Substance abuse can tear relationships apart through trust issues and volatile behavior, but the contrary can be almost as bad: codependency. The term “codependent” is frequently tied to unhealthy relationships, but that isn’t necessarily the case. An unchecked codependent relationship, however, while ultimately loving, caring, and supportive in some ways can be seriously detrimental to a relationship, especially when addiction is involved. Let’s unpack what it means to be codependent and how it might differ in healthiness based on the situation.
What is Codependency
Codependency is a behavioral condition in which one member of a relationship requires more attention and support than the other. It often breeds toxic, one-sided relationships in families, friends, and romantic relationships. The aspect of a codependent relationship that is unhealthy comes from the intentions and actions of the codependent. Codependent parties thrive on being needed by their partner, often at their own expense; this means that they will often go great lengths to maintain their control over the relationship, even if it stunts their partner’s growth and healing. Codependent relationships aren’t all unhealthy though. A codependent who is supportive of their partner and thrives off helping them grow can be a positive influence on the relationship. The only way that this can remain healthy is through communication and strong boundaries.
Harmful Codependent Relationships
A codependent relationship requires one partner to need more attention and support than the other. They enjoy making sacrifices at their own expense for the good of their partner, which may sound caring, but in many cases, it is not. These destructive codependent relationships can come in many varieties. Not only can they form in romantic relationships, but also friendships and families. For example, children may become the caretakers for parents who are absent or struggling with an addiction. They learn how to fend for themselves and provide for their parents. In codependent relationships, the codependent party often protects the other partner from facing the natural consequences of their actions, which only enables their harmful behaviors even further. By making excuses for them, the codependent person is preventing them from realizing that something is wrong.
Codependency is not specific to relationships with addiction, but most cases are. Addiction makes people vulnerable and easy to be manipulated. Codependent parties enjoy the martyrdom associated with being an extreme caretaker for the partner suffering from addiction. Unfortunately, this kind of behavior enables the addiction because the codependent party will do anything to continue feeling needed. Maintaining the addiction’s destructive behaviors becomes paramount to ending substance abuse and healing. Codependent parties with influence over their significant other can foster negative effects within the relationship, which can lead to both members facing risks.
Codependent relationships are risky for those struggling with addiction because of the power dynamic. Since there is often a manipulator/manipulated connection between the two related parties, there are many risks involved. For the codependent, the risks include:
- Developing an addiction
- Isolation from the outside world
- Neglecting their own needs and self-care
- Being taken advantage of by their partner
As a vulnerable, and easily influenced party, the addicted member of a codependent relationship also faces risks. These include:
- Being easily enabled
- Partner encouragement of addiction
- Addiction holds the relationship together
- Post-treatment relapse after returning to the relationship
- Never facing the consequences of their actions
Are You in a Codependent Relationship?
Codependent partners can sometimes be identified through behavioral traits that are detrimental and inhibiting the progress and healing of themselves and their addicted partner. Often a codependent party will show signs of:
- Low self-esteem
- Fear of change
- Excessive caretaking
- Guilt when being assertive
- A fear of abandonment
- Cleaning up after their partner’s addiction
- Furthering the addiction financially
- Unhealthy or absent boundaries
- Controlling behavior
- Obsession with the relationship
- Making excuses for their partner’s actions
- Confusion about the difference between love and pity
- Being attracted to people they can rescue
- Needing recognition and approval
Get Some Help
The best way to effectively combat a harmful codependent relationship is to overcome addiction through treatment. Unpacking the struggles tied to the codependency of the relationship in group therapy can help improve the dynamics. Otherwise, individual therapy and support groups can help someone suffering from addiction climb out of a codependent relationship with someone whose intentions are to cause a relapse for their own gain. Effectiveness of treatment and therapy is on a case-by-case basis, especially when there is a codependent relationship involved. If you or a friend or family member is struggling with addiction or codependency, the best thing you can do is support them on a path to treatment.
Save Your Relationship
At Oregon Trail Recovery, we provide ethical, accessible, and effective treatment to those suffering from addiction. Our 6-month intensive outpatient program provides high-quality resources that can foster long-term recovery. We will help the addicted learn to cope with daily stressors and codependent relationship struggles to give them the tools they need to prevent falling into old, destructive habits. Individual and group counseling sessions are available to all patients and will strengthen the foundation that we build together at OTR.