Warning Signs of Codependency in Marriage (and How to Heal From It!)

Originally posted by Amanda Idleman on crosswalk.com

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/MangoStar_Studio

Marriage is a place where our strengths and weaknesses come more clearly into view. As we grow up and grow together as couples; we start to discover new things about ourselves! Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”


Marriage is one of the most beautiful and effective ways God uses individuals to be the iron that helps round out the rough edges of our souls.


One of the more challenging relational dynamics that can be revealed through marriage is “codependency.” When one person is codependent, they have an unhealthy reliance on their spouse to fulfill their needs.


This can be a toxic and draining dynamic that often stems from unresolved issues that can be the result of growing up in a dysfunctional home environment.


The good news is with God’s help, the support of our partners, and many times the help of professional counselors it is possible to heal this cycle of brokenness. You can learn what it is to live with healthy boundaries, self-esteem, and a calm mind!


Marriage is where we can both recognize our need to grow but also be the safe space in which we can evolve and find new levels of freedom for our lives. Let’s explore what codependency in marriage is and ways we can heal from it.


What Is Codependency?


Codependency is when one partner sacrifices all for or ends up being defined by their relationship. The term codependency is defined as “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction.”


Codependent relationships are one-sided where one person relies on the other for meeting virtually all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. 


A healthy marriage is intended to be a relationship in which you are mutually interdependent. You both work to help each other achieve your goals. A codependent marriage is out of balance.


Rather than working together to support one another, there is no healthy back-and-forth.


Codependency can look like expecting your partner to fulfill all of your needs, but it can also look like trying to fill all of your partner's needs because that fulfills a deep-seated need for love too, just in a different way.


What Causes Codependency in Marriage?

While specific causes for codependency are unique for every person and situation there are some common experiences that can lead to this issue. Most of the time the cause of codependency begins in childhood. Unfortunately, many who grow up in dysfunctional homes come to believe they are not valuable and may believe they were the cause of their family's issues.


Dysfunctional families tend to have similar traits such as constant chaos/unpredictability, unsafe, unsupportive, harsh or abusive, secretive, shaming, judgmental, set unrealistic expectations for kids, and more. When you grow up in a space where your parents are not able to properly provide a safe and supportive environment, you begin to take on unhealthy roles in your home.


You may grow to become the caretaker taking the responsibility of the adults in your life. You may love those who actually are unsafe or seek to harm you.


You may become a people-pleaser trying to control your environment and avoid discord in your home. Fear, guilt, trust issues, loneliness, an unhealthy desire for control, and a struggle with boundaries may all be a product of growing up in a difficult home.


Even if your parents were kind people who met all of your physical needs, if your emotional needs were neglected, then you will have a skewed view of yourself and reality.


All of this can lead to struggle to maintain a healthy marriage relationship later in life.

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How Do You Know if You Are in a Codependent Relationship? 

There is a very fuzzy line between being a supportive spouse and becoming a codependent one. Codependency happens when the healthy and necessary give-and-take of a marriage become dangerously out of balance. Here are some symptoms of codependency:


1. Low Self-Esteem

The feeling that you are never good enough, don’t deserve love or affection, and always viewing yourself as inferior are all signs that you are suffering from low self-esteem. This is something only you can be the judge of as many who have an inner struggle with feelings of worthlessness may appear to be pompous or over-confident on the outside to mask their true feelings.


Guilt and perfectionism both can lead to negative feelings about yourself. Those with a low self-esteem are more likely to feel they don’t deserve better support from their relationships.


They also may grow overly dependent on their partner for affirmation and emotional support--either by expecting to be given to in excess, or in the praise received from meeting their partner's needs.


2. People-Pleasing/Care-Taking

We all desire to please our spouses but those who are codependent cannot say no to their partner without extreme anxiety. An anxiety around disappointing others may be the case in all the codependent persons' relationships.


When acting as a caretaker their empathy may be excessive pushing them to put others ahead of themselves in all instances. They may feel rejected or hurt if their care is not accepted. They may want to offer advice even when their opinion is not welcome in the situation.


3. Poor Boundaries

Boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships. Those in a codependent relationship lack the ability to set up proper lines that help properly divide what is theirs and what is their spouses. In marriage, most every area of your life is intertwined but a healthy relationship there is still discussion and compromises on who handles what and how.


You come to mutual understandings about each other's needs and preferences.

In a codependent relationship, this is not possible. One party feels responsible for all the others feelings and needs.


Sometimes a codependent may have overly harsh boundaries, closing themselves off making them harder to interact with. Oftentimes they switch back and forth between being overly giving and then in other instances shutting down completely.


4. Strong Desire for Control

While codependents may have trouble with boundaries they still desire control in order to feel safe. That control can come out unhealthy ways in their relationships. They are so dependent on their partner they may seek to control them because they desire them to act in certain ways to ensure that they remain okay emotionally.


They can use their care-taking and people-pleasing abilities are means to manipulate their spouse or may become excessively bossy.


5. Obsessive Thoughts and Painful Emotions

Codependents can become obsessed with their partner and have trouble moving past any mistake they have made. Codependency is often a product of underlying anxiety and fear which leads to painful emotions.


Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about their place in the relationship. They may struggle with feelings of shame, rejection, feeling judged, and an overall angst. This can lead to feelings of anger, depression, hopelessness, and despair.


Ways to Heal a Codependent Marriage

Codependency is a very complex issue that may be caused by childhood trauma that has made engaging in a balanced relationship a struggle.


Fear, anxiety, and depression can be the fuel to this struggle. Professional help from a counselor, a trusted Pastor, or working with a psychologist are great ways to break free from the chains that want to hold your marriage in an unhealthy pattern.


Some other helpful steps towards healing include:


Be honest with your spouse. Hiding your needs, struggles, worries, and hurt only hurts your relationship. Taking steps to open up about how you are feeling with your partner is a great way to move towards healthy interdependence.


End the cycle of negative thinking. This is where the help and support of a professional may be invaluable. Practicing mindfulness and retraining yourself to catch and remove negative thinking can stop you from seeking inappropriate affirmation from your partner.


Try to take things less personally. Your spouses poor attitude may just be a product of their own stress. Not stepping in to fix every issue in order to ensure your own emotional stability is a great step in breaking the cycle of codependency.


Set up proper boundaries. Determining healthy places where your needs and your spouses begin is a great way to bring a better sense of balance to your relationship.

Galatians 5:3 says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”


God offers us the power to experience freedom from the chains of sin and patterns of brokenness we all are battling against in our lives. He wants us to find freedom so we can better love one another. No one comes into marriage without their “stuff” because we all are sinful creatures.


Take heart and be encouraged that your relationship is not beyond the healing power of Jesus! 

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