Codependence in couple relationships is a favorite topic of mine. It is one of the most common, unhealthy relationship patterns and underlies both major and minor struggles in the relationship. It is also at the heart of parental struggles to launch their children into a productive life in their 20s.
The term ‘codependent is used widely and often misunderstood. Briefly it is “a dysfunctional helping relationship where one person’s help supports and enables the other’s underachievement, irresponsibility, immaturity, addiction, procrastination, or poor mental or physical health” Some ways this happens: rescuing the other from self-imposed predicaments, bearing their negative consequences for them, accommodating their unhealthy or irresponsible behaviors, such that they don’t develop competence.
The helper’s emotional enmeshment leads them to keenly feel the other’s struggles and to feel guilt at the thought of limiting their help or terminating the relationship. Attempts to set limits on are usually difficult, guilt producing and thus not sustained.
Helpers drawn to codependent relationships find intimacy in relationships when their main role is as rescuer, supporter, and confidante. ‘Helpers’ depend on the other’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs like the need to feel needed and the need to keep the other close due to fears of abandonment. Their relative feeling of competence often boosts low self-esteem.
On the other side, the dependent partner is bound to the helper since the helper’s aid has impeded their maturity, life skills, or confidence. In some cases it enables an addiction. Their poor functioning brings them needed love, care, and concern from the helper, and reduces their motivation to change.
Because of their profound dependence on the helper they are unlikely to have other close relationships which intensifies their reliance. This mutual dependence makes the relationship very resistant to change.
When codependence shows up in my room the task at hand is to take a look at boundary setting and motivate the helper to see her own needs for self care as relevant and ultimately more helpful in the long term to their dependent partner. More on boundaries in a different post!