Codependency is one of those words that is thrown around so often and in so many contexts these days that it seems to mean everything and nothing at all. We know codependent relationships are dysfunctional, but it seems that “codependent” has now become a synonym for “unhealthy relationship.” There are lots of kinds of unhealthy relationships, and codependency is one of them.
In a healthy relationship, both people depend on each other. That mutual dependence makes both people person feel safe, and that sense of security nurtures their resourcefulness and resilience. Since your partner is dependable, you can be more fearless, more self-sufficient. They celebrate the strength and independence in you, and you celebrate it in them.
In a codependent relationship, two people surrender their independence and instead develop an unhealthy dependence on each other that doesn’t allow either person to grow. One partner is unhealthily obsessed with the needs of the other partner, to the point of ignoring their own needs. Codependents look outside their true and authentic self to find happiness and fulfillment, believing it can never come from within.
Codependents lose themselves in the life of another person. They attach their core being to their codependent relationship. They depend on getting approval from their partner for their very identity. They derive their sense of purpose from making sacrifices to fulfill the needs of another. Sadly, that means they are looking to find happiness and fulfillment by propping up someone else—someone who is not propping them up. And that’s a recipe for disappointment.
Codependency can cause some people to become marriage and relationship junkies, but not all codependents are marriage addicts. Codependency can be a part of any relationship—even siblings, coworkers, parents, children, and friends.
When marriage junkies are in a codependent relationship, they are enmeshed and obsessed with taking care of a spouse or significant other. This obsession stems from their frantic need to be in a relationship and a constant fear of not being able to control the relationship. Making the other person totally dependent on them creates the illusion that they are in control: This person can never leave me, because I do everything for them and they’d fall apart if they left.
You know you are in a codependent relationship when you constantly feel insecure and a desperate need for certainty. You are filled with fear you will be abandoned, rejected, or the relationship won’t last. You are hyper-vigilant for signs your relationship is in trouble. You somehow believe that by sacrificing everything for your partner, you can control the relationship.
The goal is to make someone so dependent on you that they will never be able to leave. But this leads to an inauthentic relationship in which neither person is truly nurtured and nobody gets what they really need. Codependent may feel stable in the moment, but it’s not where true security lies.
If you think this describes you, there is an organization called Codependents Anonymous (CoDA.org) that may be helpful.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Radio Host, Certified Transformation Coach and author of the award winning book The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery and Ecourse. You can take her quiz to find out if you are co-dependent or sign up for a 30 minute strategy session with Sherry. Check out Sherry’s new book The Marriage and Relationship Junkie: Kicking Your Obsession.