We throw around the word “codependent” without really knowing what it means. Alcoholics Anonymous coined the term in the 1970s to describe include a co-addict, or codependent, usually the overly controlling wife of an alcoholic man. Clinicians expanded this flawed definition in the mid-1980s to include both men and women with insecure attachment styles—anyone who cannot cope with the ending a relationship or losing control, even when the relationships is objectively unhealthy. But the prejudice stuck and, at least in the popular imagination, men are seldom called “codependent”, even if the shoe fits.
“Women who are codependent often engage in people-pleasing behaviors, but so do men,” Sal Raichbach, a therapist at Ambrosia Treatment Centers told Fatherly. “However, there are some subtle differences.”
Here’s how to know whether you’re a codependent man:
You Want To Rescue People
While women’s codependency can manifest in the form of extreme caretaking, codependent men are drawn to people who seem like they need saving. “Men tend to be rescuers more than women,” Raichbach says. “And sometimes codependent behavior displays itself as doing too much for their spouse, friend, or family member.” This is not necessarily a bad thing but, when men are helping at the expense of their own well-being, this impulse could be coming from an unhealthy place. If you have to constantly be saving someone to feel content in a relationship, then you may be a codependent man.
Do You Make Sacrifices in Relationships That Others Don’t
Making sacrifices is part of every healthy relationship, but if you find yourself making concessions that others aren’t, then there may be a problem, according to psychologist Fran Walfish. “People in [codependent relationships] believe that they’re helping each other, but they don’t have clean, clear, separate boundaries of where one person begins and the other person ends,” she told Fatherly.
You Cover for Each Other, In Unhealthy Ways
It’s understandable to want to trust your partner with your deepest, darkest secrets, and that you want to be there for them in a tough spot. But if you’re covering for them to the extent that they never learn from their mistakes, you’re less supporting and more enabling their bad behavior. This particular warning sign strikes at the heart of AA’s original use of the term. “The other person doesn’t get the opportunity to learn from the experience. And that means the helpful behavior is no longer really helpful,” Raichbach says.
You Struggle With Things Just Being Fine
Codependent people tend to be most comfortable in states of hyperarousal, multiple studies suggest. If relationships are only comfortable for you when they’re dramatic, it could be that you’re uncomfortable when your relationship just fine. And that’s often less because you crave conflict and more because drama alleviates that anxiety of having to deal with yourself on a normal, uneventful Tuesday. Indeed, studies suggest that people with a history of trauma are more likely to display codependent behavior. Perhaps because codependency is, if nothing else, a way of running away from yourself.
You’re Defined by Your Relationship
Codependency is so difficult to detect because the sacrifices they make can easily be mistaken for healthy expressions of love. For men, who are historically less prone to commitment, being defined by a significant other seems like a romantic, even noble way to go against the grain. The problem is that holding relationships accountable for your identity doesn’t work and only leads to an exhausting and unhealthy way of connecting with someone you clearly care a lot about. Needing another person that much makes for a good love song, but ultimately a bad relationship.
“Codependency a supportive, but distortive relationship,” Walfish notes. “It’s not a healthy way of relating and each person needs to be an independent, total, complete self.”