The term "codependency" used to be used only within the context of relationships that involved substance use problems. However, the meaning has expanded. Codependency can describe relationships where people take on responsibility for the other person in an unhealthy way. This can include taking on responsibility for the other person's emotions and responsibilities. One person might play the role of helpless partner and the other the savior or martyr. In other codependent relationships, partners might take turns playing roles. What is common in all of them is a dynamic that involves both people using the relationship to cope with childhood trauma, emotional hunger, and other psychological needs in unhealthy ways.
Where does codependency come from?
Most of the time, codependency is learned in childhood when children see their own parents engaged in codependent behaviors. These become internalized and then as adults, these people become attracted to those with whom they can reenact the codependent patterns. While changing this cycle is difficult, new relationship patterns can be developed if the person is willing to stay in therapy long enough to change.
How to heal codependence
Since codependency requires two people to function (or dysfunction, if you will), couples therapy is recommended for the couple as well as individual therapy for each person to help resolve their particular developmental trauma. In couple's therapy, the couple can learn to identify the ways that codependency is created and sustained as well as learn ways to disrupt the dynamic and replace it with healthier patterns.
Breaking free from codependency means learning to discover who you really are, fearlessly accepting that, and not needing someone else to meet your needs. Learning to embrace your feelings and what the unmet needs are underneath is required. When people don't take responsibility for identifying their own feelings, figuring out what unmet needs are triggering those feelings, and taking responsibility for the actions to meet those needs, codependence is the result. Only when we own our feelings, needs, and responsibilities can codependence become a thing of the past in our relationships.
When people are no longer codependent, it doesn't mean they no longer need other people. We're social animals that crave belonging and connection. No longer being codependent means that we are in touch with our authentic selves and so is our partner. We aren't fused with our partners. We connect with them to enjoy real intimacy. We don't make demands. We make requests. We don't see the other person as needing to play a role in order for us to exist in a relationship. After codependence, there are two people choosing to be with each other, respecting each other's autonomy, and able to own their own feelings and needs without depending upon someone else to be whole.