Co-dependent Relationships

Co-dependency is a phrase used to refer to a relationship in which one enables another’s behaviour. For example, helping a spouse cover up a substance abuse, making excuses for a child’s behaviour and even providing living quarters to an alcoholic teen is said to be counterproductive as this stalls recovery and makes the problem worse. In knowing this the best course of action is to emotionally distance from the person being enabled, as it is a way to unmask their misconduct.

Co-dependent relationships usually develop due to past behavioural patterns and or emotional distress. It was once thought to stem from having an alcoholic parent. Experts now feel it can arise from a numerous of sources including:

· Damaging parental relationships

· Living with a mentally ill family member

· Living with a physical ill family member

· Having an abusive family growing up

The co-dependency concept surfaced in the 1980’s within the substance-abuse community and was originally used when describing a caretaking relationship of partners of alcoholics. Since the 1980’s this concepts definition has been expanded and now include domestic abuse, mental health issues’ emotional abuse and behavioural problems.

Fast facts on co-dependency.

· Co-dependent relationships can be formed in either a romantic or platonic setting, family members, friends, children, or spouses.

· Family and friends may be able to notice that something is wrong or different.

· These types of relationships can often include emotional or physical abuse.

· Treatment requires time and the help of a professional.

There are differences between dependence and co-dependence, and it is important to know those differences as depending on someone can be a positive experience, whereas co-dependency is harmful.

Here are examples of dependency and co-dependence.


· Two people who rely on each other for love and support and in which both parties are finding value in the relationship.

· Both parties involved put their relationship as a priority but have other hobbies and interests and acquaintances away from that.

· The pair in a relationship can openly express their needs and emotions.

· Both parties can find a way of making the relationship beneficial to them both.


· The co-dependent partner feels valueless unless they are needed the enabler.

· The co-dependent partner has no hobbies, interests, or identity outside of their relationship.

· One person in the relationship may find it too difficult to express their own feelings due to being afraid of the affect it will have on the other.

· One partner may even be unable to identify their own feelings at all.

Co-dependent relationships can be made up with one or two co-dependent partners. A co-dependent partner will let other areas of their life suffer due to extreme dedication to their partner and these areas may be at risk:

· Ambitions

· Career

· Motivation

· Family/platonic relationships

· Everyday life

There is a power imbalance within co-dependent relationships and the enabler is also taking on a dysfunctional role as they are entering a relationship which is not equal.

Treatment advised for co-dependent relationships are:

· Some emotional and or physical separation from the relationship.

· Spend time with family members to strengthen outside relationships.

· Enabler must realise they are not helping the co-dependent partner.

Group or individual therapy is extremely helpful for people who are in a co-dependent relationship, as a trained therapist can help uncover issues and emotions that have been hidden since childhood and help discover abusive patterns within the relationship.

If you recognise you are in a co-dependent relationship and would like further help regarding one-on-one counselling sessions, call Therapeutic Counselling on 01209718246/07974845549.

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