Co-dependent Relationships

By Georgina Lavan

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Source: Couples Counselling Centre

Not all relationships are cut out for a happy ever after moment. During the course of our dating lives, we can come across people who are simply not compatible with us. Most of us will end these relationships to go searching for the next, but some of us spend a lot of time and energy trying to fix something that is well and truly broken. Welcome to co-dependency!

Co-dependency is characterised as a dysfunctional relationship, whereby a person relies on the other to meet their emotional needs. It is a term that was originally referred to when working with addiction clients. However, more often these days we use this term in the general population to describe a relationship whereby one person spends their time committed to working on the relationship, whilst the other does not. Neither party is willing to walk away, however, continuing the relationship means that the two parties are reinforcing inappropriate, addictive or underachieving behaviour.

Just a side note: For the purpose of keeping this blog efficient, I’ll refer to individuals who carry out this behaviour as co-dependents.

According to ‘psychcentral’, signs of co-dependency include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • People-pleasing
  • Poor boundaries
  • Reactivity
  • Caretaking
  • Control
  • Dysfunctional communication
  • Obsessions
  • Dependency
  • Denial
  • Problems with intimacy
  • Painful emotions

Co-dependents put the needs of others before their own. Literature has shown that co-dependency can stem back to a person’s childhood. Episodic encounters such as a family member that is physically or mentally unwell, can result in the family focusing on the sick member’s needs, resulting in others needs not being met. Later in life, the co-dependent starts looking for approval in relationships and the desire to be needed, which can often mean they interact with others who take advantage of this and make the co-dependent feel wanted by catering to their needs. Co-dependents can often get into relationships with narcissists.

There are a few types of co-dependent relationship patterns. According to ‘huffington post’, they include:

  • People pleasing: A person who goes above and beyond to make others happy. Often avoid confrontation in fear of rejection by others.
  • Defining your self-worth by others: A person who worries about other’s opinions.
  • Ignoring the red flags: A person who turns a blind eye on dishonesty and misbehaviour.
  • The giver: A person who gives too much and doesn’t have their needs met in return.
  • Poor boundaries: A person who has trouble saying NO or vocalising their needs and emotions.
  • Those who stay: A person who knows that their partner won’t meet their emotional needs, but are fearful of being alone.

The issue with maintaining a co-dependent relationship is that neither party in the relationship has the opportunity to grow from conflict, boundary setting and whose needs are to be prioritised during stressful times. Many couples stay in their relationship out of fear of loneliness, fear of rejection, self-sabotage and the financial and social gains that the couple has together rather than individually.

If you query whether you’re in a co-dependent relationship, according to ‘recovery connection’, it’s worth asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you avoid confrontation?
  • Do you neglect your needs to attend to another’s first?
  • Do you accept verbal or physical abuse by others?
  • Do take responsibility for the actions of others?
  • Do you feel shame when others make mistakes?
  • Do you do more than your share at work, at home or in organizations?
  • Do you ask for help?
  • Do you need others’ validation to feel good about yourself?
  • Do you think everyone’s feelings are more important than your own?
  • Do you suffer from low self-esteem?

As therapists, we see clients at BodyMatters who are in co-dependent relationships, whether their eating disorder is a contributing factor or an outcome of their co-dependent relationships. If you want to understand or discuss this further, contact us to organise an appointment.

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