Codependent relationship

In your relationship do you…?

  1. Feel a strong sense of responsibility for the actions of your Partner/Parent/Friend?
  2. Find yourself drawn to relationships where you feel a strong need to rescue, save or help the other person?
  3. Do you carry more than your share of the load, most of the time?
  4. Feel guilty when declaring your thoughts and opinions, even when they are how you truly feel?
  5. Feel you would do anything to hold on to the relationship to avoid feelings of inadequacy and abandonment?
  6. Have problems creating and maintaining healthy boundaries, especially intimate ones?
  7. Make excuses for your Partner/Parent/Friend’s abusive or unhealthy behaviors?
  8. Find yourself overlooking and de-emphasizing your Partner/Parent/Friend’s drug or alcohol problems?
  9. Do you have a difficult time finding fulfillment in your life outside of your relationship with a specific person?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be experiencing a form of relationship addiction known as “Codependency”.

What is Codependency?

Codependency is a term used to describe an unhealthy relationship dynamic characterized by unhealthy degrees of attachment, neediness, and obsessive behaviors. In a codependent relationship, one or both partners find themselves depending on the approval of the other for their own individual measures of self-worth and fulfillment.

Enter Rachel & Andrew

When Rachel met Andrew in University, it was love at first sight. Although they had quite a few classes together, they were majoring in different degree programs, with Rachel pursuing a career as an English teacher, and Andrew prepping in business for a managerial role in his Dad’s car dealership.

Rachel worked part-time at a local bookstore and she loved the quiet hours behind the desk, flipping through new books and chatting with customers about her favorite authors and genres. Andrew spent his weekends working at the car lot, shadowing his Dad and trying to learn the ins and outs of the business.

For the first few months, everything was perfect. Rachel and Andrew would meet early before classes at a café near the University, sipping coffee and having a quick breakfast while reviewing their homework and helping each other set up for the day. They would walk to class with each other, spend their breaks studying, and eat lunch together almost every day.

At first, their friends would join them and they would visit the University pub on free evenings after class. Things were going great, until one day, Andrew’s grades started falling and he flunked a number of important exams, forcing him to pull out of his program for the semester. Andrew’s Dad was irate and fired him from his job at the dealership until his grades and schooling improved. Andrew, usually very casual and moderate with his drinking, fell into a deep depression and started visiting the University pub regularly.

Rachel, in her concern for Andrew, tried to do as much as she could to reassure him and keep him motivated. She offered to help him study during her free time and started spending most of her available evenings with Andrew, trying to help him catch up.

Eventually, she started cutting back her hours at the bookstore and began neglecting her own studies, much to the surprise of her teachers, as she had always been a dedicated and A+ student. She would even bail on plans with her friends, saying she had picked up an extra shift or had homework to finish, when really she was with Andrew.

Andrew’s drinking started to get out of hand. He would show up to their study sessions drunk, would often sneak a drink into the school in his coffee mug, and usually drove himself home afterward. When Rachel protested, saying that his actions were unhealthy, he made a scene and started yelling at her in the library.

Rachel became withdrawn. Her grades fell, and her personal relationships became distant. She began to divert most of her energy and attention away from her own achievements and interests, all in an effort to help Andrew through his difficult time.

Rachel loved Andrew. He was the first boy she really had feelings for and she had hopes for their relationship and what it could lead to when they were both done school. When her parents and friends started questioning her about her change in mood and her falling grades, she denied any issue and simply explained that she was tired and stressed from her classes. When they confronted her about her relationship with Andrew and how he had been treating her lately, she made excuses for him, saying it was normal for what he was going through and that things were fine, really.

The breaking point was when Rachel lost her job at the bookstore. After almost 3 years of working there and being an example employee, her boss let her go after she called in “sick” to work one time too many. The real reason? Andrew needed her.

This was a harsh reality check for Rachel. For the first time in months, she was able to see how her relationship with Andrew had reached an unhealthy state, and how she was giving herself and her goals up in order to help him. After reaching out to a trusted friend who recommended Rachel visit the school’s counselor, Rachel was able to see how her connection with Andrew had developed into an addictive and codependent relationship.

She had to make the hard but necessary choice to put herself and her own happiness first, breaking things off with Andrew, and getting back into her old rhythms. She talked to her old boss at the bookstore and explained everything she had been going through, and how she had made positive changes and improvements and was no longer overly attached to a situation that was dragging her down.

It didn’t take long for her school, her relationships, and her life to improve.

How does a codependent relationship differ from a healthy one?

In healthy relationships, both partners have consideration for the other’s uniqueness and individuality, and each will have the freedom to explore and satisfy their personal needs, desires, and curiosities.  Each person will enjoy the independence that comes from a healthy foundation of trust and security within the relationship. They will endeavor to co-create a mutually beneficial set of standards that both partners consciously and intentionally adhere to.

In codependent relationships, this balance may be affected when one person becomes overly invested in the other person’s satisfaction and happiness and begins to spend a lot of time and energy trying to follow what their partner wants or needs to do.

By diverting energy and awareness away from their own desires and placing their well-being on the backburner, a person may lose touch with their own sense of individual fulfillment and begin to equate their happiness with the sense of reward they feel in seeing their partners’ wants satisfied. These behaviors can develop into destructive patterns where the person affected will place the other’s happiness and prosperity above their own, and by doing so will cause themselves to become even more dependent on the other’s prosperity for validation.

Frequently, a codependent relationship will involve one or both persons suffering from a form of drug or alcohol addiction, or mental health condition. In a well-intentioned effort to care for the other person, the codependent may become a victim of abusive and manipulative behavior and may make excuses for the other person’s emotionally destructive actions.

