Codependency is a common problem when one or both people in a relationship struggle with addiction. A typical codependent relationship is one in which one person feels obligated to take care of the other, and the other person uses that neediness to get her own needs met. This isn’t a healthy arrangement because one person is exploited while the other person is enabled to keep engaging in addictive behavior. What seems like a practical arrangement makes both partners worse off.
Codependency is often a relationship pattern one learns in childhood. Children of parents who struggle with addiction often learn to be helpful and accomodating as a way of coping with their parent’s unpredictable behavior. They learn that by being extra good and taking care of things, their parents will be less likely to become angry or abusive. They may also observe one parent behaving in a similar way, enabling the other parent. When these children grow up, their default template for a relationship tends to be that one person takes care of the other. As the responsible caretakers, they often end up with partners who need to be taken care of. Thus, the pattern perpetuates itself from one generation to the next.
The central problem of codependency is that one partner always puts her partner’s needs ahead of her own. She may make extreme sacrifices to make sure her partner’s needs are met. Codependent people have a hard time saying no to anything because they derive their sense of purpose from serving others. The last thing they want is to make their partner angry, so they are careful to avoid confrontations, even over important matters. They may get so used to ignoring their own needs and desires in favor of their partner’s that they don’t even really know what they want. Despite feeling like their purpose is to take care of their partners, they often feel trapped in their codependent relationships.
Sometimes it’s best for codependent people to end the relationship and spend some time alone, working with a therapist before getting involved with someone else. There is also couples therapy for codependent couples. In therapy, you learn to get in touch with your own needs and be more assertive in having them met. It’s also important for one or both partners to get treatment for addiction, else it’s very difficult to have a balanced relationship.