Ask the counselor: How do I know if my partner’s dependency is unhealthy?

—Sam L.*, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Newfoundland and Labrador

Let’s start with the basics of a healthy relationship: You give and you receive. For a time, it can be nice to feel needed, but if this becomes the dominant mode of interacting, you may be more of a caregiver than a romantic partner. Here are some things to keep in mind:

The relationship should feel nourishing, not draining

A healthy relationship won’t be perfect, but overall it should feel affirming, encouraging, and build you up. If you find that you’re giving up things that are important to you because your partner wants or needs your attention, or because they don’t want you engaged in other activities, the relationship may be out of balance.

Partners should never be the sole source of social or emotional support
It’s critical that both partners maintain and invest in other friendships. Early in a relationship, it’s easy to fall into the pattern of isolating and spending all your free time together, but over time this isn’t healthy and tends to create more tension. If a partner wants you to give up other friends, or wants you to be their only source of support, this is a red flag. Create and sustain a social support network in addition to your romantic relationships.

You should not feel pressure to make decisions for your partner

One of the signs of unhealthy dependency is the unwillingness to make decisions for oneself. Becoming a responsible, independent adult involves owning your decisions. It’s normal and totally appropriate to seek input on important life decisions, but you should not feel responsible for what someone else should wear, what classes they should take, or how they should live their life.

You should not feel guilty when with your friends or doing something for yourself

Self-care is important for so many reasons, and having a partner who understands and values taking care of yourself is key. You should also expect and encourage your partner to do the same—sometimes with you, sometimes without you.

You should not feel compelled to stay in the relationship to take care of the other person

Outside of a short-term crisis situation, this is a real concern and one about which you may want to talk with a campus counselor. Sometimes this reflects codependency on your part, and sometimes it’s a sign of intentional or unintentional manipulation by your partner. Either way, something needs to change. Oftentimes, there’s fear that if you leave or pull back, the other person’s life will fall apart.

Finding and maintaining a healthy balance of give-and-take in relationships takes work. Open and honest communication is key to long-term success.

*Name changed