5 Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship as an Introvert or a Sensitive Person

an introvert in a codependent relationship

Introverts and sensitive people have high levels of empathy, so it’s easy for us to end up in codependent relationships without even realizing it.

We introverts love our alone time. So, in the dating process, when you finally meet someone who you connect with, it’s a big deal. Soon you want to spend more and more time with this person, and it naturally evolves into a relationship.

As the relationship continues, it’s important to make sure it’s a healthy one. When the connection feels oh-so-good — especially for introverts who are used to spending much of their time alone — it can be easy to overlook red or yellow flags.

One thing to watch out for is an emotionally codependent relationship. One definition of a codependent relationship is when “one person needs the other person, where in turn, the other partner needs to be needed. The codependent’s self-esteem and self-worth will only come from sacrificing themselves for their partner, who is only too glad to receive their sacrifices.”  

Introverts and Sensitive People May Find Themselves in Codependent Relationships More Often Than Not

In my experience as a therapist, I see many introverts and highly sensitive people entering into codependent relationships. In fact, I think we quiet and sensitive ones are a bit more susceptible to this unhealthy dynamic than others may be. Why? Because we live in our heads, we tend to idealize other people and see their potential. We may have a tendency to want to “fix” the other person and help them solve their problems — introverts and sensitive people tend to be excellent problem solvers, after all. But these types of relationships are unhealthy, so it’s important to be aware of the signs of one, especially before you get too entrenched in it.

As a therapist, I have worked with those who were involved in a codependent relationship, are healing from a past codependent relationship, or who may have experienced a codependent parent-child relationship (which impacts their ability to have healthy adult romantic relationships).  

It’s not always easy to recognize when you are in a codependent relationship. Often, it’s a subconscious pattern that plays out. So let’s take a look at some ways to identify if your relationship may be codependent. 

5 Signs You May Be in a Codependent Relationship 

1. You want to “fix” your partner.

This is one of the most common signs of a codependent relationship — the desire to fix your partner. Introverts and sensitive people tend to have high levels of empathy, so it’s easy for us to end up in codependent relationships without realizing it. We go through life truly wanting to be of service to others, and when it comes to our partner, we want to help them, too.

Of course, it’s wonderful to help and support your partner, but remember that it’s not your job to fix them. Their personal healing journey is something they need to take responsibility for.

What does codependency look like? Let’s say you notice that your partner shuts down during fights. Due to your own empathy, you may understand (on a deeper level) why this behavior is happening. Perhaps your partner previously shared with you that she witnessed her parents fighting a lot when she was a kid, which was distressing and scary for her. As an empathic introvert who looks at things deeply, you may then be able to understand that this past experience is why she shuts down when conflict arises in your relationship — the same fear from when she was a kid is reactivated.  

As a result, you may decide that you are the one who is going to help your partner open up and express her emotions… or you may even feel you are going to “fix” her, “save” her, or help her heal this unresolved wound. While that desire is sweet of you, you must remember you are not your partner’s therapist; you are there to enjoy the relationship with him or her, and then you will both feel better in the relationship because of it.

So if you find yourself trying to “fix” someone, ask yourself what, exactly, you’re trying to fix — and why.

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2. You have people-pleasing tendencies.

Wanting your partner to be happy is an important aspect of all relationships, and some introverts and sensitive people have people-pleasing tendencies. Plus, we spend a lot of time in our heads, so we may move to anxiety, worry, or overthinking if our partner seems upset. When people-pleasing tendencies go to an extreme level, they often stem from the need for approval or validation — in other words, the desire to feel like you are enough to be loved by your partner.  

One way codependency may show up is if your partner is upset, you may feel you need to do whatever is in your power for your partner to be back to his happy self again. You may find you neglect your own self-care to go above and beyond to help your partner feel happy. You take on the responsibility for his mood.

For example, maybe your partner had a bad day at work and comes home in an agitated mood; you may find that it makes you anxious. So you turn all of your focus toward helping him feel calm and happy again. It’s as though you “need” to do so and can’t relax until your partner is more at ease.

When you move from the mentality of wanting your partner to be happy to needing your partner to be happy, this is when it’s important to take a step back and look at what’s going on. How are you feeling in the relationship and about yourself? If you are often putting your partner’s needs above your own, you need to ask yourself why you are doing so. Also ask what unmet need is coming up in you that is fulfilled by taking on responsibility for your partner’s happiness.

3. The relationship feels one-sided.

If you find that you are the primary one who is giving or being accommodating in the relationship, this is a sign of a codependent relationship. And this dynamic is going to get emotionally exhausting. For example, maybe the two of you are in the dating phase but you only see each other based on your partner’s schedule. Perhaps you find yourself dropping things you had scheduled when your partner asks to see you — but he or she doesn’t drop things for you in return.  

You may also find yourself in a relationship with someone who, despite you “clicking,” may simply not be emotionally available. Looking at this from an attachment lens, you may find yourself more anxious in the relationship whereas your partner may present as more avoidant. In other words, you are giving and craving closeness and depth, as introverts and sensitive people need in their relationships, while your partner is more emotionally distant and non-committal… which makes you anxious… and then he or she picks up on your anxiety and becomes more avoidant. It becomes a dance of sorts that is unhealthy and imbalanced.

4. You’re afraid of being abandoned.

This feeling is one of the main characteristics of codependent relationships — the fear of abandonment. It can be tricky to recognize this fear, as you may not be consciously aware that you have it. One way this fear might show up in your relationship is that you do whatever it takes, or you tolerate any sort of behavior, in order not to have your partner leave you — you are afraid of being abandoned. For example, maybe she doesn’t call you when she says she will, or he constantly cancels dates or drinks too much alcohol. But you justify their behavior — it’s not that bad — because you don’t want them to leave you. You tolerate the toxicity.

This relates to my point above, how a codependent relationship feels one-sided, and you find yourself giving and giving in the relationship… all in order to feel loved, wanted, and needed.

If you aren’t aware of having abandonment fears, one question to ask yourself is: Do you tend to stay in relationships well past the time they have run their course? Do you allow behaviors that don’t feel all that great to continue in the relationship? (Allowing unhealthy behavior actually enables the pattern to continue. In other words, allowing the person to “get away with it,” so to speak, since you keep forgiving the bad behaviors.) And do you put your partner on a pedestal? 

5. You fear being alone.

Have you ever found yourself staying in a relationship that was not great but “good enough” because in some aspects it felt better, and even more comforting, than being alone? Or maybe you found yourself jumping from relationship to relationship rather than taking time between relationships for yourself?  

I know introverts love their alone time, so these might seem like funny questions to ask yourself. Really, we’re looking at this from the lens of feeling like you are attached to the idea of being in a relationship and what this means for you. Codependent relationships often occur because it feels better to be with someone — heck, anyone (no matter how you are treated) — rather than being alone. This is the unmet need the relationship serves for you — at least you’re not alone.

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The First Step Is Becoming Aware of the Signs You May Be in a Codependent Relationship 

Often, we introverts and sensitive people want to be 110 percent sure of our decisions before we take action, and this includes ending an unhealthy relationship. But it’s important to notice if you still resist taking action because you see the good in your partner, hope he or she will change, or are afraid of “starting over” with the dating process. If your hesitation has an underlying fear, this may be due to a fear of abandonment.

So, fellow introverts, if you recognize yourself in any of these points, this is the first step to change — awareness. There are many therapists who specialize in helping people heal from codependent relationships (myself, included). You can then begin the journey to healing so you can experience a relationship that feels balanced, healthy, and good.

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