The term "codependency" was originally coined to describe a type of romantic relationship experienced between addicts and their significant others. Nowadays, however, the term can also refer to romantic partners who are dependent upon each other in unhealthy ways. These patterns can occur even in long-term relationships and marriages that are otherwise stable.
Persistent clinginess or separation anxiety is a sign of codependency. If one or both partners are unable to tolerate the absence of the other, this is a sign of an unhealthy lack of ability to be emotionally self-sufficient. This pattern of clinging is related to what therapists call an "anxious attachment style." People who are anxiously attached desire intimacy but are fearful about real emotional vulnerability, causing them to rely heavily upon physical closeness and togetherness.
A merged identity is what happens when one or both partners consider themselves to be part of a couple first and individuals second. Merged individuals have a low tolerance for differences and conflict in their opinions, interests and personalities and thus, suppress their differences to create an illusion of compatibility through sameness. Examples of merged couple behavior may include an unwillingness to engage in social and recreational activities separately or being more likely to make "we" statements about opinions and beliefs than "I" statements.
Enabling is an unhealthy form of caretaking where one partner encourages and assists with unhealthy coping mechanisms in the other partner. This can include enabling addiction, but it might also include trying to shield the other partner from all forms of unpleasant emotion and challenging situations. Enabling partners do this because they fear the emotional conflict and fallout that could come along with their partner being forced to deal with unhealthy habits and personal problems.
Weak Outside Relationships
In codependency, relationships outside the romantic partnership are often weak or even nonexistent as codependents cling to their partners and try to make the romantic relationship serve all their emotional needs. This is a form of unhealthy neediness, as opposed to a more mature approach, in which individuals know how to seek emotional fulfillment and support from multiple, capable sources.
Emotional Awareness and Self-Esteem
"If you are feeling codependent or think that you may have an anxious attachment style, then you may have some trouble getting in touch with what you are feeling, because you may be overly wrapped up and concerned with how your partner is feeling," writes therapist Jeff Guenther on his website. Codependent partners suffer from low self-esteem, causing them to be more focused on filling their partner's needs than knowing and satisfying their own, according to Guenther.