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Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD MPH on 11/22/2021
Addiction and Codependency in Romantic Relationships
If you are currently in a relationship with someone who struggles with addiction, it’s likely to be a relationship with codependent attributes. It’s easy to understand why codependency builds. We feel a connection to our romantic partners and hope that the relationship will last. We may do whatever it takes to ensure that it does, thus developing codependency issues.
The truth is that codependent relationships not only make long-term success difficult, but they can damage a person struggling with addiction.
If you or your significant other are struggling with substance abuse and think codependency might play a role, call us today.
- Identifying a Codependent Relationship
- Symptoms of Codependency
- How Codependency Can Enable Addiction
- Avoid Becoming an Enabler
- Why Your Significant Other Desperately Needs Treatment
- The Relationship After Treatment
24/7 Helpline available for those looking into treatment options for themselves or a loved one. No obligation, free consultation, and confidential. Call us at (888) 906-0952
Identifying Codependency in Romantic Relationships
To change a problem, you must first identify it. The same goes for codependency issues.
If your romantic partner is a person with an addiction, you might rely heavily on each other. The reliance is usually on many things and areas of life. This dynamic is especially true if your partner has yet to address their addiction problem.
You may be blissfully unaware that you’re in a codependent relationship, but over time, the signs and symptoms will start to show. Your relationship will begin to suffer because of these codependent dynamics.
According to Darlene Lancer, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, “Codependency is characterized by a person belonging to a dysfunctional, one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs.”
You can start to identify codependency by asking yourself these questions:
- Do I responsible for my partner’s well-being?
- Have I extended all of my energy towards my partner?
- Am I the only one making sacrifices?
- Am I my partner’s only source of happiness or vice-versa?
- Do I continue to make excuses about my partner’s addiction?
If you answered yes to several of these questions, you are probably in a codependent relationship. Don’t feel discouraged. It is possible to change a codependent relationship for the better, but both of you must be involved in enacting the change. Getting on the right track will likely require that your loved one get help for their addiction problem through rehab or other avenues of recovery.
Now, the first step is always identifying the problem. Next, you must take the time to know the consequences and symptoms of codependent relationships. Likely, you’re already experiencing some of these.
Symptoms of Codependency in Romantic Relationships
Loving someone who struggles with addiction is difficult. When both you and your loved one have addiction struggles, it can be even more difficult. Neither of you likely know how to help each other. Just helping yourself can also seem impossible. Usually, these situations lead both partners to depend entirely on each other.
Here are the symptoms that are characteristics of a codependent relationship:
- Low self-esteem
- People pleasing
- Poor boundaries
- Dysfunctional communication
- Problems with intimacy
- Painful emotions
Not all 11 symptoms are required to qualify your relationship as codependent. You may only have a few of these codependent dynamics currently working in your relationship.
The hardest part often is saying “no” to your partner. Because they are struggling with addiction, you might feel it’s impossible to deny any requests they make. You feel it’s in your nature to help them, and what kind of partner would you be if you didn’t?
You may have poor boundaries that cause you to feel responsible for your partner’s actions. It’s almost as if you’re a caretaker, not a life partner.
Playing the role of caretaker also gives you a sense of control over the relationship. You might subconsciously feel that because they rely on you so much, you’re securing your relationship’s success. Amidst all of this, you likely forget to care for yourself.
The first step to break codependency habits is to realize they exist, understand why they are harmful, and resolve to change them.
How Codependency Helps Addiction Thrive [Enabling]
Codependency is a relationship where one person struggles with addiction almost always leads to enabling the addiction.
If you protect your partner from punishment or consequences for their substance use, you’re not allowing them to feel the actual consequences. If they feel consequences, why would they seek help? You may even enable them unto their death. This is a surefire way to encourage them to continue their addiction. They think you’ll always be there to protect them from their actions.
