While many couples often fight over who should get what in divorce, this seldom happens in cases with codependency. Codependent people can end up settling for less than what they deserve in divorce, letting the person they’re dependent on set the terms and take what they want.
Codependency is challenging to overcome. However, with the help of a therapist and an advocate, you can start a new life without letting your ex take whatever they like.
Here is what you need to know about codependency and how it can complicate divorce cases.
What Is Codependency?
The term codependency was coined in the 1950s about partners of people with substance abuse, because their choices encouraged and enabled the addiction to continue. Since then, the term has been expanded in order to include one-sided, destructive relationships of all kinds.
Codependency is also referred to as a “relationship addiction”. These relationships can be any type, from spouse-spouse, child-parent, friend-friend, and even coworker-boss. They are most common in cases where one person has an addiction or affliction of some kind.
Codependency typically involves a “giver” and a “taker”. The giver needs to be needed and the taker needs the giver. It varies in severity. The giver often experiences social, emotional, and physical consequences.
The codependent person ends up sacrificing their needs for the person they are dependent on and losing their sense of self. Codependency involves fear, anger, pain, shame that is either ignored or denied (such as the existence of abuse), refusal to talk about problems, and more.
How Does Codepency Happen?
Codependency can be passed down through families, as people mimic the behaviors modeled for them. It’s not a clinical diagnosis or personality disorder, such as dependent personality disorder. However, it can overlap with clinical diagnoses.
Codependency can stem from attachment-style patterns that develop in early childhood, such as anxious attachment style. People with an anxious attachment style are insecure are the relationship and don’t trust the other person, but they want closeness and crave attention. They can become fixated on the other person, overreact to perceived threats, and struggle to maintain boundaries. They may have a poor concept of self and an inability to say no or express their opinions.
Beyond attachment styles, there are other contributing factors to how codependency can occur.
- Biological. The prefrontal cortex may fail to suppress, leading to an overabundance of empathy.
- Psychological. The person may be predisposed to be a caregiver or negatively affected by neglect, emotional abuse, or a turbulent home life.
- Social. Women are more likely to be codependent than men due to how society views women’s roles. People in helping professions are also more at risk, as they find validation in their ability to care for others. Exposure to substance abuse and dysfunctionality also contribute.
- Underlying issues. Some other factors that contribute to one’s likelihood to be codependent include addiction, abuse, and/or chronic physical/mental illness in families. They saw codependency modeled and mimicked it, with how all attention went to the person who is struggling.
Signs Of Codependency
In codependent relationships, the codependent’s person need to support others goes beyond what is considered healthy. They often end up defining themselves on their ability to meet other people’s needs.
Codependent people experience many of the following symptoms:
- Exaggerated sense of responsibility for others
- Confusing love with pity
- Always doing more than their fair share
- Being hurt when efforts aren’t recognized
- Will do anything to hold onto a relationship
- Feeling guilty when asserting themselves
- Need to control others
- Extreme need for approval/recognition
- Lack of trust
- Fear of abandonment
- Difficulty adjusting to change
- Trouble with boundaries
- Chronic anger
- Difficulty identifying feelings
- Poor communication
- Difficulty making decisions
- Doesn’t acknowledge own needs/feelings
- Takes on other person’s desires/hobbies/etc
- Feels the need to ask permission to do daily tasks
- Makes excuses for taker’s behavior/hiding their wrongdoings/protecting them from any consequences
- Apologizes even if they didn’t do anything wrong
- Will do things for the other person even if they make them uncomfortable
- Putting the other person on a pedestal
- Need for others to like them
- Feeling like you lost yourself
- Difficulty finding time for self
- Keeping quiet to avoid arguments
- Always worried about others’ opinions
- Difficulty adjusting to change
- Sees other people’s opinions as more important
- Feeling rejected when other person spends time with others
- Feeling humiliated when the other person makes a mistake
- Feeling responsible for the other person
- And more
The codependent person may feel trapped and resent the situation, but be unable to leave. The relationship deteriorates over time.
Having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you are in a codependent relationship. Similar symptoms can arise due to issues like depression, anxiety, etc. As such, it is important to see a professional if you think you might be in a codependent relationship.
I Feel My Relationship Isn’t Equal: Is It Codependent?
Relationships aren’t always equal in give/take. One person may need more support than the other at times. If one person is sick or struggling, it is natural for them to need more support during that time.
However, the support should go both ways. You should be able to rely on each other in a healthy manner. Your identity shouldn’t be contingent on them and you shouldn’t lose yourself in caring for them. You should be able to rely on the other person to support you too.
I Feel Like My Spouse Is Codependent On Me: What Now?
Codependent relationships do not always involve the taker struggling with issues. Givers may end up adopting all their hobbies, doing everything for them, and being frustrated when they want to do other things or the giver’s efforts aren’t recognized or appreciated. Takers can feel overwhelmed, controlled, and like the relationship is too much. They may want the giver to have independence, but aren’t sure how to talk to them without upsetting them.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who is codependent, you can feel overwhelmed by the attention/controlling behavior and like independence is limited. You can consider whether you are enabling codependent behavior, discuss the desire for change, set boundaries, take a break, consider therapy, and encourage independence.
How Is Codependency Treated?
It can be difficult for the giver to stop, as they feel like the other person needs them. It can also be difficult for the taker to leave because they feel so reliant on the giver.
Treatment involves identifying where the codependency stems from and helping the person rediscover themselves, identify behavior patterns, and experience the full range of emotions again. It focuses on self-awareness.
When overcoming codependency, take steps toward separation, don’t be afraid to say no, and learn to speak kindly to yourself. Look for signs of healthy relationships and learn the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships. Supporting and depending on each other can be good, so long as it is healthy.
Some can stop being codependent when the environment changes. Codependency is a learned behavior that can be unlearned.
When Divorce Is The Solution
Codependent relationships can feel good and healthy at first, to care and to be cared for, but deteriorate. Trying to control how others feel inevitably leads to feeling underappreciated, exhausted, and resentful.
People in codependent relationships find themselves struggling with:
- Relationship feels stagnant
- Don’t feel good together
- Giver would do anything for approval
Divorce is often an important step towards unlearning/recovering from codependency. However, it can be especially difficult to divorce a person you are codependent on.
It’s important to remember that you cannot change them, but you can change yourself. Divorce can help you start a new life. Therapy throughout the divorce process can help.
Divorce can be the healthiest option, as marriages that are codependent are not healthy ones. This is true whether you are codependent and trying to learn not to be, or you are not and you feel controlled.
The Struggle With Divorce And Codependency
These divorces are usually more emotional, with pleas and manipulation. They can be high-conflict.
Givers are more likely to let the taker set terms/take what they want. However, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t expect your spouse to take care of your needs. You don’t want to make decisions based on your emotions, as you could regret them later.
Divorce can initially feel like a relief for someone in a codependent relationship. However, many people find themselves in another codependent relationship if the root of behaviors is not addressed. Therapy and self-work help with this.
Advocates Who Care
If you want to divorce, Kaufman, Nichols, & Kaufman is here to ensure that you receive fair representation. If you are struggling to overcome codependency, seek the help of a mental health professional. For the actual divorce process, let us help you avoid settling for less. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you throughout the divorce process.