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What Is Dependent Personality Disorder (and Can It Ruin Your Relationship)?

There is endless advice out there on what to avoid to keep your relationship strong. You’re supposed to learn each other’s love languages; communicate openly about finances and sex; and seek counseling when necessary—and those are just some of all the things you are expected to do without risking a breakup. Relationships are work. Some elements of a good relationship, though, are out of your conscious control. For instance, you could have a…

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There is no shortage of recommendations for things to avoid if you want to keep your relationship strong. To avoid breaking up, you and your partner should do things like learn each other’s “love languages,” have honest conversations about money and sex, and attend couples counseling when necessary. Building and maintaining connections takes effort. However, there are aspects of a healthy relationship that are beyond your control. You might, for instance, suffer from a personality disorder that has a significant bearing on the quality of your marriage. We’ve covered the effects of narcissistic and borderline personality disorders on relationships, so now let’s examine dependent personality disorder and how it can impact yours.

For those who are curious, here is a definition of dependent personality disorder:

Cleveland Clinic’s explanation of DPD is as follows:

As a form of anxiety disorder, dependent personality disorder (DPD) is characterized by a person’s over-reliance on other people. Patients with DPD frequently report feelings of helplessness, submission, or inability to care for themselves. It’s possible that they have trouble determining even the most obvious options.

This might simply sound like a “clingy” or “needy” person (which you shouldn’t actually ever call a partner), but it’s deeper than that—and the Cleveland Clinic notes that with help, a person who has DPD can learn more self-confidence and self-reliance.

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DPD is one of 10 types of personality disorders, and it starts during childhood or at least by the age of 29. Someone with this disorder has a deep need to be taken care of by others, relying on those close to them for emotional needs and even physical needs. Perhaps they will come to think that they are unable to care for themselves.

What effect does DPD have on interpersonal bonds?

As just one example, a person with DPD may be so unable or unwilling to make choices for themselves that they need others to determine even the clothes they wear each day. What one person wears, what one person eats, and what one person does with their free time is trivial compared to the larger decisions that one person will have to make for the other in a romantic partnership, where both people are expected to care for each other, manage finances, take care of a home or children, and generally act as a unit.

Additionally, experts believe those who have experienced childhood trauma or abusive relationships are at a higher risk for developing DPD. Those have a significant impact on future relationships, but it can be difficult to help a partner work through issues related to abuse or trauma if they also refuse to take responsibility for their actions or make their own decisions.

While this disorder can be very harmful for the person who suffers from it, it can be very frustrating for the partner who does not have DPD. In a recent article for Psychology Today, Dr. Suzanne Degges-White described DPD as follows: “They crave affection so desperately that they are willing to yield to the desires of significant others on everything from the mundane to the monumental.” What to wear, what to do, what to eat, where to live, and how one spends one’s time each day are all up for grabs.

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A person with DPD is especially vulnerable to unhealthy behavior when in the company of a controlling partner. It has been noted by the Cleveland Clinic that people with this disorder may be more likely to maintain toxic relationships.

A guide for those who worry they or their partner may have borderline personality disorder

It’s possible that you or your partner suffers from DPD if you or they are so “needy” or clingy that one person’s decision-making is completely halted and the other party feels like they are making every single choice in your and their lives.

A healthcare provider can examine you to conclude if any other condition is causing the symptoms, but a mental health professional steps in after that to make a DPD diagnosis by asking some questions and comparing your answers to factors in the DSM-5. You’ll need five of these diagnostic criteria for a diagnosis:

Agoraphobia is an extreme and irrational anxiety about being left alone.

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Anxiety or helplessness when alone Inability to take care of tasks without assistance

Problems with expressing an opinion

Desire to please others at all costs; difficulty making decisions even when faced with few alternatives; difficulty getting started on or finishing projects due to a lack of self-confidence or inability to make choices

The need to immediately replace a lost loved one with someone new

Clingy behavior is often attributed to a person’s attachment style, but if it’s actually DPD, it’s important to recognize the problem and seek treatment.

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