You know that your spouse has a problem and needs your help and support. And you have always prided yourself on being there for him. But now you have come to realize that maybe this isn’t a good thing. Maybe you have become dependent on his need of you?
Codependence just used to refer to those linked to alcoholism or drug abuse sufferers. However, today’s psychologists have a broader definition. “It really is about unhealthy emotional people can be obsessed with the pain and suffering of the other person dependencies,” says Carol Cannon, MA, a counselor and program director at The Bridge to Recovery in Bowling Green, Ky.
Six signs you are in a codependent relationship
So are you a codependent? How can you tell? Here are six signs that might suggest you are in a codependent relationship.
1. Do you become obsessed with fixing and rescuing needy people? Codependents are more oriented to other people’s reality than their own; they want to be someone else’s savior which makes them feel happier about themselves.
2. Are you easily absorbed in the pain and problems of other people?
3. Are you trying to control someone? Is someone trying to control you? Neediness is a hallmark of a codependent relationship. One person’s happiness depends on having the other person right there – right now. Not letting you hang out with friends, calling frequently to check up on you, having to be with you all the time – these are controlling behaviors
4. Do you do more than your share — all of the time? Many codependent people were the favorite child because they did more – took care of the sick parent, got straight A’s, cleaned the house. However, as an adult, when this behavior is carried on it can result in that person feeling like a martyr, victimized by doing it all.
5. Are you always seeking approval and recognition? Low-self esteem is a mark of codependence. A codependent person judges themselves harshly; they have difficulty asking others to meet their needs and they don’t believe they are worthwhile or lovable.
6. Would you do anything to hold on to a relationship? Do you fear being abandoned? Many adults in codependent relationships come from families where they felt unloved, or were abandoned by either one parent or both. This makes them willing to put up with a lot in order to keep their partner with them.
Reading the signs, you think you may be in a codependent relationship, so now what? Should you leave? Get counseling? It is hard to think of yourself and your needs after focusing on your spouse’s needs for so long and fitting yourself around their issues, their demands, their moods. But it is time to put yourself back in the centre, take control and think about what is good for you.
Like any problem, you need to understand what’s at the root, says David A Baron, MSEd, DO, chairman of psychiatry at Temple University Health System. “Often the enabler feels guilty about the situation. They care about the other individual in the relationship; [they] know there is a good side to this person. They’re hoping against hope that they can go back to the good times – even when it’s blatantly obvious nothing will change.” At some point, they have to realize that the situation has to change, he says. “They have to get beyond their emotions and look at the history of behavior. This has been a pattern. When you can get past the emotions and examine facts, write them down. Do a little timeline or a score card of bad behavior.”
Where to turn for help? Getting professional counseling from a mental health worker, psychologist, or family physician can give you the strength to break away from a codependent relationship, Baron says. Twelve-step programs also help and are free. Group therapy also works well. You meet people who have been through what you have, who can offer advice at a grass roots level rather than approaching you as an authority figure.
Jeanne McKeon, EdD, a psychologist at the Center for Addictive Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, suggests short-term family therapy which can be very effective. “You don’t have to get into years of analysis. You’re looking at the family, how it’s affecting everybody, what the game plan should be. Getting everybody together equalizes things so no one feels blamed.”
There is so much information and assistance out there for those suffering from codependency; all you need is to gain the knowledge of that information and the strength to ask for help. And of course, the more you understand codependency and how it affects you, and your relationships with your family and friends, the more you can cope with its effects.