Codependency is a complicated topic. There is a plethora of really good resources on codependency which will be referenced in our discussion. However, we will focus on key principles which will help to understand codependency and will assist you if you are a codependent person and/or are in a codependent relationship with someone. Let’s get started.
First, what is codependency? When we love or care about someone, we invest ourselves and our resources into that person. This is natural. How do we know when this becomes unhealthy? This is important. Let’s take a look at this explanation of codependency.
Codependency is when we over-invest into someone. Read that again.
Codependency is when we over-invest into someone – all in an attempt to rescue, control, or change that person and his/her behavior.
Three key behaviors which differentiate healthy caring and loving from codependency are the motivations behind our over-investment: to rescue, to control, or to change another person. The following example illustrates this. (The name has been changed to protect anonymity).
Rick was an extremely nice man, quite successful, and very codependent. Struggling in his third marriage, Rick spoiled his wife by giving her anything she wanted and spending large amounts of money on her and his step-children. Even after Rick found out that his wife was stealing money from his business account, he continued to forgive her, justifying it because his wife had some serious health issues. Over time, Rick tried desperately to control and to change his wife’s addictive behaviors and to take charge of her chronic health issues. He thought he could save her by rescuing her and keep the marriage intact.
As you are thinking about this example, it is important to note that codependency is not a one-time occurrence. It is a pattern of behavior that continues to repeat itself. There may be respites or reprieves in between situations or crises, but because of the dynamics of the relationship between the unhealthy individual and the codependent, it will continue. And as the pattern of behavior continues, the outcome is threefold:
- The codependent is drained and depleted (emotionally, psychologically, physically, financially, etc.)
- The unhealthy partner or individual is unchanged as behaviors continue or worsen.
- Both individuals or partners are angry and resentful. The codependent is angry because all the resources spent trying to control, rescue, or change the unhealthy person are not working. The unhealthy person is angry because he/she does not like being controlled.
Rick fell into this pattern. The more he attempted to change his wife and control the situation, the more resentful she became. And because Rick felt used and unappreciated, he too felt resentful. However, Rick remained overly-invested into the relationship, fearing that if he stopped rescuing or taking care of his wife, she might not get better and/or the relationship might end.
In closing for today, healthy relationships do involve a give and take. And, there are situations and circumstances in marriages, partnerships, and in other relationships where one individual does more of the care-giving, one carries more responsibility, or one takes charge much more significantly than the other for a period of time or for extended periods. This is normal and to be expected.
However, when one person continues to forfeit his/her well-being, identity, and worth at the expense of another’s lack of responsibility for their own wellbeing – this is codependency.
Next time, Am I A Codependent? Why?
Until then, think about our explanation of codependency. Does it resonate with you or does it sound like someone you know? Remember, recognizing and understanding what is going on with us is the first step in moving forward.
An excellent resource is Codependent No More by Melodie Beattie
Publisher’s Note: Holli Kenley is an American Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of “ Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving from Brokenness to Wholeness” and “Power Down & Parent Up!: Cyber Bullying, Screen Dependence & Raising Tech-Healthy Children”