What Is A Codependent Marriage?

Updated June 13, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
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It can be difficult to determine whether you are in a codependent marriage. After all, no one wants to actively search for problems in their relationship. However, if you are in a marriage that might be considered codependent, it is best to identify issues and take the necessary steps to prevent further problems. After exploring what codependency looks like in relationships, we’ll suggest strategies to address codependency in proactive ways.

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Codependent behavior can cause problems for relationships

What is codependency?

First and foremost, it is important to understand what codependency is in a marriage. Codependency refers to an emotional and behavioral condition in which someone is overly dependent on the other person to fulfill their basic needs. The simplest definition is being reliant on another person to an unhealthy end.

Some say that it is like being addicted to your partner. Despite movies and romance novels conveying to the general public that this reliance is sweet and means that the love is immense, being addicted to a spouse is incredibly unhealthy and can become problematic. 

Many factors can contribute to codependency in relationships. The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5-TR) describes dependent personality disorder as a long-term condition in which someone has an excessive need to be taken care of and where they cannot attend to their own needs autonomously. 

However, codependency can exist without this disorder or can overlap with other mental illnesses. Living with mental illnesses or personality disorders can impact the way someone relates to others. For example, someone with borderline personality disorder may experience intense mood swings and lack emotional control, which can potentially affect their relationship dynamics.

Sexual abuse is another example that can potentially lead to codependent tendencies and create a power imbalance between partners. Nobody should be subject to this type of behavior and there are resources available to support them.

There are situations where one partner or family may rely on another without it being considered emotional codependence. For example, temporary or long-term physical illness may prevent someone from taking care of themselves fully, requiring physical assistance from a spouse. However, this does not inherently signify an emotional dependency or relationship addiction. 

Are you in a codependent marriage?

Marriage is a legally binding contract between two adults. When an adult is unable to emotionally or psychologically handle their own needs, they may become codependent. The codependent spouse typically cannot or will not make decisions independently, relying on the other to make their meals, and often depending on them financially.

While there are exceptions to the rule, many codependent marriages exhibit several signs. A single indicator of codependency is not typically concerned until more factors come into playWhile some of the factors mentioned below can be independent of codependency, a lot of them might hint at being involved in a codependent marriage. Having a greater understanding of each potential characteristic can clarify the reasons behind each one and how they are all connected to codependency.

Inability to communicate properly

Struggling to communicate in a marriage can cause a lot of problems. Communication issues can stem from several things, one of which is codependency. Someone who is codependent is often too scared to upset their partner, so honest and open communication is not a priority. Instead, a codependent relationship may foster a habit of internalizing negative feelings.

Bottling up feelings is not good for any relationship and can cause problems in a long-term relationship like a marriage. Because of the fear of angering, saddening, or even confusing a codependent's partner, many things should be discussed or brought to the other person's attention in the relationship. Avoiding any issues has a way of building up over time, no matter the reason behind the poor communication.

Failure to see the codependency

A marriage in which one or both individuals are codependent is often one that fails to understand how codependent they truly are. For outsiders, a codependent marriage might be obvious. However, those in the marriage often believe that their behavior is normal. It might take the marriage advice of others to point out the potential problem in a codependent marriage.


Fear of abandonment

Abandonment is a common fear when it comes to a codependent relationship. This fear can affect many behaviors in the marriage, from feeling the need to get permission to do simple things to being incredibly clingy. The idea of being left behind or abandoned is a driving force behind a lot of a codependent person's actions.

A need for others’ approval

Codependency can create a desire in people to have the approval of others. This is especially true for the spouse of the codependent individual. Getting their blessing is a priority for someone who struggles with their own image. Pleasing their spouse can become a priority over doing what makes them happy.

Decision-making struggles

When it is hard for an adult to make their own decisions, and they have a tendency to leave things up to their partner, codependency is possible. For example, a codependent person may display an inability to choose something simple, like what they should wear that day or how they should spend an extra $10. This is often due to the codependent person relying on their partner to make all the decisions. Leaving all the decision-making to a single person in a marriage is a sign that codependency is present.

Low self-esteem

An individual who thinks negatively of themselves may attach themselves to another person. When the person with low self-esteem feels needed by the other person, they may rely on their partner to continue that feeling. If that feeling of need were to disappear, a codependent individual would likely face an even more unhealthy feeling of worthlessness. When a relationship has reached that point - where one party feels worthless without the other - it is clear that a codependent relationship is present.

