Codependency For Dummies
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It’s natural to want happiness for your loved ones and hate to see them suffer. But codependents make the leap of feeling responsible for others’ pain and happiness. It’s so upsetting that they try to resolve the negative feelings and problems of people close to them. The fact is you can heal only your half of the relationship — yourself.

You’re responsible for your thoughts, feelings, actions, and the consequences of those actions, and other people are responsible for theirs. Taking responsibility isn’t the same as blaming yourself. You may do too much of that already. The former is just an admission — an acknowledgment that “I said (or did)” something. Period. It doesn’t make you a terrible person.

Cheering someone up or giving them more attention occasionally is not codependent. A benefit of a good marriage is that spouses nurture one another when one is troubled, but it’s support, not codependent caretaking, and it’s reciprocal.

In contrast, when you consistently try to change others’ moods or solve their problems, you’re becoming a caretaker — and assuming, wrongly, that you can control what’s causing their pain. You’re taking on responsibilities that are theirs, not yours.

Sometimes codependent couples tacitly agree that one spouse has the obligation to make the other happy. This is an impossible task and leads to mutual unhappiness, anger, and resentment. The cheerleader is always failing. Whatever they try won’t be quite right or enough.

If you assume responsibility for your partner’s happiness, you’re enabling their dependence, irresponsibility, and childish behavior. And you're depriving them of the opportunity to grow up and become independent. On the other hand, by taking responsibility to make yourself happy, you bring happiness to the relationship, and you’re able to interact with your partner from an openhearted place.

Another pitfall for codependents is that they take too much responsibility and blame for the problems in their relationship. They contort themselves like a human pretzel to make the relationship work. They're thinking, “If I caused the problem, I can learn what I did wrong, change myself, and then the problem will go away.” This denies that each person in a relationship is responsible for their own feelings and actions.

Do the following:
  • List the things you feel responsible for. Include family and work responsibilities. What’s the difference between responsibility to others and responsibility for others?

  • List each responsibility you assume for others who can manage that responsibility themselves. If the person is a child or teenager, are they old enough to learn to take it over? Talk to your loved ones about assuming responsibility for themselves. (Shared responsibilities, errands, and chores aren’t codependency — unless there’s imbalance and you resent it.)

  • For each of your needs, write actions you can take to be responsible for meeting your needs.

  • Create a plan to make time to meet your responsibilities and needs and let others manage their own.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in relationships and codependency. Ms. Lancer has counseled individuals and couples for 28 years and coaches internationally. She's a sought-after speaker to professionals at national conferences and in the media.

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