Changing a codependent relationship

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Two years ago when I met my boyfriend I was addicted to cocaine. He had to put up with my lies and deceptions for three months before he finally got me to quit and back to my old self. I couldn’t feel worse about everything I put him through. He says he has forgiven me and that I couldn’t do anymore to show him how trustworthy I am. However, as soon as I am out of his site he becomes very irrational. I know the feeling he gets because it seems to be rubbing off on me and now every once in a while I get that feeling too, but I handle it a lot better. I am talking about the feeling you get when your blood starts pumping and you get really upset and paranoid. You take it out on your partner even though they haven’t done anything wrong. For example, when I want to go hang out with some friends (if there are guys there) he will get very upset. I have never cheated on him and he knows I never would, but he still reacts irrationally. I asked him to describe his problem to me in a couple of sentences and he said “I am finding it difficult to control my physical reaction when dealing with trust issues and im not adjusting well to certain changes.” For the past two years, he was my life and we had a very codependent relationship. He finally got so fed up with the way he was treating me that he broke up with me a little over a month ago. When that happened I moved into a dorm on campus and started making my own friends. In essence I started to lead my own life. Soon after he broke up with me, he called me saying that he misses me and doesn’t know what to do. Since then we haven’t officially gotten back together, but we are still trying to work things out. We are both completely in love with eachother. We can’t stay away from eachother, but we also can’t be together unless we can fix this. He has been trying really hard for the past year and half to change, but it hasn’t been working. We don’t know what else to do. He knows in his head that he can trust me, but how can he keep this physical reaction from happening?

A: . Your original relationship was “helper” – “helpee”. It worked! He helped. You accepted the help and broke your dependence on cocaine. Good for both of you! But now the situation has changed. He doesn’t seem to know how to be in relationship with you without his old helper role. He sees problems where there aren’t any; not because he wants you to have problems, really, but because if you do have problems he feels safe and knows what to do. It’s to his credit that he recognized that he wasn’t making any sense and decided to break up for awhile.

I don’t think there is anything you can do about this except to keep doing what you’re doing. You are on your way to being a strong, healthy, young adult. Your boyfriend, however, knows he has some psychological work to do. He is smart enough and honest enough that he realizes that needing someone to be in trouble in some way isn’t a good basis for a relationship, even though it makes him feel more secure.

If the two of you could fix this, you would have done so already. I suggest that he locate an experienced therapist to help him take a look at what this is all about and learn how to change it. A cognitive-behavioral therapist would probably be most helpful. Your boyfriend is motivated to change. My guess is that, with some good guidance, it won’t take long for him to figure this out.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Oct 2006

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2006). Changing a codependent relationship. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/10/18/changing-a-codependent-relationship/