Everyone can call to mind a person they would consider codependent. Codependency is among the most common of relationship issues; some readers might even smile knowingly and nod along to this article. A 1998 study estimated that 40 million Americans are codependent. That’s over 12% of the whole population (Hughes-Hammer et. al., 1998). Other estimates put that number even higher, positing that up to 90% of the population engages in codependent behavior (Miele, 2014).
What is codependency though, actually? There’s a common misconception that codependency simply means depending excessively on another person (often a partner) to meet one’s physical and/or emotional needs. However, this is not a complete definition of codependency. In a sense codependency also entails the exact opposite: It involves a deep-seated desire to feel needed and have another person depend on you to an unhealthy degree. Check out this related article: Millennials and cross-cultural relationships.
Codependent relationship dynamics are unhealthy and can cause a vast array of problems within every aspect of a relationship, from finances to intimacy to expectation and boundary-setting. However, of particular relevance is how codependent dynamics can come into play when it comes to writing a premarital agreement. It’s absolutely crucial that a couple make sure codependent dynamics have no place in their prenup process. Let’s take a look at some of the common signs of codependency in relationships, the problems it can cause, how codependency might show up in prenups, and how one can make the shift from codependency to healthy attachment.
Signs and Examples of Codependency
Here are a few of the main themes that tend to show up in codependency (Waypole, 2021):
-Excessive focus on others at the expense of self (self-sacrifice)
-Need for control and a habit of trying to manage the life of another person
-Difficulty with own emotions-has trouble recognizing them and/or expressing them
-Extreme need for outside approval
-Sense of self-worth is dependent on others’ opinions about self
-Tendency to take on more tasks than they can handle, either out of a desire for praise from a loved one or partner, or out of a desire to lessen the load on a loved one or partner
-Disproportionate focus on the patterns, behaviors, and habits of another person
-Moods highly influenced by the feelings of people around them
-Feeling anxious or guilty when doing something purely for themselves
-Tendency to go along with things they do not want out of a desire to please others
-Exaggerated idealization of a partner or loved one
-Extreme fear of abandonment/rejection
Here’s an example of codependency in a romantic relationship:
Your partner eats only gluten-free food. You eat everything, but in order to please him/her, you start eating gluten-free, too. Although you’re more of a rock-climbing yogi, your partner really loves running, boxing, and the Boston Red Sox. You start following everything that happens with the Red Sox too, and you also take up running and boxing and all but forget about the hobbies you had prior to entering the relationship.
Wintertime is hard for your partner; they tend to feel lazy and not have much motivation during wintertime, so you try to help by cooking for them, cleaning up after them, and doing their laundry. If you didn’t help them, they probably would eat packaged unhealthy foods and live in a mess, and since you love them, you’re happy to support them in this way. After all, if you really love someone, you put their needs above yours, right?
When the two of you argue, you often get really scared that they’re going to leave you, so you’re usually the first to apologize. You can’t bear the feeling of them being mad at you or disapproving of you. Arguments are usually followed by periods in which you try even harder to meet your partner’s needs and seek extra reassurance from them, in order to rebuild your self-worth and assuage any fears of abandonment.
Related read that you may find interesting: Be a Master of Relationships
What problems can codependency cause?
Obviously codependency is unhealthy, but here are a few of the particulars.
-People who struggle with codependency usually have difficulty with setting and maintaining healthy boundaries (Raypole, 2021). They might say ‘yes’ when they really mean ‘no’; doing so repeatedly can lead to a percolation and build-up of anger and resentment, which wreaks havoc on the relationship when it eventually boils over (Bolton, 2009) in the form of passive aggression, rage, or emotional withdrawal.
-Codependent individuals find meaning and purpose in life through being of service to others. While this sounds like (and in some ways is) a noble goal, codependency involves taking it to an extreme. Someone who is codependent may lose their sense of identity through being consumed by taking care of someone else, and they may not invest time and energy into taking care of themselves, as well (Raypole, 2021).
-Since codependent people do not always know how to protect themselves, they may find that they are repeatedly attracted to emotionally abusive partners and dysfunctional relationship dynamics (Raypole, 2021).
-Outside validation is very important for a codependent person, who struggles with making decisions by themselves. They may come to rely on a partner or another person to help them make both big and small decisions, and may be out-of-touch with their own needs and desires.