The Codependency Test

1) Do you find yourself blaming your partner/parent/friend for how you are feeling?

Placing the blame on others for our troubles is a way of externalizing our accountability to ourselves to create our own happiness. By emotionally investing in the idea that our happiness can only come from someone or something outside of ourselves, we give up our sense of integrity and personal power.

It is up to us to find our own way and make ourselves happy first, and by doing so we can be ready to receive, and give, authentic love and connection with others.

2) Do you feel as though the other person must act or behave in a certain way for you to feel loved, or for you to love them?

Unconditional love is a strong foundation in healthy relationships and creates beautiful opportunities for growth and learning. As two individuals come together to share and appreciate what makes them unique and what attracts them to one another, they learn to experience the world through the other’s perceptions and ideas, and in turn have the chance to offer up their own knowledge and values, exploring themselves more deeply.

If you find yourself expecting your partner or friend to act or behave in a certain way, this is a form of conditional love, whereby affection and acceptance are only given if the person lives the way you want them to, or vice versa. If your happiness within the relationship is dependent on the other person being who you want them to be, you may be experiencing codependency.

3) Do you find yourself being overly controlling in the relationship, and get upset when you aren’t able to dictate the outcome of most situations? 

The fear and need of being in control all the time typically comes from a place of insecurity and emotional or psychological injury. A history of abusive or disrespectful relationships, issues with infidelity and betrayal, as well previous childhood and adult traumas can all result in a person feeling an overwhelming need to exert control in any relationship or life situation.

Our lives are always changing. We are all subject to it and no one is immune. Part of the reason why we choose to be with the partner we’re with is because of the interesting changes and newness they brought into our lives by being who they are. Without these quirks and differences, they would not be themselves and we would not love or be drawn to them in the same way.

By allowing the other person, and the relationship, the freedom to expand and change with the inevitable fluctuations of life, we are choosing to work with the freshness of new experiences. In doing so, we allow our partners, and ourselves, the opportunity to expand and experience the fullness of what life has to offer.

4) Do you tend to put the other person first, and focus only on your own happiness when you are sure the other person is satisfied?

If we give only with the intention to satisfy feelings of deficiency and put ourselves last on our list of focus and fulfillment, we are selling ourselves short and creating a pattern that feeds into a lack of self-care and self-love. By always choosing to put another person’s needs, desires and wants above our own and by equating our satisfaction to someone else’s, we risk losing ourselves in the relationship. This loss of independence and personal fulfillment can build feelings of anger and resentment, and over time can contribute to codependency.

5) Do you feel restricted or held back by your commitments to the other person or your relationship? 

Healthy relationships foster freedom and growth for both persons and ideally allow room for both people to explore and uncover new interests, friendships, and experiences. If you feel like your relationship or partner is holding you back from finding out new things about yourself or from discovering new ideas or practices that interest you, it might be necessary to examine how, and why, these restrictions are in place.

6) Are you afraid that you won’t find love or be able to carry on or live without this person in your life?

Most of us have experienced the overwhelming and beautiful feelings of falling in romantic love with someone. Likewise, most of us have gone through heart-wrenching breakups, fallings out with friends or family members, or the passing of loved ones. It is normal to care for and love the people we relate to in our lives. However, if you or your partner displays feelings of extreme attachment or obsession, feeling like you “can’t live or carry on without them”, you may be experiencing a form of codependence.

It is normal to feel sad and a little afraid at the prospect of the other person being absent from your life, but it is important to remember that obsession is not sexy, and that true fulfillment comes from loving yourself first, recognizing your wholeness independently of anyone else, and completing yourself, for yourself, first.

7) Are you giving your efforts to this person and to your relationship in an effort to stave off your own feelings of emptiness, insecurity, and dissatisfaction?

If you are choosing to be or stay in a relationship for fear of being alone, or because you have difficulty confronting some painful emotions like insecurity and anxiety, or personal disappointment, you may want to reevaluate your reasons for your connection. These feelings can be difficult to get to the root of, but just like the addiction to alcohol or drugs, we become addicted to other people to fill voids in our own lives and these infatuations will most often leave us feeling weakened and diminished.

If you are struggling with problematic or painful personal issues, seek guidance from a trusted friend or family member to help you gain some perspective on the things that may be holding you back, and what you can do to start feeling motivated, driven, and like yourself again.  We all deserve the chance to be involved and to excel at life, and if your biggest reason for staying in one place is too painful to deal with on your own, there is no shame in reaching out to others for help.

8) Are you afraid your happiness and personal fulfillment are dependent on the other person’s happiness, and/or their being in your life?

Self-actualization comes from the realization and satisfaction of your own talents and abilities, and being driven to explore and fulfill your potentials to the best of your ability, independently of other people’s ideas, opinions, or influences. We can certainly take pages from other people’s books and try out the things that make them happy as a part of our experience, but ultimately we must learn that being selfish is a part of self-love and that in order to be happy in any relationship, we must learn how to make ourselves happy, by ourselves and for ourselves, first.

If you think you can only be happy by being with another person, or through the satisfaction of someone else in your life, then your own happiness is not your priority, theirs is. It is not your responsibility to make sure the people in your relationships are happy and satisfied, it’s theirs, and if we choose to make the happiness of another our only source, we will be left feeling depleted, dissatisfied, and disconnected from our true source of contentment: ourselves.

What can I do if I think I’m in a codependent relationship?

Seek professional help. Reach out to friends and family and be honest and open about your situation. You are not alone. Alternatively, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association’s website for resources in your local area:

Article provided by Lindsay S. Dunlop.

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