March 9, 2022
In many marriages, one spouse ends up codependent on the other spouse. Codependency refers to a relationship in which one partner needs the other partner, who in turn needs to be needed. Many times, people confuse codependency with being clingy or enamored with your spouse. There’s a common idea that spouses should commit to each other, support one another, and need one another. But when this crosses the line into an unbalanced and unstable relationship often ends in divorce.
What is codependency?
At its simplest, codependency refers to a mental, emotional, or spiritual reliance on another person. This commonly occurs between spouses or romantic partners, but it can also appear in friendships or other family relationships. Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that impacts an individual’s ability to have a healthy relationship.
What causes codependency?
Codependency is a learned behavior. This means it usually stems from past behavioral patterns or past emotional difficulties. Some of the most common situations that lead to codependency include:
- Damaging parental relationships;
- Abusive families; or
- Living with a family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness.
Commonly in these situations, the attention focuses on one family member, and the codependent person feels encouraged to sacrifice their needs for that family member. This is usually a dysfunctional family dynamic. Over time, the codependent person loses contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of self, and tension can increase in the relationship.
What are the symptoms of codependency?
Often, people mistake codependency for dependency. It’s important to understand the distinction as depending on your spouse can be healthy and positive, whereas codependency can be unhealthy and detrimental. The major difference between the two is that in a dependent relationship, both spouses rely on each other for support, both can express their emotions, and both see value in the relationship, but also have individual interests.
In a codependent relationship, the codependent spouse feels the need to make extreme sacrifices for the other spouse, needs to be needed by the other spouse, will not express their own needs or emotions, and generally has few individual interests or independent identity.
A relationship may include one or two codependent spouses.
The most frequent signs of a codependent spouse are:
- They don’t find satisfaction or happiness outside of doing things for their spouse;
- They feel guilty thinking of themselves or asserting their needs in the relationship;
- They will dedicate all their time and energy to their spouse;
- They have an exaggerated sense of responsibility for their spouse;
- They will do anything for their partner, even if that means bringing harm to themselves; or
- They have difficulty making decisions, often deferring to their spouse.
Is a codependent relationship repairable?
It is possible to get a codependent relationship back on track, but it requires a lot of hard work and time. The first step to changing codependent behavior is understanding it. The codependent spouse and the rest of the family need to understand problematic behaviors and start identifying them. Often, the spouses seek help from a trained counselor or therapist to help dig into the behaviors and codependent tendencies.
Some other steps to help reduce codependency include:
- Taking small steps toward independence. The codependent spouse should seek out activities outside of the relationship. Making new friends, joining a local club or activity, or picking up a hobby are all ways that the codependent spouse can gain separation from the relationship and find their individuality.
- Say no. It’s okay to say “no,” but codependent spouses have a very hard time saying no to their partners. Before agreeing to do something, the codependent spouse should take a moment to evaluate if they want to do what their spouse asks.
- Find a support system. Whether one-on-one therapy, group therapy, or a supportive group of friends and family, the codependent spouse needs a support system as they take steps to correct codependent tendencies.
- Look inward. Codependent spouses are often very critical of themselves and feel they could always do more for their partner. Breaking the cycle requires the codependent spouse to focus on themselves and their needs. When that spouse starts to worry about their partner or friend, they need to actively turn that focus inward and evaluate their own needs. These things take time to master. Throughout the process, the codependent spouse must practice speaking kindly to himself/herself and avoid self-criticism.
In addition to the work that the codependent spouse needs to do, the other spouse may help by pointing out codependent behaviors and not allowing the codependent spouse to make extreme sacrifices or center their life around their partner.
As mentioned above, repairing a codependent relationship takes time and effort and may not be the right choice for all couples. If one spouse feels the relationship is beyond repair, pursuing a divorce may be the best choice. However, the nature of a codependent relationship can make the divorce process more stressful and contentious for many people. This makes it critical to hire the right divorce attorney.
Even though you care about your spouse, you need to care for yourself during the divorce and stand up for your rights. Divorces that involve a codependent relationship tend to be more emotional and may involve emotional pleas or attempted manipulation. Remember that you’re doing this for your future, your health, and your happiness, and divorce may provide the catalyst for the change you need.
Starting a new life for yourself without bringing in past issues requires you to stand up for yourself and put yourself first. In these types of cases, it can be helpful to retain an experienced divorce attorney who can help guide you through the process.
A divorce attorney can make sure you know your options and can advocate for your rights so you can start the next chapter of your life off on the right foot.