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Style: Folsom | El Dorado Hills

Clearing Up Codependency

May 29, 2014 12:29PM ● Published by Style

Few unhealthy relationship dynamics are more common or have as many facets as codependency. The term, defined as an unhealthy dependence on or control of others, may be over-generalized and a bit vague; however, it encompasses a spectrum on which we all—in one way or another—can be placed. The questions below look at common yet often unrecognized forms of codependency.

Q: I recently started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and couple’s counseling at my partner’s insistence. She’s constantly checking up on me and questioning my motives and decisions. I’ve done everything she’s asked, but nothing I do seems to be enough. How can I prove to her that I’m serious about our marriage and my recovery?
Bob: Your partner is acting out her codependent traits by attempting to manage your recovery. By trying to “prove to her” that you’re serious about your recovery, you’re not only playing into this form of control, but also acting out your own codependent patterns by over-focusing on keeping her happy. To break the codependent patterns, you both need to focus on taking responsibility for your own behaviors, rather than each other’s.

Q: I’ll be out of town for two weeks and, in my absence, my partner will be skipping church, canceling a meeting, and isn’t planning to go to our annual block party. She tends to be pretty shy around groups of people, so I usually take care of our social calendar. Should I call her sister and ask her to tag along, or should I come home early?
Bob: While it’s likely your partner suffers from social anxiety, changing your schedule to protect her from feeling discomfort enables her to continue letting fear control her. If you’re unsure how to offer support, a good rule of thumb is to be empathetic—but allow her the space to take ownership and responsibility for her schedule.

Q: I’m constantly overwhelmed by numerous projects, both at work and home. It feels good that my boss considers me the “go-to person” and problem solver, but I rarely get time to focus on my actual work. I’m exhausted by the time I get home, and then my partner needs help with home projects.  How can I get my former energy and performance back?
Bob: People who have difficulty saying “no” can’t truly say “yes.” A sure sign that there’s a problem is when you plan to say “no,” but end up buckling when the time comes. When people agree to something they don’t want to do—purely out of obligation—they often feel frustrated, overwhelmed and resentful. Low self-esteem and the need for approval are often lurking behind such poor boundaries. Start saying “no” to little requests that aren’t as difficult to refuse.  For more difficult requests, buy some time before giving an answer; this will help you stop replying automatically with a “yes” before having the chance to thoughtfully consider the request and its impact.

Bob Parkins is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He can be reached at 916-337-5406, or

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