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Recognizing and managing codependency.

Codependency Isn’t What Most People Think It Is

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Codependency isn’t what most people think it is

In popular parlance, people are often described as “codependent” when they rely on each other to function normally. That’s interdependent mutualism, and while it too can become a problem if a person is deprived of their “other half” and has no idea how to do laundry and does not remember to take their meds, it’s not codependency.

Codependency finds its origins in the treatment and management of alcoholism, and has been expanded to encompass other forms of relationships with dependence on substances and/or self-destructive behaviors—which can be many things, including the non-physical, for example a pattern of irresponsible impulse-spending, or sabotaging one’s own relationship(s).

We’ll use the simplest example, though:

  • Person A is (for example) an alcoholic. They have a dependency.
  • Person B, married to A, is not an alcoholic. However, their spouse’s dependency affects them greatly, and they do what they can to manage that, and experience tension between wanting to “save” their spouse, and wanting their spouse to be ok, which latter, superficially, often means them having their alcohol.

Person B is thus said to be “codependent”.

The problem with codependency

The problems of codependency are mainly twofold:

  1. The dependent partner’s dependency is enabled and thus perpetuated by the codependent partner—they might actually have to address their dependency, if it weren’t for their partner keeping them from too great a harm (be it financially, socially, psychologically, medically, whatever)
  2. The codependent partner is not having a good time of it either. They have the stress of two lives with the resources (e.g. time) of one. They are stressing about something they cannot control, understandably worrying about their loved one, and, worse: every action they might take to “save” their loved one by reducing the substance use, is an action that makes their partner unhappy, and causes conflict too.

Note: codependency is often a thing in romantic relationships, but it can appear in other relationships too, e.g. parent-child, or even between friends.

See also: Development and validation of a revised measure of codependency

How to deal with this

If you find yourself in a codependent position, or are advising someone who is, there are some key things that can help:

  • Be a nurturer, not a rescuer. It is natural to want to “rescue” someone we care about, but there are some things we cannot do for them. Instead, we must look for ways to build their strength so that they can take the steps that only they can take to fix the problem.
  • Establish boundaries. Practise saying “no”, and also be clear over what things you can and cannot control—and let go of the latter. Communicate this, though. An “I’m not the boss of you” angle can prompt a lot of people to take more personal responsibility.
  • Schedule time for yourself. You might take some ideas from our previous tangentially-related article:

How To Avoid Carer Burnout (Without Dropping Care)

Want to read more?

That’s all we have space for today, but here’s a very useful page with a lot of great resources (including questionnaires and checklist and things, in case you’re thinking “is it, or…?”)

Codependency: What Are The Signs & How To Overcome It

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