Inability to find happiness without one’s partner

When a person's happiness is entirely dependent on their spouse, codependency is likely a large part of the relationship. If one person in the marriage must go out of town on a work trip, the codependent individual left behind might be miserable while their spouse is gone. Missing your spouse while they are away is normal, but struggling to function because of the feeling of being incomplete is a flashing sign for codependency.

Sacrifice of one’s own health

Often, a partner in a codependent marriage will sacrifice their own health and wellness to give all they have to the codependent spouse. This might mean reaching high levels of stress and anxiety to ensure that their significant other is well cared for. For example, a spouse who stops attending their weekly workout class to make sure that their codependent other half has dinner is a sacrifice typical within a codependent marriage.

Relentless feelings of anxiety

A codependent marriage is often filled with anxiety. The anxious feeling might stem from being away from one another while at work or doing. It could also come from the anxiety of not knowing what you might do if your spouse ever left you or passed away. While those thoughts might be a distant concern to anyone in a marriage, if it causes constant anxiety, marriage help may be necessary.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Codependent behavior can cause problems for relationships

Unequal responsibilities

Historically, the term codependent marriage was reserved for those in a marriage with a spouse navigating addiction concerns. When you have a spouse with a drug or alcohol addiction, many partners feel they are helping by enabling the behavior. Enabling is often done by taking on the responsibilities of the person with an addiction. For example, they might call off of work to attend to their partner..

Is help necessary in a codependent marriage?

You might wonder what is so bad about a codependent marriage? Aren't people in a relationship supposed to depend on one another? Aren’t families supposed to support one another? To an extent, yes; depending on your partner is part of being in a relationship. However, there is a line that needs to be drawn and healthy boundaries that need to be established. Too much reliance on another person can ruin one's sense of self. They no longer exist as 'me.'

Seeking help when you are in a codependent marriage is often a necessary step to find yourself again. The pressure that is put on the less dependent individual might cause harm in a variety of ways. Also, the idea that one person must provide so much for their spouse can push the less dependent person to leave the relationship. Not only is the end of a marriage not ideal, but also it can be incredibly difficult for the codependent individual.

Marriage advice is available for those who have codependent tendencies. For many, counseling is the best option. A counselor or therapist has the tools available to assist the codependent person to become more self-sufficient and more confident in themselves. Counseling can also help the spouse of a codependent individual learn how to lead their partner in detaching gradually. The goal for a codependent marriage seeking help is to allow each person to become their own person again while learning how to be in a healthy marriage.

Learning to replace codependent behaviors with healthy, caring ones can be a challenging but empowering journey. With support from a qualified professional, you could find your way to overcoming codependency and achieving a mutually satisfying relationship. Professionals are trained to help break the cycle of dysfunctional relationships by supporting you to take control of your own feelings and your own behavior. Through online therapy platforms like Regain, users can meet with their online counselors at convenient times and from preferred locations, provided a stable internet connection is present.

Several studies have demonstrated how online therapy can be an effective tool for reducing codependency in relationships. In one study, researchers used internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) to treat participants living with mental health conditions like depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (many of which may factor into relationship codependency). Results affirmed iCBT’s efficacy as a treatment option for such conditions based on the overall improvement of study participants’ symptoms.

Counselor reviews

Seeking help is often the best action that a married couple can take before things escalate. For a marriage to be healthy, codependency should be limited. Online couple’s therapy can be a great way to find the support you need, and you can read the reviews of satisfied Regain users below:

“Cris Roman saved my marriage. His approach to therapy taught my husband and I the skills we needed to change the way we communicated and the way we understood each other. He is very non-judgemental and helps each person make sense of the others' feelings and actions without taking sides or placing blame. His ability to make you feel heard while helping you to see and understand why your significant other is acting a certain way is phenomenal.”

“My wife and I decided to give online couples counseling a go after finding traditional methods weren’t all that suited to our busy working and parenting lifestyle. Our counselor Donna Kemp has been amazing! We both feel she’s listened to us and given us the confidence to step out of our comfort zone to deal with problems that are easy to avoid. She is encouraging without being pushy. We’ve both responded very well to her and her methods and look forward to continuing on with Donna. Highly recommend!”


If, after reading this article, you’ve determined that you and/or your partner may be displaying signs of codependency, know that you are not alone. We all may depend on others at some point in our lives, and it is not always obvious when we have overstepped our important boundaries. When you are ready to seek help and move into a more empowered space within your relationship or friendships, you can reach out to a caring, nonjudgmental therapist on Regain to start feeling more confident.

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