Relationships are great. When you find a person who is willing to stick things out with you for any extended period of time, it can be very validating. As with anything though, there is a point past which even the most validating relationship can become toxic. This is called Codependency, and it is a dangerous game.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is relationship pattern that is built on one or both partners enabling the other to engage in unhealthy patterns. For a good example, look at just about any TV relationship. The wife works, cleans the house, does the laundry, works out, and makes sure there’s beer in the fridge so that her husband can come home from work, watch the game, make jokes about how fat he is, and complain that the beer in the fridge is warm. This is codependency in action. The wife picks up her husbands slack, and the husband takes this as permission to continue slacking.
How is it dangerous?
There are many ways that codependency is dangerous. The most overt reason is that it prevents the enabled partner from experiencing growth in their own lives. As long as there is someone around to clean up the mess, there is no reason to learn how to clean it up themselves.
Another way that it can be damaging is that it creates a dependent relationship between the partners (hence codependent). The enabled partner needs the enabling partner because they are unable to cope on their own, and the enabling partner needs the enabled partner so that they can feel needed. This creates a cycle of needing that can eventually cut off other supportive social relationships until there is no social support except for the partner.
And lastly, in the above example, the relationship is exceptionally one-sided. Over time, this arrangement causes resentment to build, which then develops into behaviors of contempt, one of John Gottman’s Four Horsemen. Contempt is a killer of relationships. Left unchecked, it can easy continue growing until it becomes abusive.
What Can I Do?
If you are in a codependent relationship, either as the enabler or the enabled, get help. There are many resources for individuals and couples in codependent relationships. Codependency is much like anything: it grows out of a healthy need. To feel responsible and needed on the enabling side, or to feel trusting and supported on the enabled side. There is nothing wrong with these needs, it is simply the expression of those needs.
Learning to express our needs is of great importance, not only in the healing of codependency, but in any area of our lives. If you feel like you are in, or at risk of getting into a codependent relationship, I would highly encourage you to look into what is drawing you into it. Talk with a counselor or attend a support group.
What do you all think about codependency? If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave in the comments. Please share this article if you found it helpful in any way!