It is clear that having a partner is one of the most life-changing experiences, something that changes the way we see things.

Perhaps that’s why, if we don’t pay attention, it can happen that certain dynamics of the relationship become harmful and we don’t realize it until we have already suffered the consequences for a long time. Something that would have been relatively easy to see from the outside becomes almost invisible when we are inside, involved in that engagement or marriage.

So… how do you know if there is emotional dependence in a couple’s relationship? In the end, this is one of the most serious problems a relationship can go through, among other things because it leads us to fall into the same mistakes over and over again and makes something that hurts us come across as normal, or even romantic.

In this article we will see several keys to detect this kind of problems that arise when there is a power asymmetry in the relationship.

How to tell if there is emotional dependence in a couple

The theory says that any love relationship should be between equals. That, even if each individual has his or her own tastes, preferences and abilities, there should not be the situation where one person is always “in tow” of the other. However, there are some factors that complicate putting this basic rule into practice, and that is why it is relatively frequent to see dysfunctional couples because of emotional dependence.

The first factor is the idea of romantic love , based on the metaphor of the better half, according to which we need, literally, to be with a specific person. The logical conclusion to which this leads is that, when we are in a relationship with someone and therefore believe that we have found our other half, we make all kinds of sacrifices to minimize the chances of that love story ending. And we do it uncritically, because in this context, suffering is practically heroic, because we do it for the good of both.

On the other hand, something that also biases our way of analyzing the quality of our relationships is the time we have dedicated to it. Many times, the more we have sacrificed in the past to be with someone, the more we tend to justify the failures of that relationship, given that facing the existence of those dysfunctions in a totally objective way can become very uncomfortable. This does not mean that having been married to someone for many years makes it impossible for us to cut off that relationship, but it is a factor that leads us to prolong the discomfort if we do not try to “compensate” for it through other psychological strategies.

And, of course, the first step to prevent emotional dependence within the couple is to recognize this problem. That is why, next we will see different warning signs that help to realize the asymmetric character of a love relationship.

These are signs that we have described from the point of view of the dependent person, who is the one who suffers most. But just because it is important for the injured party to realize what is happening does not mean that everything that has been happening is his fault.

1. The possibility of disappointing the other person scares the hell out of us

It is normal to show attention and interest in what our partner thinks about us, and it is also normal to have certain mild fears and insecurities about the impression we are giving when we live with her. But that’s one thing, and it’s quite another to be on the alert a lot of the time in case something we might do might make our partner sad or angry .

The presence of this constant concern not to disappoint the other denotes that absolute credibility is given to their criteria to the detriment of ours. We are all human and can make mistakes, including our partners.

2. attempts to give no reason for jealousy

Low intensity and low frequency jealousy are relatively common in couples that function well, since they hardly affect the behaviour of the people involved. What is not so normal and unhealthy is limiting our lifestyle for fear that our partner will become jealous, something that usually means reducing or eliminating our social life outside of the relationship or marriage.

If there are clear criteria for establishing that someone has broken certain commitments on which the relationship is based, that is the responsibility of the one who is unfaithful. But if there is simple jealousy, that is the problem of the person who experiences it first hand. This simple idea is understood and assumed by those who are immersed in healthy relationships.

3. It is normal that sometimes you want to give “lessons” to the other

Another sign that is typical of relationships where there is emotional dependence is that it is seen as normal to seek to punish the other person when he or she is considered to have done something wrong .

In relationships that work well, the starting idea is that since there is a relationship between equals, no one should adopt the role of master in moral matters; if some behavior has not been liked, it is talked about by communicating it in an assertive and direct way

4. There is economic dependence on the part of one of the two, and this is assumed to be normal

Emotional dependence does not arise in the abstract; it is always born conditioned by material and objective factors. One of the most frequent is, for example, if the emotionally dependent person has very limited economic resources and the other does not.

This is because those who suffer economic vulnerability probably have problems when it comes to imagining realistic options for living autonomously , without depending on anyone. In this sense, if the other person provides material stability, all the future plans of the victim of dependency will probably pass through imagining themselves alongside that person.
Thus, in cases where there are asymmetries in the relationship, the fact that one of the two persons does not have resources to live on his or her own is not even seen as a problem.

5. Self-esteem only improves when the other person says or does something

Those who have good self-esteem are able to reinforce it through different ways. However, in relationships of emotional dependence, the value of oneself is given by how the person with whom we have created a love bond behaves towards us.

What to do?

If you suspect that you are in an emotionally dependent relationship, the most important thing is to be aware that this is a problem that deserves to be addressed with professional help.

At Cribecca Psychology we have a team of expert psychologists in couples’ therapy with extensive experience in offering psychological assistance to couples and marriages in crisis due to this dynamic. You will find us in the Avenida de la Innovación, Seville, and through our contact details.

Bibliographic references:

  • Cabello, F.; Cabello, M. & del Río Olovera, F. (2018). Advances in Clinical Sexology.
  • Morgan, J.P. (1991). What is codependency? Journal of Clinical Psychology 47(5): 720 – 729.