The Marriage Podcast for Smart People

Codependency in Marriage: What It Is and What To Do About It

May 18, 2016

Codependency is a term that gets thrown around a lot. What’s a little freaky about it is that we all have a touch of this in our lives. We’re not here to put people in buckets, but to help you make sense of the world around you. If codependency is part of your world, here is some great advice on how to shift to a healthier place in your marriage. What is Codependency? Codependency is actually surprisingly hard to define. Perhaps the easiest way to get a succinct, lightweight but accurate definition is to google the phrase “codependency jokes”. If you’re worried that you may be codependent, and you have a good sense of humour, you may actually find some help there. But to those of you who realize this is part of your world, it’s no joke. It’s serious. It’s really hard sometimes, and it’s a bewildering world to try to navigate your way out of. One more thing – going back to what I mentioned earlier, we’re not here to put people into buckets. Actually, it can sometimes be very unhelpful to put people into buckets. It tends to give people a label, and then we treat people according to their label. It fails to honour your individuality, your personhood, the fact that you too are created in the image of God and you are, like everyone else, a valuable fallible child of God. So, please don’t think we’re just trying to stick you in a bucket and give you a label. What we’re hoping to accomplish is to help those of you are who in codependent relationships to begin to make sense of your world. We want to give you a starting point that you can work from. If you’re feeling lost, your way out starts with understanding where you are today. Am I Codependent? To help you, we created a self-assessment that you can download and complete to score yourself. It’s adapted from a professional tool but you’ll be able to complete this and get a sense of where you’re at in terms of the likelihood of codependence being a significant part of the way that you interact with your spouse or family or origin. So, if you’re wondering, “Is this me?” make sure you get a copy of this free assessment!I Want It! Ok, back to our definition. It’s rather difficult to define codependency, but here is a fairly recent definition from the research: Codependency “involves relationship patterns, with two people meeting each other’s needs in dysfunction ways.”[i] That’s good, but pretty generic. Some other researchers define codependency as “a pattern of compulsive behaviors that is motivated by dependence on another’s approval and is designed to find a sense of safety, identity, and self-worth.”[ii] These are more tangible dynamics. They go on to identify some of the traits and patterns that can be found in codependent individuals. Codependent individuals place their self-esteem in their ability to “control and influence the behavior and feelings of others.” This attempt to control can actually look like the codependent individual catering to the needs of another person. However, often the codependent individual can never do enough, and their attempts are neglected and resented by those they cater to. The codependent person then feels inadequate, feeling like they need to do more. Doing more often does not work, and the codependent individual turns to denial, rationalization, and projection. “As these defenses are used more often, persons become unable to recognize their true feelings, and they become unable to understand and take care of their own personal needs.”[iii] This is where we have a lot of compassion because it ends up feeling very disorientating – something doesn’t feel right, but you can’t figure out what or why. At the same time, what’s confusing is that there are parts of this that are normal – taking care of others is a good thing, right? And I feel better about myself when my hubby is distressed and I can help him find joy again. The key here is recognizing there is so much ‘catering to’ that it is dysfunctional.

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