You’re in a relationship with someone you love, and, as in any relationship, there are times when you give more than you receive. That’s the up-and-down of loving someone. It’s normal. But when you are constantly walking on eggshells, trying to please, that’s a different story. Are you always second-guessing how you can keep the other person happy? Are you often covering for him or making excuses for him? Then your situation may not be that normal. If your loved one is addicted to alcohol or drugs, if he gambles too much, if he is abusive or violent, if he cheats on you repeatedly—you may be in a codependent relationship.
How do you know if you’re codependent? Ask yourself:
Do I take the blame for his bad behavior? You think that if you’d been with him, maybe you could have calmed him down or stopped him from taking that drug. Or maybe if you hadn’t provoked him, he wouldn’t have had that violent outburst. He encourages you to think it’s your fault because he’d rather you feel guilty than him. But what you are really doing is taking responsibility for his behavior when only he is actually responsible, not you.
Do I try to convince myself that what he’s doing is okay? You think things are really not that bad. After all, you’ve been living with his addiction/abuse/violence for awhile and it’s not like he’s physically hurt you. Or maybe he has. But denial is so much more comfortable than facing the unpleasant truth. When you look at things objectively, you realize you will have to make some wrenching changes in your life, and that’s something most of us might want to put off. But you know in your heart of hearts that putting it off is not a good idea.
Do I repeatedly accept his empty promises? He promised not to do it again, and he does try for a while. Until he doesn’t. You want to believe him, so you do, long after it’s logical to do so. You rationalize that this time will be different because he came crawling back to you so contrite, so full of hope, so charming. And you take him back because this is how he keeps yo-yo-ing you—keeping you on the hook. It’s an emotional roller coaster. You’re so relieved when he apologizes that you don’t want to rock the boat, so you accept his apology. Until he does it again.
Do I stay with him because he couldn’t make it without me? Or because you think he couldn’t make it without you? Because you have a need to be needed. Maybe you had a childhood that left you feeling deficient—perhaps parents who didn’t appreciate you or who were narcissistic. You sought out a similar, familiar, codependent relationship. Whatever the reason, you believe he cannot go on without you. So you feel important to him, which is what you’ve been craving to feel since childhood. He continues to make you feel this way so he can control you.
Do I protest to friends that they don’t really understand our relationship? Or maybe your friends don’t even know about your unbalanced relationship because you don’t tell them. Perhaps out of shame. Or because being close to others would impinge on the delicate relationship with your significant other. You want to believe your relationship is special and you two are the only ones who understand it.
Do I do things I’d rather not do to keep him happy? Maybe you call in sick for him when he’s really hungover. Maybe you work an extra job because he gambles away the rent money. Maybe you put up with his abuse when you find it humiliating and emotionally hurtful. You make excuses for him with your friends and work colleagues because you’re embarrassed by his behavior. You’re sacrificing your own peace of mind and happiness just to maintain an even keel.
It isn’t worth it. Yes, it’s difficult to admit you’re a codependent. But once you do, you can begin to take care of yourself and enjoy life.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact