Couple Counseling & Codependency
Updated: Jun 21, 2019
How to Better Understand your Partner's Needs and Cherish your Relationship
By Filippo M. Forni, LMFT – Couples Specialist in West Los Angeles. Private Practice Owner, Director of Clinical Services at New Directions for Veterans, Inc., Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University.
Codependency usually describes one person’s attitudes and behaviors in a relationship. Codependent people build their identity around pleasing others, and tend to form and maintain one-sided relationships that are often emotionally damaging or even abusive. Codependency in a relationship usually causes unhealthy communication patterns, dysfunctional boundaries, and controlling attitude, impairing a person’s ability to have mutually satisfying and meaningful relationships.
Originally, codependency was a term used to describe persons living with an addicted person, or chronically mentally ill individuals. However, today this term refers to any codependent person from any type of dysfunctional family.
People with codependency issues always try to please their partner and need their partner’s approval to maintain a sense of identity and feel worthy and confident.
How Does a Dysfunctional Family Lead to Codependency?
Codependent behavior often results from growing up in an unhealthy family with dysfunctional relationships and behavior patterns. In other words, codependent behavior is usually learned by watching and mimicking other family members who displayed this type of behavior while a person was growing up.
A dysfunctional family can be recognized through unnatural and tense relationships between its members who suffer from anger, fear, or shame that is ignored or denied. Also, behavior patterns in an unhealthy family are characterized by ongoing neglect, a lack of support, inflexibility, often drug and/or alcohol addiction, violence and abuse.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family usually shapes a person into an adult with an insecure attachment style that affects their adult relationships. Insecure attachment and dependency in a relationship are usually expressed through mixed emotions such as a deep fear of rejection and dependence on another person for our own identity.
There are three types of insecure attachment styles formed in the unhealthy family:
Persons who grew up in a family with emotionally distant parents, where they never knew what to expect, sometimes developed codependent behavior as adults. These individuals may be oversensitive to rejection and constantly show a need for approval. In addition, they may lack self-awareness and struggle with emotional control. As adults, they turn into people-pleasers, building dependent relationships and constantly seeking approval.
There are some signs in behavior and communication style that suggest a person may struggle with codependency issues.
1. Lack of Boundaries
A codependent person feels responsible for their partner’s feelings, often ignoring their own needs. Also, these persons tend to feel guilty whether it is their fault or not. Moreover, they are often unforgiving to themselves.
2. Low Self-Esteem
People with codependency issues struggle with low self-esteem and don’t know how to express their thoughts and feelings in an assertive, yet respectful way. They may feel emotionally disconnected and struggle to build and maintain relationships, often feeling isolated and lonely.
As a child, a codependent person always struggled to meet their caregivers’ high expectations. As a result, they may fear failure and never allow themselves any mistakes.
4. Control Issues
A codependent individual may tie their own self-worth to their partner’s well-being. If a loved one is unsuccessful, a codependent partner may feel as they failed themselves. This mindset may turn into possessive or controlling behavior.
How to Overcome Codependency in a Relationship?
Codependency is a learned behavior, which means that it is possible to overcome it. Couples therapy can be very helpful in providing a safe environment for a codependent couple to learn to listen and communicate more effectively.
Couples Counseling can:
Encourage mutual understanding and empathy
Help the couple learn to control their anger
Set constructive boundaries
Allow the couple to be more vulnerable and understanding of each other's needs
Express their needs and feelings appropriately
Steps you can take to begin healing your relationship from Codependency.
1. Creating Boundaries
People with codependency issues don’t know where their own needs begin or where the other person’s needs end. Practicing assertiveness and learning to establish boundaries and say “no” can help get out of people-pleasing habit.
2. Allowing Yourself to Be Vulnerable
In order to have a fulfilling relationship, a codependent person needs to rebuild their idea of a relationship first. This involves facing their past and pain and learning to be vulnerable and accept comfort from their partner.
3. Overcoming Negative Thinking
Negative self-talk leads to anxiety and depression. Positive affirmations and gratitude practice can help change negative thoughts about self-worth and promote self-acceptance.
4. Expressing Needs Honestly
Being honest in communication and expressing needs, thoughts, and feelings assertively can boost self-esteem and help improve the relationship.
5. Learning that Self-care is Not Selfish
Spending time away from a partner and learning to enjoy time alone promotes self-care and can help a codependent person get to know themselves better.
In a healthy, mutually fulfilling relationship, both partners nurture their individual identities as much as they cherish their relationship. They each bring their uniqueness to the relationship creating a bond that allows them both to thrive.