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Many couples dealing with substance use disorders or trauma exhibit behaviors of codependency. This is especially true for the spouse who does not use drugs or alcohol. Although codependency can affect any relationship, it is especially damaging to relationships that include addiction. It is important to give patients tools that they can use to help mend relationships. Spouses can be the best support for a patient in recovery, but sometimes their support can turn to enablement. Many couples do not realize they have codependent behaviors in their relationship. Codependency must be recognized as a problem in order to solve it, and these questions can help.

  • Do you find yourself ignoring unacceptable behavior?
  • Do you hold back expressing disapproval due to fear of being yelled at, hurt, or abandoned?
  • Do you lie to cover up the mistakes of your spouse?
  • Do you keep offering to help them even though that help isn’t appreciated or even acknowledged?
  • Do you put the blame on others instead of on your spouse, even when they’re clearly responsible?

Answering yes to any of these questions indicates enabling behavior. It will be easy for a trained mental health professional to pinpoint exactly how and when the enabling behavior occurs. The proper diagnosis and the subsequent tools for supporting rather than enabling the behavior is a great place to start.

From Codependent to Interdependent

Learning interdependency is crucial to this process. Interdependency is different from codependency in that couples retain a sense of self while recognizing the bond that exists in their relationship. For a spouse dealing with a substance abuser, this can be a difficult feat to accomplish. They may feel stuck in their habits of bailing their spouse out, and as mentioned earlier, they may mistake enabling for support. For the partner struggling with substance abuse, it may be a frightening idea. They have become so used to being taken care of that they may not know where to begin to take care of themselves.

Establishing healthy boundaries is the first step in becoming interdependent. Codependents usually have either rigid or barely visible boundaries. These boundaries must be set so that a spouse can say “no” when their boundaries are crossed. It is important to consider the following  when setting boundaries:

  • Don’t set boundaries when under the influence, whether of substances or intense emotions;
  • Communicate boundaries without fear of guilt; 
  • Be specific. Communicate the exact actions that need to stop or the change needed as well as what will happen if these requests aren’t met; and
  • Tell the partner who has substance use issues how their actions have made you feel in the past and why you deserve a change in the future.

Without setting boundaries, the person struggling with substance abuse may feel they can do as they wish without any repercussion, which takes a toll on their spouse. By setting clear boundaries, you are moving toward another step in becoming interdependent. 

Codependency and Trauma

Many times, the spouse of a substance user will allow him or her to step out of bounds due to fear of causing an argument. It’s important not to be afraid of conflict. When setting new boundaries, this may make the spouse or partner who is struggling with addiction issues upset, which can cause fights. Remember that advocating for yourself is important in this process. If a substance abuser is not willing to change behavior or retain sobriety, the spouse has a right to remove him- or herself from that situation. This doesn’t mean they have to divorce or separate, but they can take steps to stop the behavior exhibited. 

A substantial link exists between codependency and childhood trauma. As a child, the codependent partner may have been abandoned by a parent or ignored and made to feel useless by someone that they loved and respected. In order to overcome codependent habits, it’s essential that the codependent partner actively begin to acknowledge these feelings so he or she can overcome them. 

The process of fixing a codependent relationship is very stressful. Stress is one of the key risk factors for relapsing, both into destructive personal habits as well as destructive patterns of substance abuse. If breaking codependency causes too much stress, the couple will need tools to cope with and control stress. This may be hard for those dealing with trauma, especially PTSD. In this case, it would be best to suggest dual-diagnostic recovery centers. While you may think that it’s better to treat the addiction first and the trauma later, these two mental health issues actually tend to exacerbate each other. Treating them one at a time may ultimately be ineffective.

While codependency seems to be beneficial for only one person, both parties feel a sense of satisfaction. This is why it becomes a cycle. Codependency can ruin otherwise strong and healthy relationships if the enabled behavior is destructive enough. With regards to substance abuse, it can be very destructive. At The Guest House Ocala, we recognize the need for you to have healthy, supportive relationships during recovery. If you or someone you love is in a codependent relationship, please call us today at (855) 483-7800. We offer family therapy that will allow you to explore the dynamics of your relationships and recognize codependent behaviors. Yes, we are currently open. At The Guest House Ocala, we are proud to have a dedicated staff that is taking extra precautions during the current pandemic to ensure the health and safety of our clients. Don’t let COVID-19 prevent you from reaching out!