People are relational beings, and we are fully human when we’re in a healthy relationship with God, ourselves, and others. Isolation is difficult for us because of how God designed us, and when we’re in meaningful relationships with others, there’s a healthy give-and-take that happens.
In every relationship, we have needs that another person can meet, and the converse is also true. The mutual dependence that unfolds in relationships when both are there for each other, provide support to one another, find value in the relationship, and so on ought to be par for the course. However, in codependent relationships, this mutuality is undermined or altogether distorted.
In a codependent relationship, one of the people in a relationship is needy or dependent on the other. “Codependency” describes a dysfunctional and one-sided relationship. It also describes a relationship that enables a person to maintain addictive or irresponsible behavior.This presents itself in several ways.
In some cases, codependency describes a situation of extreme neediness where the person will reorient their life to please their partner. They will sacrifice what they need to keep their partner happy, setting aside their own mental and emotional health, not to mention resources, self-worth, and esteem to please the other person.
They can cancel important plans because it’s suddenly no longer convenient for their partner or turn down opportunities for advancement at work because it will take them away from home more, and so on. This pattern can occur in romantic relationships, but it can also occur in parent-child relationships too. In parent-child relationships, codependency can manifest in acting as a caretaker for the other person, feeling responsible for the happiness of either the parent or child, and curtailing their own choices to attain that happiness for the other.
The other side of the equation with codependency is that the other person in the relationship typically functions as an enabler. In some instances, the enabler needs to be needed, and so they allow the detrimental behavior of the other to continue. This cycle of codependency keeps both the enabler and the codependent person trapped in an unhealthy pattern of relating to one another.
The neediness of the codependent person ensures that their sense of self-worth and esteem is tied to pleasing and making sacrifices for the enabler, and the enabler facilitates and welcomes it. The codependent person’s identity is tied to the relationship, and they feel worthless unless they make sacrifices for and feel valuable to the enabler, and the enabler allows them to make such sacrifices.
The problem with a codependent relationship is with both the codependent person and their enabler. The codependent person orients themselves and their lives around the enabler, and the enabler allows this. Instead of being a mutual exchange and creating room for the codependent person to be their own person and to derive their sense of self and value apart from the enabler, the enabler allows and uses this unequal and one-sided relationship.