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Managing co-dependency in a marriage – the second five steps in learning to support rather than rescue

March 26th, 2013 No Comments
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Relationship Advice Tips from Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

west los angeles counseling for couples

photograph copyright Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.


Despite the relief that Craig felt when his wife Sophie did his bookkeeping for his landscape business he was frequently choked with shame.  The conflict made him snappy and uninterested in spending leisure time with her.  He dreaded going to bed at night because he didn’t want to face his impotence when he forced himself to try and make love to her. He was trapped in a cycle of neediness, shame and anger at the very person whom he relied upon to keep his business afloat.


Trying to break out of a co-dependent relationship takes away your personal power and makes you feel ashamed

The more ashamed he got the less he wanted to be with Sophie. She got angry at him and accused him of being ungrateful and irresponsible. Of course the criticisms added more shame onto Craig’s pile. He hated his wife for making him so dependent on her. The lethal combination of shame and hate made him aggressive towards her. He wanted his power back, but being in a co-dependent relationship made it impossible. He just melted with fear when he tried to stand up for himself.

But then he discovered a workshop for small business owners. It was a huge relief to find that others were struggling with the same pressures and challenges that he faced day in and day out. But most of all, Craig found that he wasn’t that dumb! He discovered that he was as knowledgeable as the others in the group about budgeting and managing his books. The instructors gave him valuable tips that boosted his confidence. Spurred on by the others in the group he took his books out of Sophie’s home office desk and put it in his filing cabinet.

west los angeles relationship counseling for couples

photograph copyright Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.


Fear of being belittled and losing the security of a relationship is the biggest obstacle to climbing out of a co-dependent relationship

Just that one act of owning his own books helped Craig to spend an hour at the end of each working day entering his outgoings and income. After the first week he was able to get some sense of the cash flow and budget for the coming month. But within an hour of completing his budget plan his sense of elation and pride gave way to fear and trepidation.

Craig was terrified that Sophie would be mad at him for not telling her what he was doing. He imagined that she would accuse him of undoing all her hard work and putting their finances in jeopardy again. He felt like a little kid who had to keep his behavior a secret because his parents wouldn’t approve.

When Sophie did find out she went ballistic. She threatened never to help him again if he made a mess of things. She accused him of taking a big risk, of going in over his head and of making her feel unappreciated. She also belittled his attempt to empower himself by attending the workshop, describing it as a waste of money. By the end of her tirade Craig felt guilty, small, stupid and deflated.

For a moment the allure of being in a co-dependent relationship was overpowering. It would be easy to just let Sophie take over again and feel loved and taken care of. But something else stirred inside them. The strength and power of being able to use his own mind and succeed at it was a much more striking feeling, resounding all through his body. He wasn’t about to give up his newly acquired sense of self-worth or his feeling of satisfaction at doing things he always wanted in case it disrupted his co-dependent marriage.

west los angeles marriage counseling

photograph copyright Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

For some weeks Craig lived on the edge. He held onto his self-empowerment at the expense of his relationship. Sophie threatened to leave him and that’s the moment when they both got scared enough to go to couples therapy.


Craig relived all the shame and guilt in therapy that he had been experiencing before his resolve to manage his own business. But he felt understood and his striving for autonomy was validated and normalized. Sophie’s pain and fear was acknowledged as well as her intentions to help. They learned how limiting their relationship rules were while they were trapped in a co-dependent marriage.

 The challenges of therapy felt like a big sacrifice until the time a few months later when Sophie began to reach out to him for companionship and sex. Now he felt wanted for his own sake rather than giving himself to her as payback for the co-dependent relationship they had set up.

Now they respect and admire each others personal achievements. They share the joy that the success brings. Self-empowerment has become a treasure and an asset in their marriage. Neither of them are trapped in giving over their power to the other in order to feel secure in the relationship.

west los angeles marital psychotherapy

photograph copyright Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Sophie and Craig learned five ways to distinguish rescuing from support while they were in therapy. Here they are for you to follow so that you too can get out of a co-dependent relationship.

 1.    Supporting a family member or loved one means having clear, explicit but flexible boundaries between your feelings and theirs, so that you don’t act for them or expect them to act for you when things are tough.

Rescuing a family member or loved one means having lose, unformed personal boundaries that keep you close but make you feel responsible for removing their problems and vice versa.

2.    Supporting a significant other means you are realistic about who you are and your self-worth without having to get your positive strokes from taking care of them, or feeling unlovable if you miss doing it one time.

Rescuing a significant other involves you giving them power over your self-worth, keeping you stuck in a cycle of taking care of them so that they will make you feel good about yourself.

3.    Supporting an important person in your life means encouraging disagreement and dissension so that they get permission to have and use their own minds.

Rescuing an important person in your life involves disapproving of and shutting down any difference of opinion, while imposing your mind on them so that they never learn how to think for themselves when they are alone or without you.

4.    Supporting a loved one means providing choice and options about the way love is demonstrated in the relationship.

Rescuing a love one forces a rigid framework of criteria about showing and proving love. The relationship becomes bound in rigid rules that deprive it of the oxygen it needs to survive and grow.

5.    Supporting a loved one involves allowing them to have needs that are met by others without you feeling the threat of being supplanted or useless.

Rescuing a loved one means anticipating and meeting every need in them before it has arisen to prevent them finding other resources that may make them feel good, which in turn jeopardizes your central place in their lives.

 Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.


You might also like:


Is co-dependence the currency of your family relationships?


Managing family co-dependency – the first five steps in supporting rather than rescuing


Two ways to tell if your relationship is healthy or unhealthy





Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. Dr. Raymond is not responsible for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.







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