A codependent relationship is a type of maladjusted relationship where one person is excessively reliant on the other and often helps support the other’s dysfunction. Dysfunctional behaviors could include underachievement, irresponsible or immature behaviors, procrastination, substance abuse or poor mental or physical health.
The person who provides assistance enables the dysfunction by:
- Rescuing the other from self-created situations
- Taking on the negative consequences of the other’s behavior or sheltering them from repercussions
- Allowing unhealthy or irresponsible behaviors
- Taking care of the other in ways that inhibit the other from maintaining normal capabilities
Codependent relationships are unbalanced relationships that can survive for long stretches of time. In the end, it’s hard to sustain a codependent relationship because the enabler is consumed physically, emotionally or financially to the point of exhaustion. Bitterness, stress and resentment also make codependent relationships hard to sustain.
Signs of a Codependent Relationship
Codependent relationships are intimate, familiar relationships where love is shown within the context of the other’s troubles and the helper coming to the rescue. The helper shows love by giving assistance and the other feels loved when assistance is received. This relationship dynamic deepens emotional connections and feelings of intimacy.
In a codependent relationship, the helper’s emotional entanglement with the other causes deep feelings regarding the other’s struggles. The helper feels guilty about imposing or enforcing any limits or ending the relationship. This guilt influences the helper to lessen the other’s suffering by continuing to help.1
Are You in a Codependent Relationship?
The following questions can help determine if your relationship involves codependency:2
- Does making sacrifices to please the other give you a sense of purpose?
- Do you find it hard to say no when the other demands your time/energy/resources?
- Do you cover for the other’s drug or alcohol abuse or legal problems?
- Do you always worry about what the other’s opinion of you is?
- Do you feel trapped in the relationship?
- Do you keep silent to avoid conflicts?
If you’ve answered yes to one or more of these questions, it may be time to seek counseling for codependency.
Codependency treatment involves exploring early childhood experiences and how they are connected to enabling behavior patterns. Exploring feelings of anger, loss and hurt allows individuals to reconstruct more appropriate and functional relationships.
Professional counseling is beneficial, as enabling behavior patterns are usually deeply rooted and hard to change on your own. As you attend counseling sessions, you’ll learn to put your needs and desires front and center. Your self-esteem levels will rise as you learn that loving yourself isn’t selfish, it’s healthy. You’ll be more willing to reject abusive behavior. Your self-respect will improve because you aren’t allowing someone to be abusive or hurtful to you any longer. Enabling behavior is identified and stopped.
After working to minimize traits of codependency, you’ll no longer feel a need to remain in an unhealthy, dysfunctional relationship filled with pain. You’ll also know that you’re only responsible for your own happiness and not anyone else’s. You’ll become free from guilt and be able to walk away from the relationship, if that is what’s best for you.