Codependency in Married Couples

Home / NorthStar Transitions Sober Living Blog / Codependency in Married Couples

Whether couples use together or not, many couples dealing with substance use disorders exhibit behaviors of codependency. This is especially true for the spouse who does not use drugs. Although codependency can affect any relationship, it is especially damaging to relationships that deal with addiction. It is important to give patients tools that they can use to help mend relationships.

Spouses can be the best support for a patient in recovery but sometimes their support can turn to enablement. Many couples do not realize they have codependent behaviors in their relationship. There needs to be a recognition of the problem to solve it, and these questions can help.

  1. Do you find yourself ignoring unacceptable behavior?
  2. Do you hold back expressing disapproval due to fear of being yelled at, hurt, or abandoned?
  3. Do you lie to cover up the mistakes of your spouse?
  4. Do you keep offering to help them even though that help isn’t appreciated or even acknowledged?
  5. Do you put the blame on others instead of on your spouse, even when they’re clearly responsible?

By answering yes to any of these questions indicates enabling behavior. It will be easy for a trained mental health professional to pinpoint exactly how and when the enabling behavior occurs. The proper diagnosis and the subsequent tools for supporting rather than enabling it a great place to start.

Codependent to Interdependent

Learning interdependency is crucial to this process. Interdependency is different from codependency in that couples retain a sense of self while recognizing a bond that exists in their relationship. For a spouse dealing with a substance abuser, this can be a difficult feat to accomplish. They may feel stuck in their habits of bailing their spouse out and as mentioned earlier, they may mistake enabling for support. For the codependent, it may be a frightening idea. They have become so used to being taken care of that they may not know where to begin.

Establishing healthy boundaries is a first step in becoming interdependent. Codependents usually have either rigid or barely visible boundaries. These boundaries must be set so that a spouse can say “no” when their boundaries are crossed. There are a few important things to consider when setting boundaries:

  • Don’t set boundaries when under the influence, whether by substances or by intense emotions.
  • Communicate boundaries without fear of guilt.
  • Be specific. Communicate the exact actions that need to stop or he change needed as well as what will happen if these requests aren’t met.
  • Tell the co-dependent how their actions have made you feel in the past and why you deserve a change in the future.

Without setting boundaries, a codependent may feel they can do as they wish without any repercussion, which takes a toll on their spouse. By setting clear boundaries, you are moving towards another step in becoming interdependent.

Fear and Trauma

Many times, the spouse of a substance user will allow them to step out of bounds due to fear of arguing. It’s important to not be afraid of conflict. When setting new boundaries, this may make a codependent spouse upset, which can cause fights. Remember that advocating for yourself is important in this process. If a codependent is not willing to change behavior or retain sobriety, they have a right to remove themself from that situation. This doesn’t mean they have to divorce or separate, per se, but they can take steps to stop the enabling behavior exhibited.

There is a substantial link between codependency and childhood trauma. As a child, they may have been abandoned by a parent or ignored and made to feel useless by someone that they loved and respected. In order to overcome codependent habits, it’s essential that they actively begin to acknowledge these feelings so the codependent can overcome them. If a codependent is a substance user, these changes can influence them to relapse or increase their usage which may further complicate the codependency issues.

The process of fixing a codependent relationship is very stressful. Stress is one of the key risk factors for relapsing, both into destructive personal habits as well as destructive patterns of substance abuse. If breaking codependency causes too much stress, they will need tools to cope with and control stress. This may be hard for those dealing with trauma, especially PTSD.

In this case, it would be best to suggest dual-diagnostic recovery centers. While you may think that it’s better to treat the addiction first and the other trauma later, these two mental health issues actually tend to exacerbate each other. Treating them one at a time may never work since they’re both constantly adding to each other’s fire.

Codependency actually satisfies the needs of both parties, whether people realize it or not, Northstar Transitions does. The codependent needs someone to rely on and take care of them and the other spouse feels a need to nurture and take care of the codependent. The spouse of a codependent will usually focus all of their attention and care to their partner. This means both of their self-care will be lacking. The professional staff at Northstar Transitions recognizes the need to embrace codependency treatment in order for it to be effective. It can’t be a one-sided battle, it’s not the nature of the issue and we are here to help see that through. Call us now at (303) 558-6400.


close