For instance, according to the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services, examples of enabling include:
- Taking over the responsibilities of the user
- Making excuses or covering up errors and accidents for the user
- Going along with excuses for using substances
- Helping the user get out of financial difficulty related to substance abuse
- Cleaning up after the user
It is natural to want to take care of your loved one. Addiction is a disease that will exploit this natural tendency to love and care for our partners. The truth is that the best way to help our loved ones who struggle with addiction is not to shield them from the truth. The truth will set them free. Without consequences, there is no reason to change anything. Continuing in the same healthy dynamic will sustain the addiction and further cause them damage.
It is highly unlikely that you are intentionally trying to hurt your loved one. Most people involved in codependent relationships act out of good intent, feeling as though they are just trying to care for their partner.
The next and most important step forward in helping your loved one overcome addiction is to stop enabling them.
How to Avoid or Stop Being an Enabler
After reading this guide, if you realize that you are in a codependent relationship, you’re going to need tips on how to change it. According to the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services, it starts with changing your behavior.
Changing enabling behavior looks like this:
- No longer taking responsibility for problems that your partner should be handling
- No longer trying to protect your partner and their addiction; serious unaddressed issues (like addiction) have consequences.
- No longer accepting blame or guilt. You stop allowing yourself to be manipulated and understand that their problem is not your fault.
- You begin to think about your needs
- You start remembering to take care of yourself
- You let your significant other know that their addiction problem is serious and they need to get help.
- You suggest and support them in seeking counseling or other treatment
These are the basic but significant first steps on how to break codependency cycles in your relationship. If you change your habits and behaviors, your partner may start to realize they need to deal with their addiction. However, this won’t always be the case.
Your partner taking responsibility for their addiction doesn’t mean you won’t play a positive role in their recovery.
You must understand that you cannot protect them from their consequences forever. The sooner they see consequences for their actions, the sooner they may see the need to reach out for help.
If you want to still be there for them in a healthy way, do that. Just make sure that you stop any behavior that sustains their addiction.
It’s not only your loved one who needs outside support, though, but you can also seek support groups for yourself. Connecting with those who have come out of similar situations is very important.
You can learn a lot about codependency in these support groups like Codependents Anonymous or Nar-Anon.
Why Your Loved One Desperately Needs Treatment
If you remove your hands from holding up your partner’s addiction, the cards will fall to them. At that time, they will realize that they have a choice. Either they will continue destroying their lives, or they will seek help.
If your absolute partner refuses to get help, there isn’t much that you can do about it except to remove yourself from the equation. As awful as it may be to witness your partner suffer, they must seek help on their own accord.
If your partner has violent tendencies, you need to reach out to a professional or authority for help. Don’t be afraid to walk away and get the support you need to do so if it comes to that point.
Hopefully, your partner does realize that they need to go to treatment. In this case, you can help by giving them resources to reach out to. We can help guide them to treatment options that suit their needs.
Going to rehab can be scary. If your partner is scared, the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests you should “Emphasize to your loved one that it takes a lot of courage to seek help for a drug problem because there is a lot of hard work ahead. There is a great deal of scientific evidence that treatment works, and people recover every day. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can be managed successfully”.
Getting your partner into treatment will help strengthen your relationship if you are fully invested in their recovery. Seeing them take control of their lives and get back to the person they once were is always a great experience.
The Relationship After Your Significant Other Goes to Treatment
To not fall back into codependency, you can take a break in the relationship during treatment. Once your partner is in rehab, their focus will need to be on getting better and not on the relationship. Having that space can be quite healing during this difficult time in their life.
Patience, understanding, and seeking help to begin the recovery process are the best antidotes to a codependent relationship. As your partner in healing, you can heal too. Once your partner completes their program, understand that change takes time, and they may have a long road ahead of them. Addiction creates many bad habits and patterns that are hard to change in a short period.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “there will be triggers everywhere that could promote a relapse—such as driving by places where the person once took drugs or seeing friends who provided those drugs. You can encourage your loved one to avoid these triggers, and you can make an effort to help identify those triggers”.
Do not go above what is required of you. Don’t blur the lines of responsibility. Be realistic. It may not be easy, but a healthy recovery for your partner is worth it.
Call us today to discuss treatment options for your loved one at (888) 906-0952
Sources for Additional Information
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