Previously in time, codependent relationships were typically described as a relationship involving one person with a substance abuse problem with a sober (or generally non-addicted) partner. The idea of a codependent relationship regarding substance abuse is that the sober one continuously tries to help the person with the addiction. Seeing as how an addicted person struggles with their own issues and their focus is primarily on feeding the addiction, often all the work in the relationship to keep it functioning lands on the non-addicted partner. The substance abuse becomes the main focus of the relationship and the non-addicted person allows everything to revolve around their partner’s problem, often ignoring their own needs in the process.
Now, the idea of codependent relationships have evolved to include any relationship where one person has some type of issue needing frequent attention while the other partner does not; furthermore, there is a lack of balance in care. The partner without any attention-needing problems devotes all the focus on the other. As a result, the partner taking care of the other tends to forget their own needs and issues, pushing them aside. This creates a one-sided relationship, in the sense that one person is putting in all the effort to keep the relationship alive while the other is too absorbed in their own issues to put in effort as well. The term “codependency” itself would suggest both partners involved are dependent on the other; this is true to a degree, despite the one-sided tendency. The person taking great care of the other, putting in the effort, must have some sort of positive reinforcement to continue to remain in the relationship. On the other hand, the person who is reliant on the other is too out of control to consider being alone, or too absorbed in their struggles to notice the unfairness – this is how the relationship continues.
This is not to place blame on either person involved but it’s important to acknowledge that codependent relationships are not healthy relationships. It is also of importance to note that taking care of your partner in a time of need and being in a codependent relationship are different things. Factors that must be involved in order to deem a relationship codependent are:
- when one places more importance on remaining in the relationship than they do to their own lives and identity; on a more extreme level, it could become a “do-or-die” kind of mentality
- when one has unhealthy, self-destructive behaviors that cause the other great emotional distress and/or to adopt their own unhealthy, self-destructive behaviors to cope with those feelings
- when only one person involved puts in effort to keep the relationship going whereas the other appears to be apathetic or too troubled to participant as an active partner
- when one has a substance abuse problem but the other does not, centering the relationship entirely on feeding or overcoming the addiction with no attention to the needs of the other
- ignoring your mental health to help with your partner’s
People particularly vulnerable to getting into codependent relationships are those with mental-health issues, although these kinds of relationships could happen to anyone. When two people with their own mental-health issues come together, the least stable could trigger issues in the other. Codependent relationships are already an unhealthy relationship but get two people with mental health issues and the results could be devastating. Considering that often those involved in these types of relationships feel that the relationship is more important than anything else, their mental health issues could be completely devoid of attention, worsening their mental state. Also, get a couple where one or both partners feel a sense of “do-or-die” about the relationship, placing such importance on it that they deem life is not worthy living unless they’re together, then any sort of turmoil or hardship can result in dangerous and self-destructive behaviors (think Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare). A relationship with two unstable people does not make a stable relationship; the more unstable the relationship, the more desperation, thus the more unstable the mental states of the partner’s involved!
Here’s what you can do if you’re in a codependent relationship:
If you’re the one putting in all the effort and putting your needs last:
- Acknowledge that this is not a healthy relationship; knowing that what’s going on is not right is the first step.
- Bring some focus back to you: self-care is incredibly important to everyone, especially those with mental-health issues. Remember, you are not selfish for taking care of yourself. You are deserving of attention and care just as much as your partner is.
- Consider counselling. This is related to self-care. Being in a codependent relationship can take a toll on a person and it’s good to have a professional you can talk things through with. Also, it may help you uncover what reinforcement you’re receiving that keeps you in the relationship: is it a sense of control? Is it the desire to be needed? Do you have a low-self worth, believing you’re not deserving of a healthy relationship? This is an especially important step to take if you find yourself frequently in these types of relationships; same scenario – different partners. Ask yourself: what is keeping me here? Is it actually love? Or is it something else?
- Decide if this relationship is still worth remaining in or whether it’s too complicated and imbalanced to ever return to a healthy state. Again, counselling would be really helpful with making this decision. Sometimes being in love is not enough to make a relationship work; forgive yourself, this is okay and a lesson many will learn in their lifetime.
If you’re on the other side of the relationship:
- It takes a lot of courage to admit when you’re not being a good partner or that your relationship is unhealthy. This does not mean you’re a bad person or that you’ll always be doomed to unhealthy relationships.
- It’s time to get some help. For your sake and for your partner’s. No matter how caring and intelligent they may be, chances are they are not a professional and are not knowledgeable on how to cope or overcome your issues.
- Discuss your relationship together with your partner. If you decide to work things out, always try to encourage your partner’s self-care while you take care of your own. A healthy relationship is about balance, ensuring that everyone involved is getting the care they need and equal amounts of effort are being put in. If you do not think you can put in the effort you need to until you are well, be honest – it may be time to end the relationship.
- If your partner ends the relationship, know that they deserve to search for their own well-being and a partner that gives them what they need just as much as you. Don’t place blame on them for leaving you or on yourself for being a poor partner. Understand, again, that it does not mean you are a bad person but that you are in need of some balance and mental stability in your life overall. It’s not a crime to be unwell. Counselling would be a great tool to help you to move on past a failed relationship while working on your already dominate issues. Sometimes being in love is not enough to make a relationship work; forgive yourself, this is okay and a lesson many will learn in their lifetime.
A healthy relationship is a relationship of balance and well-being. Other things that make a healthy relationship is clear communication from both sides, trust, understanding, equal amounts of attention and equal amounts of encouragement. This is true for any relationship, romantic or non-romantic, monogamous or polyamorous. In non-abusive relationships, there are no clear bad-guys and no victims – we are all complicated human beings trying to make our way through the world of relationships and love.