Understanding Codependency and How It Affects Relationships

Legal Lotus-Miami Family and Trial Lawyers

Codependency is a term we hear a lot, but it is somewhat enveloped in mystery. It is used to denote neediness and dependency on another person. But what exactly is codependency?

There is much more to this term than everyday clinginess. Codependent relationships are far more excessive than that. Someone who is codependent will center his or her entire existence around someone else. That “someone else” is usually aware of the problem and will frequently encourage the behavior. He or she is called an enabler. Simply stated, the codependent partner desperately needs the other person; his or her entire self-worth is dependent on the partner. At the same time, the partner desperately needs to bask in the knowledge of being at the center of someone else’s life.

Facts About Codependency

Codependency can happen between any two people. All too frequently, it can involve emotional and/or physical abuse. These are complex relationships often requiring the help of a mental health specialist.

The Difference Between Codependence and Dependence

One basic truth about codependent relationships is that they are not equal. In codependency, one person’s needs must be met by the partner, whose needs are entirely unimportant. Only the satisfaction of one partner counts. The other has a duty to satisfy – whether emotionally, sexually, or in other ways. He or she gains a sense of self-worth solely by being needed by the partner.

In a dependent relationship, both partners depend on the other for support, love, and understanding. The relationship provides value to both parties. They enjoy their relationship and being with each other, but will have other friends and interests, as well.

As a rule, a codependent person has no other friends, and his or her partner will frequently go so far as to forbid it. Conversely, the partner has little knowledge of the workings of an equal relationship because of his or her own dependence on the partner’s neediness.

Understand that unquestioning support for your partner is not codependence.

What are the Symptoms of Codependency?

An outsider may see a codependent person and merely interpret it as someone who is extremely devoted to someone else. However, the relationship is far more toxic than that.

  1. A codependent person has no source of enjoyment or satisfaction other than pleasing his or her partner.
  2. He or she will remain in the relationship despite obvious emotional, verbal, or physical abuse.
  3. There is almost nothing the codependent person won’t do to satisfy his or her partner.
  4. He or she will feel chronic anxiety over whether they are doing enough to satisfy the partner and keeping the partner happy.
  5. A codependent person experiences guilt about having a personal need.
  6. For someone who is codependent, separation from the partner is almost unthinkable since his or her entire existence and identity are dependent on the partner.
  7. Frequently co-dependencies will involve someone with an addiction and his or her enabler.

How Do Codependent Relationships Happen?

There is no one simple cause, of course. However, bad parental relationships are frequently at the root of the problem. When parents suffer from some form of addiction and prioritize their own needs over their children, these children can easily turn into codependent adults. They learn at a young age that their needs do not matter. Instead, they frequently are made to feel responsible for taking care of the parents’ needs.

Another way a person can turn codependent is by having to care for someone who is chronically ill. Again, the caregiver is unable to have his or her needs met while having to satisfy the desires of an ill loved one.

A third way to become codependent is to be raised by emotionally or sexually abusive adults. An abused child knows its needs to not matter. All that counts is satisfying the desires of the abuser. As adults, children of abusive parents may readily turn to partners who “need” them to continue a familiar pattern of behavior.

How is Codependency Treated?

Therapy, both group and individual, can provide an invaluable tool for the codependent individual to examine his or her fears and behavior. Change rarely opens overnight. Each day can provide an opportunity to take another step toward greater independence. The journey can be long or short, but it will eventually lead to healthier behavior. This can involve finding activities and friends that do not involve their partner.

The enabling partner would also benefit from therapy to learn why he or she needs to have someone utterly dependent on them.

What Are Healthy Relationships?

Healthy relationships happen between two people who are there for each other, provide comfort to each other, and care for each other. Neither partner takes priority. Both partners and their needs matter equally. However, during a rough patch, one partner may need extra comfort for a short period of time. To repeat, this involves comfort and caring, not codependency.

Partners in a healthy relationship set boundaries and know when to say, “no.” They voice their needs freely without fear.

They love their partner but know the value and need for self-love and self-care.

Codependency Divorce Drama

Codependent relationships usually thrive on high drama. This drama invariably finds its way into the divorce process of a codependent couple. The relationship was dysfunctional, to begin with, with one party being subservient and the partner feeding on that subservience. It is not a relationship of equals. One partner is the giver; the other party is the taker.

It is not surprising that these types of marriages end up in divorce court. They rely on the daily drama to sustain the relationship. There may even be a certain satisfaction in the drama. But it cannot be sustained.

Eventually, there is only so much physical, verbal, psychological, or sexual abuse that a person can take. If both parties are unable to set needed boundaries, the abuse will end in divorce court.


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