Relationships are an important part of life and are meant to enhance our journey through life. Sooner or later after one’s initial addiction treatment, opportunities for relationships (romantic or otherwise) will present themselves. Individuals, especially those in recovery should always enter into healthy relationships rather than unhealthy, co-dependent ones. In this article, we discuss the difference between healthy and codependent relationships and how boundaries we create are designed to protect both the individual and the relationship itself.
What is a Co-Dependent Relationship?
Most people are familiar with the term “codependent” but the majority of individuals can’t explain codependent behavior. A codependent relationship is where one person has an extreme emotional or psychological dependence on another person. In other words, one person ends up taking too much responsibility for the relationship while the other person doesn’t take enough. Codependent relationships are very common among drug users.
Boundaries Are Important
We can best understand codependent relationships by first thinking about how boundaries define healthy relationships. Imagine that you and your partner are facing each other with a couple of feet separating you. On the ground between the two of you is a drawn line that extends to your left and right as far as you can see. That line defines your “property.” Everything on your side of that line belongs to you: your thoughts, feelings, body, decisions, preferences, etc. Likewise, everything on your partner’s side belongs to them. The idea is to take full responsibility for what is yours while being respectful of what doesn’t belong to you. It’s much like being good neighbors.
Codependent Relationships Breach Boundaries
In a codependent relationship, there is a strong tendency to step over the line and take on added responsibility for some of what belongs to your partner. This is classic behavior for people who have addictive tendencies and those who tend to get into relationships with them. To put it in a property owner’s terms, it would be like cutting your neighbor’s grass for them because they do such a poor job of it.
An individual who rationalizes crossing the property line by saying it will “help” them is entering the start of a codependent relationship. For example, suppose that you and your partner have a hard time resolving a conflict. When there is tension between the two of you, he or she tends to shut down emotionally and stops talking. You, knowing he or she is not good at expressing their feelings, work very hard to “draw them out.” But, the harder you work, the more he/she punishes you with dismissive silence. Instead of resolve, your efforts lead to increasing distance in your relationship. In this situation, your behavior reflects codependency because you are stepping over the boundary line and assuming responsibility for your partner. It is not your responsibility to coax emotion out of your partner.
In a healthy relationship, each person takes responsibility for sharing his or her thoughts and feelings even if they are not good at it. When you repeatedly step over the line, you send the message that your partner doesn’t need to assume responsibility for that part of your relationship because you will do it for them. This sets up a vicious cycle that is hard to break and leads to many similar types of codependent behaviors.
You Do You, Let Others Do Them
There are ways to avoid getting into codependent relationships or break out of co-dependent patterns. Here are a few suggestions to begin:
Settle for nothing less than respect in your relationships.
Don’t overlook or minimize comments or behaviors that seem demeaning or disrespectful, even if it is meant as “humorous.” A healthy relationship is one where you are valued. If you feel disrespected, put down or dismissed, speak up and say so. Likewise, you should extend the same value and respect to those you care about. Be mindful of the relational boundary line.
A real self-reflective question to frequently ask would be: what in this relationship belongs to me and what belongs to the other person? Defining boundaries should occur as early on in the relationship as possible and they should be clear and concise. But be careful. Particular types of relationships replay unhealthy patterns from the past where it may be tempting to cross over a defined boundary line. But, asking yourself the above question can often help each member of the relationship stay grounded and keep the boundary in place.
Don’t give yourself away.
Many people have fallen into codependent relationships by becoming what some call “people pleasers.” This behavior of working hard to be favorable in other people’s eyes usually has roots way back into the family of origin. But, when you give yourself away in exchange for being liked or loved, you also lose part of your personhood. You have to tell yourself that you deserve to be a whole person and only as you are whole can you have a truly healthy and satisfying relationship.
Own and value your body.
In a culture where sexual contact can seem more like a recreational activity than an expression of meaningful relationship, it becomes especially important to value your body. Your body is part of your boundary responsibility. If you treat your body as an extension of your soul, you will reserve that part of you for those who truly deserve it. For example, if you don’t want to be touched, say so. Your words have power when rooted in self-value. Though this might sound like common sense, many adults have unconsciously disconnected their body from their inner self and end up paying a high emotional price for it.
Recognize and live within your limitations.
Though many people live as if they have no limits, we cannot escape the fact that we live with limits on all sides of our lives. Relationships that are continually pushing against boundary lines may look and feel exciting at first but usually lead to trouble. People who push against boundaries typically don’t know where the line is or even that there is a line that should be respected. Don’t see how close you can come to the edge before you lose your footing.
The goal is to live within the property lines that define you. Codependent relationships can be avoided, but it takes a deliberate effort to continually find the boundary line and be tenacious about doing only what is yours to do.
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Written and Published By William Charles, Owner/Publisher of Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™, Heroin News, and the National Alliance of Addiction Treatment Centers (NAATC)
We are a community for recovering heroin addicts providing support and recommending the best treatments and clinics to people interested in conquering their addiction.