“Codependency in relationships” is the psychological term; this help for codependent relationships is simple and clear. Learn what codependency is (including the signs of a codependent relationship), plus real examples from readers’ comments.
“I think our marriage is codependent but does that mean I should leave my husband,” says Sherry on 8 Signs He Doesn’t Love You the Way You Need to be Loved. “How do I know if I should stay? 16 years together. As long as I don’t expect intimacy, physical hugs, kisses, etc I don’t think too much about it. I allow him to act this way, is that a sign of codependency in a relationship? It seems like everyday he is tired after work. Then on the weekends he plays golf for hours, watches tennis, golf, and football. I’m consider last on his list of priorities. I’m independent and do things on my own, so it’s not a problem, which is why I wonder if we are codependent. I feel like in many ways we are roommates with occasional benefits. Is this a marriage problem worth leaving my husband for?”
I have two immediate answers for Sherry’s question:
- Nobody can (or should) tell her if she should leave her husband. Only she can decide whether or not she should stay in her marriage.
- It doesn’t matter what you call it – “codependent marriage” or not. What matters is how emotionally and spiritually healthy you are independently and together as a couple.
Codependency occurs when you and your husband depend on each other in unhealthy ways. Below, I offer help for couples in codependent relationships, including signs of codependency and hope for the future! For without hope, what have we?
The biggest sign of codependency in a relationship is when two people depend on each other in unhealthy ways. Codependent partners feed each other’s sickness and support each other’s unhealthy patterns of relating and communicating.
Here’s what one reader says about ending codependency in a relationship – she tells us what she wishes she knew 40 years ago: “Our culture and the media often portray a woman needing a man to take care of her and/or her children,” says Dee. “We get sucked into that and it’s just not true. Every man is not a good man and even a good man can be a horrible husband. Be smart. Respect yourself and stay pure. I wish someone would have given me that advise when I was growing up. It’s never too late to start over. I’m almost 50. It’s time I give myself a great life! I hope you do the same.”
What Are Codependent Relationships?
Codependency is a relationship pattern. It’s a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. The tendency towards a codependent relationship is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have healthy, mutually satisfying relationships.
Codependency is also known as “relationship addiction” because people who tend to be codependent often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. The disorder was first identified about ten years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics.
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How is this relationship pattern (or disorder) developed? Often, codependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behavior. If your parents had a codependent marriage or parenting style, for example, you may be more likely to be lean towards codependency in your own relationships.
Signs of codependency in a relationship:
- An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
- A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
- A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time
- A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
- An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the feeling of abandonment
- An extreme need for approval and recognition
- A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
- A compelling need to control others
- Lack of trust in self and/or others
- Fear of being abandoned or alone
- Difficulty identifying feelings
- Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
- Problems with intimacy/boundaries
- Chronic anger
- Poor communications
- Difficulty making decisions
The above signs of codependency and description of a codependent relationship are from Codependency on the Mental Health America website.
If you’re in a codependent relationship, you may feel trapped by your own fear and insecurity. If you know you need to leave, read How to End a Relationship When You’re Scared to Be Alone.
5 Steps to Healing a Codependent Relationship
You don’t necessarily need to end a codependent relationship! Unless, of course, your husband is abusive or violent. But if he’s willing to see and accept his contribution to the codependency – and if he’s willing to try to make changes in his life – then you can rebuild your relationship. Sometimes couples go through unhealthy stages of love, but are able to identify unhealthy relationship patterns, join together, and build a better marriage.
This help for codependent relationships was originally inspired by Dee. She tried to rebuilf her marriage with her husband, but ended up leaving him.
“It’s been six weeks and one day of freedom for me and my kids,” says Dee on Emotional Disconnection in Marriage. “There is peace and love flowing through the house. We all have jobs and we work together as a team. The changes in the kids, especially my 15 yr old daughter are beautiful. I did the right thing.”
Is peace and love isn’t flow through your house? You won’t be able to feel it every minute, but I hope you experience an undercurrent of love, joy, and freedom in your home. It starts with you – for you are the only person you can change. Learn how to connect to a divine source of power, love, strength, and hope.
