Guest post by Michelle Farris, LMFT
In healthy relationships, people can ask for what they need without making other people responsible for their happiness. Relationships feel close without becoming enmeshed. Boundaries are respected without making other people feel guilty.
In codependent relationships, the lines get blurred. One person becomes the caretaker or rescuer, trying to fix or solve someone else’s problems. This begins the cycle of codependency in relationships.
There may be addiction in the mix, but not always. Codependency can happen in any relationship. It’s common in romantic relationships but can also develop with friends and family members, especially between parents and children. In this article, you will learn how to identify a codependent relationship and what it takes to heal this dysfunctional relationship pattern.
Codependent Relationships are Intense
Codependent relationships feel like an emotional roller coaster. When one person gives “too much”, they often get overwhelmed. This creates stress and anxiety for everyone around them. It’s hard to relax when you’re with someone who can’t slow down and enjoy the moment.
These relationships create an obsessive-like bond. Their primary focus is on helping, fixing, or rescuing others. It becomes their job to manage other people’s lives. These relationships lack the healthy balance of give-and-take that’s required for real intimacy.
While codependent people are “human doings” (as opposed to human beings); nobody knows who they really are – and unfortunately, neither do they.
Barbara is seen as the go-to person for relationship advice. Because her family is constantly fighting, they expect her to resolve things. The stress is now causing her to have migraines.
Signs of a Codependent Relationship
Codependent relationships consist of a dysfunctional relationship pattern based on control, unrealistic expectations and excessively helping others at your own expense.
Some signs of codependent relationships include:
- Giving continuously and obsessively to others which decreases leisure time and self-care.
- Having unrealistic expectations which makes others feel like they don’t measure up.
- Avoiding setting boundaries and saying no, leaving you feeling resentful or overwhelmed.
- Creating an unhealthy imbalance with the codependent feeling superior.
- Attempting to control the other person’s behavior which causes tension.
- Being overly concerned with what other people think which can diminish honesty.
- Hiding true feelings because the person would rather avoid conflict or upsetting others.
- Feeling resentful and taken advantage.
Codependent Relationships Have Control Issues
Codependent people think they have to be in charge of everything. They need to know what’s coming in order to feel safe because, as children, they likely experienced abuse or neglect which made them hypersensitive to conflict.
Their controlling, perfectionistic behavior can leave others feeling like they can’t do anything right.
Mary Ann likes to be “in charge” and is the first to volunteer at church. This has caused some tension with other church members because she expects them to follow her orders. And she sees only one right way to do things. People are starting to complain.
Codependents Struggle with Self-care
Practicing self-care makes codependent people feel guilty. They keep themselves excessively busy and spend their energy worrying about others. And because they don’t want to upset others, they rarely communicate their needs or ask for anything directly.
Codependent people become so absorbed in the lives of others that they no longer know what it takes for them to be happy. They hate making mistakes and struggle with perfectionism.
By trying to improve other people’s lives, they neglect their own. Codependent people don’t know what they like because they are laser-focused on what others want. This is the hallmark of codependency.
Because self-care is difficult, codependents have unrealistic expectations in relationships. They expect others to give as much as they’ve received. This expectation starts the codependent cycle: giving to others, silently hoping their needs will be met only to be disappointed again. This plummets them into despair and anger.
Alicia’s family is constantly asking her to watch their children even though she works full-time. She doesn’t know how to say “no” to them even though she no longer has time to get to the gym or do anything for fun. She struggles with depression and feels like she’s losing herself.
Codependent Relationships Mean You Complete Me
People struggling with codependency need others’ approval in order to feel good about themselves. Pleasing others becomes their primary source of validation. They will go to great lengths – including ignoring their own values – to get the love they crave.
Codependent people become totally dependent on their relationships. Personal needs are ignored because they are uncomfortable asking for help. Not wanting to upset others becomes a primary motivation.
Mark is a quiet, easy-going guy. He tends to get into relationships with women who take advantage of him financially. Because he doesn’t want to be alone, he never says anything even though he’s now having money problems.
The Codependent-Alcoholic Relationship
The relationship between an addict/alcoholic and the enabler is the most common type of codependent relationship. Trying to get them sober or minimize the addict’s suffering turns into an obsession. The alcoholic becomes the “identified patient”, while the codependent tries to control the alcoholic’s behavior.
Codependents think that the solution is to get the alcoholic sober but getting into codependency recovery is what truly helps codependents end their pattern of enabling, worrying, obsessive, and self-sacrificing.
Antonio worries constantly about his wife’s drinking. He hides her keys and pours out her alcohol, so she doesn’t drink and drive.
Practical Tips for Healing Codependent Relationships
- Start putting your needs first, then identify what you can give.
- Be honest about what you need rather than minimizing what’s important to you.
- Notice when you want to give advice, and instead wait until you’re asked!
- Practice saying “no” – even if it’s uncomfortable. It’s okay to be human and ask for support or do what’s right for you.
- Redirect the focus off of what others need and put that energy into yourself.
Starting Codependency Recovery
Codependency recovery starts by admitting that you are powerlessness over others. Finding a balance between self-care and helping others is a major goal. Attending Al-Anon, the 12-step program for friends and families of alcoholics, or Codependents Anonymous can provide the road map. It’s a free support group and mentorship that helps to heal codependent patterns.
Codependent relationships take time to unlearn but getting the right support makes the process less daunting. Whether it’s attending an Al-Anon meeting or seeking therapy, codependency recovery cannot be done in isolation. Hope is restored when you reach out to others — and that can change everything.
About the author:
Michelle Farris is a marriage and family therapist who specializes in codependency and anger management. She believes in “walking her talk” and shows others how to make small but significant changes in their relationships. She writes a weekly blog and offers online courses on relationships, anger, and codependency. Her latest course, Happy, Healthy Relationships, covers what it takes to build healthy relationships. Be sure to sign-up for Michelle’s free email course: Catching Anger Before It Hurts.
©2019 Michelle Farris, LMFT. All rights reserved.
Photo by Kalisa Veer on Unsplash.com.