-It’s very common that codependent people end up in relationships with partners struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. The codependent partner often enables the addicted partner by making excuses for their behavior, helping them to hide their addiction, and protecting them from the consequences or fallout of their addiction (Waypole, 2021). The codependent themselves may also develop an addiction as a way to cope with the stress and dysfunction of their relationship (Alexander, 2014).
Codependency and your prenup: How it can manifest
If someone has a codependent personality or is involved in a codependent relationship dynamic, it is absolutely going to influence the prenup-writing process in an unhealthy way if nothing is done to address and shift the dynamic. Here are a few ways codependency can show up during this process:
-A codependent person may make too many concessions because they feel responsible for their partner’s well-being or because they think it may make make their partner feel more warmth or approval towards them
-Since codependency often involves self-neglect, a codependent person is unlikely to advocate for their own needs. The prenup can therefore end up being one-sided and strongly favoring the interests of one partner over the other.
-Someone struggling with codependency might offer to share a lot of wealth and assets because they want their partner to be dependent on them.
-Codependency often entails difficulty saying no. This person may feel unable to say no or even speak up about their hesitancy if their partner requests prenup provisions that the codependent partner is not really happy with.
-A codependent will likely find it difficult to give an opinion of their own or to make decisions regarding the prenup; they might defer to their partner’s opinions and need their partner to make the decisions.
A prenup should satisfy the needs and expectations of both partners, rather than only one. It is among the most important documents of one’s life and will set the tone for the long-term future of a relationship. Therefore, keeping codependency out of the equation is crucial to coming up with an agreement that works well for everyone involved.
How to shift from codependency to healthy attachment
The good news is that since codependency is one of the most common and well-understood relational issues, there are plenty of tools and resources out there to help couples shift away from the dysfunction brought up by codependency and towards a functional, healthy relationship dynamic.
The first step to healing codependency is self-awareness. One must recognize all of their codependent habits and behaviors before they are able to have a chance at making a change. Think you and/or your partner might be codependent? Beyond self-awareness, here are some tips on shifting away from codependency and towards a healthy way of relating:
-Focus on yourself. Put your own needs first, even if it feels unnatural. This doesn’t mean being inconsiderate of others, it simply means recognizing that if you do not take care of yourself, you’ll end up depleted, lost, and resentful. Conversely, if you do take care of yourself, you’ll have a lot more energy to give to the people around you (Martin, 2020).
-Part of taking care of yourself means learning to ask for what you want or need. This, too, will likely feel really uncomfortable if you are not used to doing it. It involves practicing assertive communication skills and boundary-setting (Martin, 2020), which can lead to some initial friction within a partnership if one partner is not accustomed to coming up against the other’s boundaries. But in the long run, if the relationship is right, learning how to advocate for yourself will only strengthen the partnership.
-Rather than devoting excessive mental energy to concerning yourself with your partner’s behavior, practice observing your own thoughts and behavior with the same fervor. Taking up a mindfulness routine can be especially good for this (try this free 8-week mindfulness course!)
-Drop the victim or martyr mindset. Not sure what this means? Read up on the drama triangle.
-Practice being kind to yourself and replacing the internal self-critic with a voice of gentleness. Many codependent people also tend towards self-criticism and perfectionism. These ways of relating to oneself are neither healthy nor constructive and must be replaced with self-compassion.
These changes are usually most effectively made by enlisting the help of a trained therapist who can provide support, an objective viewpoint, and expert guidance. Although codependency is a common issue, it can wreak havoc on lives and relationships if left unchecked. Addressing codependency before writing a prenup and planning a wedding is not only advisable, it can help to make a relationship even stronger and more likely to last a lifetime.
Alexander, P. 2014. Is Codependency Bad? The Dangers of Being in a Codependent Relationship. Retrieved from: https://www.northboundtreatment.com/blog/is-codependency-bad-dangers-of-being-in-a-codependent-relationship/
Bolton, R. (2009). People Skills. New York: Touchstone.
Hammer-Hughes, C., Martsolf, D. S., & Zeller, R. A. 1998. Depression and Codependency in Women. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9868824/
Martin, S. 2020. How to Conquer Codependency. Retrieved from: psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/conquering-codependency/202010/how-conquer-codependency
Miele, J. 2014. Family Life Matters: Combating Codependency. Retrieved from: https://www.army.mil/article/137572/family_life_matters_combating_codependency
Raypole, C. 2021. What are the Signs of Codependency? Retrieved from: https://psychcentral.com/lib/symptoms-signs-of-codependency#examples