1. Think about who you are outside your marriage
“I started a new job last week that is very demanding,” says Dee. “There is possibility of becoming the manager in three months. It’s an exciting, challenging and demanding job. One I couldn’t have taken or succeeded in if I were still living with my husband.”
In a codependent relationship, your husband tends to hold you back, keep you down, and not see you blossom. He may not be doing it on purpose – he may not even be aware of codependent relationship patterns! But you are. Something is telling you to search for and learn about codependency, which means you’re aware and awake. You can take positive steps forward to changing how you think, feel, and act in your marriage and life.
2. Learn how anger contributes to a codependent relationship
Dee suspected her husband was deeply angry and jealous of her, which is why he couldn’t enjoy anything with her. “I brought out in him the places where he wasn’t successful,” she said. “I believe that now. It’s a very sad thought. It means he was extremely insecure. His rights, rules, time and schedule always came first. People rarely mattered, especially his family. That is very unhealthy.”
If your husband is angry or your marriage is abusive, read Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. Learn how and why men become violent, and how it affects your relationship patterns.
3. Take breaks from each other
“Get out for walks with the kids, go to the beach, the park,” advises Dee, who learned how to heal her codependent patterns of relating. “If your husband wants to go with you sometimes, let him! Get out together, but make sure you spend time apart. Enjoy the beauty around you; the laughter of others. Play with your kids. Think of five things you can appreciate everyday.”
She also encourages women not to let their partners inside their heads. “That space is one you do have control of,” she says. “Take nothing he says personally, then it won’t hurt so much. See it for what it is…HIS issue.”
Often, getting help for codependent relationships includes learning about addictive relationships.
You need to figure out where you start, where he ends, and whether you can stop being co dependent with him. And if you start to believe the lies he tells you, call the 1-800 number of a shelter, get a counselor and find a way to get out of the house. Even if you volunteer once a week or join an exercise group, you need to take a break from the codependency in your relationship.
4. Learn why you’re in a codependent relationship
Dee encourages women to get counseling or read books about codependency. Learn what makes you fall for this relationship pattern, and how you can stop the cycle from happening over and over. She also encourages women to keep their minds, hearts and thoughts pure. Don’t be mean, hurtful or vengeful. Just detach lovingly! This, she says, is one of the tips on ending codependency from the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie (which I link to at the end of this article).
“I am in stage 4 of the cycle of leaving an abusive relationship,” says Dee. “When I was out of the house for two weeks, I really hoped to hear from him for a few days. I had to explore what it was in me that kept being drawn back to him. It turns out I have an approval addiction….but I can’t afford to care about what he thinks, says or believes about me. That will suck me back in.”
5. Find unconditional support and love
“My girlfriends love and accept me unconditionally, and that’s more than I have ever gotten from a man,” she says. “I can even get a hug from one of them when I need it. This has changed my life radically.”
Dee says she still wants to be part of a couple; she always wanted to be married. “But I didn’t marry for love. I’m still trying to figure out why I married my husband.” She was married three times, and is fine with spending the rest of her life alone. She wants to enjoy her life and her kids – without being trapped in codependent relationships. “I mourned my dream of a happy and exciting relationship with a husband,” she says. “I think it’s better to stay alone until your kids and his are out of the house, because second marriages and step families are hard.”
If you don’t know much about codependent relationships, read Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. I love her books – they’re both practical and inspirational.
“Is someone else’s problem your problem?” asks Beattie. “If, like so many others, you’ve lost sight of your own life in the drama of tending to someone else’s, you may be in a codependent relationship.”
It’s time to fix codependent relationships when they stop you from living the life you always wanted. If you’re worried about your life after the breakup, read How to Let Go of Someone You Love.
If you need help with codependency in a relationship, it’s important to talk to someone in person. I welcome your comments below, but I can’t offer advice – or any type of relationship help or counseling. You may find it helpful to share your experience, though. Writing can help you process your thoughts and deal with your emotions. Writing is therapeutic and healing – and writing in a comments section can help other women feel not so alone. Your experience can help other women cope with a codependent relationship.