photo of a woman and man sitting on bed. man has head in his hands and woman has hands on his shoulders

Do you find yourself constantly doing for others, at the expense of yourself? Do you find yourself covering for bad behaviors of your loved one, making excuses, or taking the blame for inexcusable things that they do? Do you have a need to feel in control, but a sense that things are really completely out of control? These are some of the signs that you might be in a codependent relationship.

Codependency is an unhealthy relationship pattern that is often found in relationships where one partner has an addiction. In the 1950s, therapists who were working with persons with alcoholism first recognized that there was an odd pattern in the relationships their patients had. They found that the spouse often helped to maintain the addictive behaviors and started to study the relationship pattern, though it wasn’t given a name till years later.

Understanding Codependency

In a codependent relationship, a person becomes preoccupied with the addictive or otherwise unhealthy behavior of another. They become dependent on the feeling of “being needed” and are unable to pull away. They see themselves as sacrificing to make the other person happy and will keep trying to rescue their addictive partner.

They don’t know how to do this effectively. They might sometimes push for their partner to get sober, but then they lapse back into the pattern of “taking care of him/her.” They will lie, pull strings, and rationalize to cover for their partner’s addictive behaviors. They might provide money, or help the addicted partner blame others, including themselves, “Oh, if I hadn’t frustrated him, he wouldn’t have needed to get drunk.” They are not able to discern responsibility accurately. They often have low self-esteem, a need to be in control, poor communication skills, and a deep sense of shame and guilt.

Often the addicted partner learns to play on the caretaking partner’s need to “help” to keep their support/cover focused on them and to influence them to stay in this unhealthy orbit. They will vacillate between “you’re the only one that understands” and assigning blame. The caretaking partner in the codependent relationship may start to feel helpless and trapped. They view themselves as both victims and as being indispensable for the focus of their codependency. They do not see the harm they are doing to their partner and themselves, believing themselves to be only trying to help and be supportive.

A Relationship Addiction

Codependency can in itself be an addiction; it is often called “relationship addiction.” While is it frequently found in relationships with a person who has an addiction, the pattern has been found in relationships with other dysfunctions such as families with abuse.

Relationships often include addictive and codependent behaviors from both partners. Each person may have a substance abuse problem and be co-dependent.

Codependency and addiction are difficult patterns to change, but it is definitely possible. This kind of life change will usually require some sort of outside support. Support groups like AA, CA, or other local groups can be a strong force for change and growth in your life. You can learn from others, help others, and find that you are not alone in your experiences. A trained, empathetic counselor can help you learn positive ways of living and relating.

Relationship addictions and substance addictions can be overcome, and you can learn to have mature, supportive relationships and a happier, healthier lifestyle.