A Codependent Relationship vs. a Supportive One

August 17, 2021

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Claudia Black Young Adult Center

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By Clint Fletcher

The word “codependency” gets thrown around a lot these days and has taken on the general meaning of being too attached to a partner. If we’re chatting with our friends and overhear someone describe a person as codependent, they’re usually painting a picture of someone who just can’t bear to be away from their significant other and is neglecting friends and family in the process. While codependency no doubt includes attachment issues, it goes much deeper than that. 

Codependency is characterized by a willingness to sacrifice your own wants and needs in order to feel loved and validated by another person; it is an unhealthy or obsessive dependence on someone. Codependent relationships are common in all kinds of circumstances but are especially present in families where there is stress or dysfunction brought on by substance abuse disorders or trauma. Better understanding codependency can be an important step toward knowing the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one.

Better understanding codependency can be an important step toward knowing the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one.

Codependent vs. Dependent

Any of us can enter into a relationship that may seem great at first, but then codependency can creep in. How can you tell if your situation has turned into a codependent relationship? Here is a breakdown of the difference between a codependent relationship versus a dependent one: 

A dependent relationship: Two individuals count on each other for support and love. Both find value in the relationship, and both make the other a priority, but they can find happiness in their own lives through friends, interests, and hobbies. 

A codependent relationship: At least one person in the relationship feels worthless unless they’re needed by the other. This person is only happy when making extreme sacrifices for the other, and they have no identity or personal interests outside their relationship. They struggle to find value elsewhere and may neglect others. 

Los Angeles-based psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist Vera Eck says the codependency line should be drawn “when helping others hurts you.” Erk says, “What you have to do is … have healthy boundaries, so you know when you’re helping someone a lot and you’re getting drained. You have to stop before it hurts you, before you lose sleep over it.”

Codependent vs. Dependent - Claudia Black Young Adult Center

Enabling or Being Supportive?

Often coinciding with codependent — and even some dependent — relationships is enabling. But it can be hard to know whether you are enabling or just being supportive in a relationship. Enabling is when we help loved ones continue with self-destructive behaviors without realizing it. In our minds, we think we’re being supportive and doing a good deed by helping them, but in reality, we’re making it easier for the person to continue self-destructing. According to writer and therapist Tasha Rube, LMSW, the following are warning signs of enabling

  • Protecting them from responsibility

This is when you take on their tasks that need to be done around the home or for your family. It includes protecting their image and giving the appearance that everything is fine when it is not. 

  • Watching over them

When you have to constantly keep tabs and monitor them to make sure they don’t do something serious like drive drunk, you are enabling.

  • Denial

This could involve accepting blame for their behaviors, or seeing them as in control of their actions. For example: “My partner’s heavy drinking doesn’t stop them from going to work, so it’s OK.”

  • Justification

When you rationalize the reasons why they’re making the choices they’re making, you may be enabling. This includes accepting or dismissing destructive behaviors as normal “party” or “social” behavior or normalizing other irresponsible behaviors. 

In our minds, we think we’re being supportive by helping them, but in reality, we’re making it easier for the person to continue self-destructing.

I Might Be Codependent. What Now?

It’s important to remember you are not alone. People all over the world demonstrate codependent behaviors at some time or another, and nearly everyone with behavioral issues from childhood will suffer from codependency issues at some point as an adult. If you think you may be in a codependent relationship or marriage, you may consider finding a mental health counselor for treatment. You may also try one of two 12-Step programs that treat codependency: Codependents Anonymous (CoDa) and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA). While CoDa’s name speaks for itself, ACA is different in that you don’t have to be a child of an alcoholic to participate. Anyone who comes from a dysfunctional home can join, and ACA is steadfast in tackling codependency, offering support groups in every state. 

Codependency Treatment 

Codependency is often found within the roots of various types of trauma, both childhood and adult. If you or a loved one are suffering from issues so severe that you’re having trouble functioning, our Claudia Black Center in Wickenburg, Arizona, is fully equipped to help you. We can treat your codependency and control issues by addressing your underlying pain. We use modern therapies like neurofeedback, equine-assisted psychotherapy, and mindfulness techniques along with group therapy and peer support to help you heal. For more information on treatment, please reach out to our intake specialists anytime, day or night.