Updated: Sep 4
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Every time that Megan relapsed back into alcohol addiction, her husband Jim swore up and down that this was the last time he was going to deal with this. The kids were suffering from the tension and chaos her relapses brought upon the whole family. She would become deceptive and manipulative, often hiding bottles around the house and wiping through their savings. But then she would go through a 7-day detox, swear up and down to never do it again, cry, and go to her meetings. He felt guilty, believed she really meant it this time, thinking part of it was his fault, and then take her back.
Anjelica was always the one who had it together in the relationship. Her boyfriend, Sam, was constantly in and out of work, partying, and making poor decisions. Anjelica prided herself on being the one who had her life together. She knew that she had to take care of Sam’s problems, because she was more capable of doing so then he was. Sam wanted to be an independent person, but was struggling with unresolved trauma of being abused as a child, along with other mental health conditions. He knew he was taking advantage of his girlfriend Anjelica, but he couldn’t seem to get out of the relationship.
Megan, Jim, Anjelica and Sam are all in co-dependent relationships. Each of them depends on the other person to either take care of them, or they are in fact, the care-taker. Codependency is a relationship structure where one person enables another person’s poor choices or addictions because the other person retrieves some personal subconscious benefit for doing so. It is not a mental disorder, but rather a relationship structure that happens to many people. There can also be financial co-dependency, where one person withholds or disperses money to another person who is less capable of taking care of oneself, in exchange for some sort of perceived benefit. If you or a loved one has struggled in a co-dependent relationship, here’s what to know.
1. Codependency Involves Making Unnecessary Sacrifices: In a codependent relationship, one person typically finds themselves making excessive sacrifices in order to please or placate another person. In doing so, the person making the sacrifices feels depleted emotionally, but also cannot stop doing the sacrificing. This includes giving out money, accepting destructive behavior even though it is impacting one’s own life, and experiencing abuse. In a healthy relationship, both people should be giving out and receiving on a fairly equal basis, and when sacrifices are made, they are made for the good of the entire family unit or relationship. In co-dependency, sacrifices are only made by one person most of the time, while the other person rarely has to do so.
2.One or both people feel trapped. When engaging in a co-dependent relationship, one or both people feel inherently trapped and see no way out of the dependent structure. The dependent person is afraid to leave because they know that means they will have to take care of oneself. The enabler is afraid that the other person will leave, because they get a subconscious benefit of acting as a nurturer to their significant other. Both people, even the enabler, receive a mutual benefit from the situation, and neither one of them are truly happy. Yet, both of them find they cannot leave the relationship out of fear.
3. It’s Roots Are Usually in Childhood. People enter codependent relationships usually because they saw a codependent relationship structure as a child. Perhaps there was one parent who was the more stable partner, while the other was not able to take care of oneself. Also, those who enter codependent relationships often have low self-esteem. Enablers suffer too from a low self-image because they need to take care of someone else in order to feel “superior” or good about oneself.
There is Hope
Luckily, there is a solution if one finds themselves in a codependent relationship, or sees someone they love struggle in an unhealthy situation. Often, one must choose to leave the relationship and then both parties can individually get therapy. Or in a marriage, if a breakup would be too damaging, there are many opportunities to receive marital counseling and learn independent coping skills that help to break this codependent bond.
Do you or someone you know struggle in a co-dependent relationship? If so, please contact Straight Talk Clinic at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional therapists would be happy to speak with you.