Call us today
A person who is codependent experiences emotional dependency on a relationship where they feel needed. This typically occurs with a spouse or romantic partner, but codependency can also involve children, parents, or other family members.
The concept of codependency developed around women who supported husbands with alcohol use disorder. These women enabled their spouses to continue drinking by making excuses for their behavior, protecting children or friends from their husband while he was drunk, saving household finances, and shielding their husbands from other repercussions of their substance abuse. While the psychological concept has since been applied to a wider range of relationships, the original relationship model is still one of the most common: One person, who needs to feel depended on to feel loved, supports a person who struggles, often with an addiction of some kind.
The signs of codependency include:
People who are codependent in relationships may develop clinginess and lose self-sufficiency or autonomy.
Other signs to look for in a codependent relationship include:
The best treatment for codependency for both parties is psychotherapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or other kinds of therapy focused on understanding behaviors and changing reactions to lead to positive outcomes, helps the person who struggles with codependency, their relationships, and the people in those relationships with the codependent person. Couples therapy helps people in codependent marriages or intimate partnerships. Family therapy can help reduce the impact of codependency among parents, children, and extended family.
Other steps, which will likely be brought up as exercises in therapy sessions, include:
If anyone in the codependent relationship struggles with substance abuse, it will be imperative to get treatment for this condition along with treatment for codependency.
A person working to overcome substance abuse needs support from friends and family; however, it is vital that this support involve boundaries in order to reduce the risk of relapse. People who struggle with enabling or codependency are not able to appropriately moderate their emotions and boundaries, and this can be detrimental to the recovery process.
People who struggle with codependency in relationship with a person who struggles with addiction may feel loved if they help the person get drugs or alcohol; they may get a sense of reward for helping their partner through serious intoxication when the person cannot fend for themselves; they may moderate their partner’s triggering or abusive behaviors by giving them a little too much of an intoxicant. In some cases, people who develop codependent behaviors grew up in a household with a parent who struggled with addiction, so they are used to the process of caring for a person while they are intoxicated and finding other ways to control their lives.
Codependency is harmful to the person who struggles with it, and it is a hard behavior to change without help. When a person struggling with substance abuse seeks help, this changes larger relationship patterns, and people who struggle with codependency may not be willing or able to change these patterns, as they feel unsafe or unloved.
Some approaches to codependency treatment involve four steps, called the Four A’s:
Reaching out to get help is one of the toughest steps for people struggling with codependency; they are used to people needing them, not vice versa. However, help from therapists and the support of loved ones are very important to recovering from codependency and changing relationships for the better.
Codependent relationships can be changed, and they do not have to be ended; however, this work requires both parties getting help. In some cases, this may also involve one or all people in the relationship entering treatment for substance abuse.