Research-Backed Advice

Are You the Caretaker in a Codependent Relationship?

Key advice

  • Codependent relationships involve an imbalance of power where one person is the “caretaker” and the other the “taker.”
  • Caretakers tend to place the needs of others above their own.
  • If you’re a caretaker in a codependent relationship, therapy and self-reflection may help you get unstuck from this role.

Imbalance is the central theme of codependent relationships, where one person gives much more than they receive. If this sounds like you, you may be the caretaker in a codependent relationship.  

Evidence shows that some people are more likely to end up in codependent relationships than others. And it’s likely a combination of factors that influences whether a person takes on a caretaker role. For example, addiction is a common factor in codependent relationships.

Read on to learn more about codependent relationships and how to spot the signs that you may be the caretaker in an unequal partnership. 

What is a codependent relationship?

A codependent relationship involves a strong imbalance of power. One person typically cares, gives, or enables, while the other person receives, takes advantage, or mistreats.

This type of relationship usually has one person who needs the other and one person who needs to be needed.

In this article, we’ll call the person who needs the other person the “taker,” and we’ll call the other person who needs to be needed the “caretaker.”

Substance misuse is often an issue in codependent relationships, but not always. And while codependent relationships are often romantic, you can have a codependent relationship with anyone in your life—family members, friends, or coworkers.

What is a caretaker personality, and why is it harmful?

Having a caretaker personality means you’re willing to place the needs of others above your own. 

This might stem from the following: 

  • a lack of a clear sense of self
  • a sense of altruism
  • a past trauma like childhood maltreatment, neglect, or abandonment
  • a desire to help others turning into a need to be needed

The caretaker personality is harmful because it ignores and suppresses your needs while enabling destructive behaviors in others.

Caretakers are often motivated by love and a desire to help, but their behavior ultimately results in neither partner getting what they need.

Research shows that codependency may be trans-generational, meaning parents may pass this trait on to their children.

A 2018 study examined the lived experience of codependency from the perspectives of eight self-identified codependents. The participants identified three interlinked experiences as making up the “problem” of codependency:

  • a lack of a clear sense of self, resulting from a strong desire or over-willingness to blend in socially and to be liked
  • an emotional and occupational imbalance, or, in other words, difficulty in living a balanced life and so going from one extreme to the next (e.g., swinging from high engagement in activities to isolation)
  • a sense of abandonment and lack of control in childhood

If you identify with these three experiences, you may be more likely to take on a caretaker role in relationships. 

5 Signs You’re the Caretaker in a Codependent Relationship

Here are five signs that you’re the caretaker in a codependent relationship:

  1. You feel like you’re constantly trying to “save” your partner. Often this has something to do with substance misuse, but it could be other destructive behaviors that you feel you’re trying to prevent, fix, and clean up after.
  2. You wish you could change your partner. Core aspects of their character and values that don’t align with yours. You might catch yourself changing your behavior in the short term while hoping they’ll change theirs in the long term.
  3. You feel selfish and guilty when you do things without your partner or when you take time for self-care. You may also find it challenging to be alone without feeling like you need to reach out or check in with your partner constantly.
  4. Your home feels unfamiliar and makes you anxious, rather than being a sanctuary that makes you feel comfortable and at ease. This is likely because your partner created the space with only their taste and needs in mind.
  5. You’re scared to set healthy boundaries. When you try to set boundaries, your partner’s behavior may escalate or worsen.

How can you stop being a caretaker in a relationship?

If you recognize yourself as the caretaker in a codependent relationship, it may be helpful to seek therapy to address the root causes that have shaped this identity for you.

Stress management and emotional regulation strategies may also help guide you toward a more balanced lifestyle.

If therapy isn’t an option, acknowledging you’re a caretaker, talking to someone about it, and beginning a process of self-construction that helps you to feel self-assured and confident in who you are is a great start.

Within your relationship, differentiating between the things that are your responsibility and those that aren’t and setting boundaries for yourself when it comes to the help and advice you offer is a great place to start.

The final word

You might be the caretaker in a codependent relationship if you find that you like feeling needed and are willing to put your partner’s needs above your own. 

Being a caretaker can leave you feeling anxious, guilty, and resentful, and you may even be enabling destructive behaviors in your partner. 

Setting better boundaries within your relationship and developing a strong sense of identity can help you on the path to shedding the caretaker role. Therapy may also be a productive practice to help you uncover the root causes of your caretaker personality.

Olivia Kelava
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