunctional situation in a relationship, occurs when one person is constantly nurturing and the other person is constantly being nurtured. What makes it dysfunctional is that one’s emotional needs and other demands are being fulfilled whereas the other person in the dyad has to push himself or herself to feed their partner’s needs. If these remain unfulfilled, there are conflicts in the relationship which are feared by the nurturer.

For the Nurturant

Co-dependency is viewed by the nurturant as misperceived power. However, it is potential inflation of self in the process of being nurtured. There is continued reliance on the partner to fulfil their needs without making much effort to create space for change for themselves. Such individuals are fuelled by narcissism in which they believe they are superior and others are supposed to inflate their self-esteem ceaselessly.

They dismiss or fail to identify that others are at par with them or they have needs of their own. In the process of being the centre of the situation, they attach themselves to persons who are willing to keep them in the centre. Mostly, their relationships are maintained because their nurturer, the partner who provides, loses himself or herself in their identities.

For the Nurturer

Co-dependency takes the form of dissolving oneself in the life goals of the nurturant. The person strives to keep the relationship intact by constantly providing for the nurturant. Their partners think of themselves as independent while they themselves are viewing their lives as only an extension of their partners. They begin losing their identity while providing for the nurturant or the narcissist. Even when they are exhausted, they are available around the clock due to their insecurities about losing their partner.

Masculinity and Co-Dependency

Masculine characteristics in behaviour, in males, females or transgender, are not viewed positively in relation to approval seeking from others. It indicates that external approval-seeking behaviour is not considered to be masculine. On the other hand, self-sacrifice is viewed as a negative characteristic of masculinity. This highlights that masculinity is somewhat linked to being nurturant.

Femininity and Co-Dependency

Feminine characteristics in any gender have a strong relationship with approval seeking from external sources. On the other hand, self-sacrificing behaviour is seen to be positive in femininity. It indicates femininity as being nurturing.

Role of Family

Chronic stress in the family and dysfunctional family dynamics give birth to co-dependency. Alcoholism, chronic illness in the family, childhood neglect and abuse can lead to co-dependence in the relationships in adulthood. A person with alcoholism and his or her partner have been seen to be co-dependent. And both partners have had a history of dysfunctional relationships in their families of origin. However, those without any psychological diagnoses also engage in co-dependency with no family history of disturbed dynamics.

Co-Dependent Relationships and Psychological Disorders

Co-dependency has commonly been associated with substance use disorders in which the child of such a parent has to take the role of the caretaker, creating co-dependency which gets carried on later in the relationships of that child. It has often been associated with personality disorders, with possible interpersonal issues present since childhood. Depression and anxiety can be causes or consequences of difficulties in co-dependent relationships. Interpersonal dynamics involving romance can be maintained due to this co-dependency. However, it can lead to psychological difficulties as a consequence of such dynamics. It can take the form of insecurities, inferiority complex and further, dysfunctional patterns of behaviour.

Management of Co-Dependency

Psychological management of such a condition can be effective in the long run. However, identification of such patterns and approaching a mental health professional for the same becomes an obstacle. Once the person initiates therapy, a major focus is on creating a stable therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist. What follows this relationship highlights difficulties in emotional expression, decision-making issues, dysfunctional patterns of behaviour and relationships, comorbid psychological disorders and prolonged guilt or resentment towards self or others. There is periodic mention of the efficacy of the therapeutic relationship in maintaining a balance between the two parties. So, this relationship acts as a model for the client’s relationships outside of therapy.


Romantic relationships are expected to be shared partnerships in which the needs of the partners are balanced and each partner understands the strengths and requirements of the other person. At the same time, there should be an identification of the limitations of their partner to recognize conditions in which their needs cannot be fulfilled in their relationship. As often as possible, a balance of responsibilities between the partners, although difficult, can help in establishing a more fulfilling, long-lasting romance.

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