Defining a codependent relationship can be quite complex. If one partner is codependent, what does that make of the other person in the relationship? Do both of them have mental issues?
Then too, don’t all relationships have some degree of dependency? Codependency became a buzzword a few years back. Here’s a more precise description of this condition.
What is a codependent relationship?
A central element in a codependent relationship is, it’s dysfunctional and can never be called healthy, as some people are wont to do. The codependent partner is obsessed with fulfilling the other partner’s emotional, social and physical needs, to the point that they neglect their own development and lose their identity.
In a codependent relationship, there’s a giver and a taker, or a manipulator and an enabler. One partner is selfish and the other is selfless. The selfish partner may be suffering from substance addiction, or have personality disorders (narcissistic, abusive.)
The “selfless” person takes it too far, indulging all the partner’s wants and needs, and their actions and plans are focused on the partner’s sense of fulfillment without regard for one’s self. They either unconsciously do it willingly, coming from traumatic childhood experiences, or they are constantly pressured or nagged into doing it until it becomes an integral function within the relationship.
Characteristics of the giver or enabler in a codependent relationship:
They can never say “No.”
Enablers are extremely compliant, giving in all the time and forgetting their own wants, needs, and likes. They are people-pleasers and feel guilty and ashamed of themselves if they put their own interests first.
They change themselves to conform to their partner’s wishes.
In contrast to their selfish partners, enablers in a codependent relationship bend over backward to meet the needs of their spouse, neglecting their own. They take on the passive role, suppressing their own plans, preferences, and needs in favor of what their partner wants. In the long run, this breeds resentment and anger directed towards the self.
Are you codependent? Take this quiz to find out.
They suffer from painful emotions, such as
Chronic anxiety: the codependent measures their self-worth based on their partner’s acceptance. Their actions are all aimed at pleasing the other. Thus, the possibility of being wrong or not meeting up to their partner’s approval makes them anxious.
Fear: making mistakes or not meeting the high standards set by the partner makes the enabler afraid of being judged or rejected.
Resentment: as the relationship continues, the feeling of being trapped follows, leading to resentment, hopelessness, and despair.
They have low self-esteem.
Many enablers have low self-esteem coming from growing up in a dysfunctional family. To compensate, they go out of their way to please their partner, denying their own needs, in order to feel self-worth.
Over time, they become manipulative.
As enablers keep on giving and denying themselves and do not receive appreciation in return, they become resentful and withdraw from others. They indulge in self-pity and become obsessed with the injustice done to them. They begin using their people-pleasing routine to manipulate the other partner to get them to do what they want.
How to resolve a codependent relationship
The longer the codependent relationship has been going on, the worse it becomes and the challenges that hinder its resolution get more difficult to overcome. Since codependency is rooted in childhood, a therapist is preferred to help the couple thresh out deeply ingrained issues and behavioral patterns. To help at home and break the chain of codependency, here are a few tips from mental health counselors and marriage therapists:
According to Deborah Hirchhorn, an enabler in a codependent relationship is often criticized and belittled by the partner to the point that the person begins to believe all the put-downs and negative remarks.
To counter the disparagement, people should keep a record of good performances and achievements, even in small things. The next time they are criticized, they can come up with something to counter the partner’s claim.
Deal with communication issues.
An objective dialogue between the two people should be done without blaming and fault-finding. Lori Hollander, a marriage counselor, suggests talking about your individual needs and creating joint boundaries. The taker must learn listening skills and empathy and the giver must learn how to express their own wants and needs instead of keeping silent.
Develop awareness of your own feelings and needs, and acceptance of your limitations.
When you accept your own imperfections, you don’t feel the need to cater to your partner’s desires at the expense of forgoing your own. You stop being afraid of not being liked all the time. You develop self-compassion and become kinder to yourself, and you slowly fill your life with wonderful emotions.