If you believe the song lyrics, soap operas, and romantic movies, loving another person more than you love yourself -- or life itself -- is enviable, even desirable. But what that sentiment actually refers to is codependency.

Codependency is defined as a relationship in which one person (sometimes both) loves the other to such a degree that s/he excludes his/her own needs, wants, and desires.

“A small amount of codependency is normal,” explains Tracy Prout, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, New York, and a therapist in private practice in Manhattan.

“Sacrificing your own needs in moderation, or temporarily, can be good for a relationship.” It’s when you are totally out of touch with your own needs and feel that your partner "completes" you that your behavior can imply something unsettling: that you're not okay on your own.

Read on to learn what you need to know about codependent relationships, how to figure out if you need help and where to find it.

How Do You Become Codependent?

No one just wakes up one day, looks at her partner and thinks that his happiness is more important than her own. Not surprisingly, in many cases, codependency has its roots in childhood. “Research suggests that codependents have a history of neglect,” says Dr. Prout.

“Being abandoned as a child is not necessarily a direct cause, but it does seem to be connected.” Adds Edythe Denkin, PhD, certified marriage counselor and author of Relationship Magic,

“When your feelings have been discounted all your life, you end up choosing a partner who will discount your feelings without even being aware of it.” You may be at risk of landing in a codependent relationship if you grew up with parents who:

  • neglected or ignored you
  • were self-centered and/or narcissistic
  • were substance abusers or addicts
  • were clinically depressed
  • were so controlling of everything you did that your own desires and feelings didn’t seem to matter. More
10 Signs of Codependency (MORE)