Codependency Workbook Exercise Two: Relationship Inventory

Man sitting on rocks journalingIf you have completed Codependency Workbook Exercise One, congratulations to you. Please take a moment to pat yourself on the back. You deserve it, because it must have taken a great deal of courage to write about your family history. Most people shed some tears in our therapy session when they share it with me. Then they feel very relieved.

Many people are not ready to share the letter with their family of origin right away. If you have a therapist available or a sponsor, discuss it with that person. If not, review it with a supportive, nonjudgmental friend. Before sharing this with your family, it is important that you be ready to deal with their reactions. Unless they are in recovery, most families will not be able to validate your experience. However, it is very therapeutic to put your family history on paper and share it with another person.

Now we are ready to begin the next workbook exercise, which concerns relationships. Please make a list of the most important people in your life. This may include friends, lovers, a spouse, family members, coworkers, or a boss. Spend a few minutes thinking about each relationship. How many people on your list do you believe are dysfunctional? How many are addicts, have untreated mental illness, refuse to work, even if they are able, or have other major issues? Are you taking care of some of the people on your list? Are some of the relationships lopsided, where you do most of the giving?

You may wonder why some of your relationships are lopsided. Dysfunctional people can sense that you are a caretaker and are drawn to you. It is almost as though they can smell you. You may find yourself drawn to them as well.

Last night, I saw a married couple where the wife was unsuccessfully trying to stop her alcoholic husband from drinking. She was anxious, frustrated, and very angry. Of course she would be frustrated. She was trying to control something that she had no control over. The facts are that we are powerless over other people, places, and things. Realizing this is helpful to codependents because they can learn to let go and relax. Trying to fix others is impossible, and just upsets the fixer. It also is not helpful to the dysfunctional person. Normally addicts only get help because of the consequences of their using. If the caretaker undoes the consequences, they caretaker unknowingly helps enable the dysfunctional person to remain sick.

Since caretaking may make you miserable and help your loved one stay sick, maybe we can work on not doing it. How? You can begin to learn to set boundaries. For example, you might tell the loved one that you will no longer bail him or her out if he is arrested. You may tell him that you will no longer call in sick if he is too hung over to work. You may tell her that you will only talk with her when she is sober.

I suggest that you put your list away for at least 24 hours. Then pick the relationship that causes you the most stress. Think about a boundary that you may set and write it down. Practice telling your loved one about the boundary. He or she will probably not like it, but in the long run it will be good for both of you. Be sure that you are prepared to maintain the boundary before you set it. The first time you do this, you are taking a major step in your recovery. Be sure to spend some time with someone who will support you setting a boundary.

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Joyce Henley, MSW, LCSW, CEAP, SAP, therapist in O Fallon, Missouri

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • suzette

    March 26th, 2012 at 2:41 PM

    Why is it that the ones that we love the most, when reflecting on it, are the ones who seem to cause us the most pain in our lives?
    These are the people that we try to love unconditionally and strive to have them do the same, but they are the ones with all of the conditions and excuses and aaaggghhh!!! It drives me crazy to think about it.

  • Daisy

    March 26th, 2012 at 4:31 PM

    I am not sure that I would ever be ready to share something like this with my family.
    I think there are feelings that I have about growing up that none of them would understand, and that they would probably deny even happened.
    But does that invalidate the feelings that I have about that time?
    It shouldn’t and as an adult I know that but there is something about being around all of them that kinds of takes you back to who I used to be and not the person that I am today and I don’t like that sense of loss that that causes me to experience.

  • norm

    March 27th, 2012 at 4:13 AM

    Codependency, that devil! Now that is one thing that I have never tried to do willingly, but with a wife who drinks and fails to see yet that there is a problem, I think that you all know that I have certainly been in that situation.

    I have always had this thought that if I could be a better husband then she would stop drinking. Nope. I thought that if I had a better job or made more money, then she would stop. Nah.

    I know now that there is nothing that I can do to make her stop, that has to be a change that she wants to make. That does not make it any easier, but it leaves me with just a little less guilt than I used to feel.

    I don’t want to leave her because I do love her and the person that I know she is without drinking. And I guess I just keep having to wait to see if it is all going to pan out.

  • Darlene Lancer, MFT

    March 27th, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    Thank you Joyce for writing so well about this topic. I can add from personal and professional experience that the reason love hurts so much is because you’re not getting real love in return. Love is more than words and promises. It’s nurturing, support, caring actions, cooperation, empathy, listening, respect – a whole lot of things that are often missing in codependent relationships. Going to a 12-Step meeting can make the world of difference in coping with someone’s addiction. It can give you the tools and support to set boundaries and value your needs.

    There also are many articles on my site, Whatiscodependency.com (some are on Goodtherapy) about defining dysfunctional relationships. You can get a free ebook on “How to Be Assertive,” which will help in setting boundaries. Setting boundaries takes time to learn. There’s a lot of information in my book on how to do this – Codependency for Dummies.

  • Regan Felix

    March 27th, 2012 at 9:44 PM

    Help them coz you care n they wil take advantage of it.This happens with most addicts.Showing them a few times that you’re not ready to help them with their unreasonable requests wil send a strong message n there r good chances that he or she wil tidy up.

  • Katie Hart

    January 6th, 2014 at 3:30 PM

    Fantastic information. I appreciate all the resources and personal information.

    I know with the right help and support it is all possible. I am a big fan of support groups and meetings for perspectives.

  • Lisa

    January 23rd, 2014 at 4:30 AM

    I have been knowing since 2011 that I am co-dependent. I would love to receive treatment, but I can not afford treatment at this time. I know that my co-dependency of the result of being raised by a mother who was narcissistic as well as an alcoholic. She is now deceased, and my emotional state hasn’t been where it should be. I am doing as much self-help as I can. I have a blog if anyone would like to read my story and journey towards healing: lovetandrea.com — I will try this workbook and report my results in the blog. Thank you

  • Lilly

    April 5th, 2014 at 7:35 PM

    Interesting article. The part that scares me is setting boundaries. I have found that when people push back, I back down most of the time instead of standing my ground when it comes to people closest to me like my husband. I would like to get better at being “okay” with upsetting people. I have some people in my life that I had to learn that if I upset them I was probably doing the right thing because their control was so strong.

  • Natasha

    January 31st, 2016 at 2:29 PM

    This is good a good site and good information. I am trying to make my list…. problem is I cant express my main concern because he is already moved on. Divorce still pending, but hard to still let go.

  • Lisa H.

    November 19th, 2016 at 1:41 PM

    I think I am a co dependent. My husband of 23 years just up and left me for another woman. I am devastated but am confused as to my husband being a narcissist or can we both be co dependents? I wish I could repair my marriage but he will not go to counseling, he says its all my problem. He cant take it anymore. Any advise would be helpful.

  • Anonymous

    January 10th, 2017 at 5:10 AM

    I would not share my letter at all.
    There are no “important people” in my life. I’m single, celibate, and have no close friends. I like it that way.

  • Jet

    March 20th, 2017 at 6:29 PM

    Hate to crash your party but you’re not alone in your thinking. It’s less painful than the alternative.

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