Healthy Choices in a Codependent Situation

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Reader’s Question

My boyfriend’s mom enables him, and acts like she is his girlfriend. Here are some examples. My boyfriend has been suffering with addiction, yet his mom gives him money and takes him to places where he can get drugs. She also goes into the bathroom to use the toilet while he showers. She told him she would hold his money for him, but she transferred it all into her own account and refuses to give him access to it, yet she will enable him to buy drugs. Sometimes she walks around the house in just a T-shirt and underwear — and one of his friends is currently living at his house as well. She will buy him drugs and then call the cops on him, or she will allow him to leave rehab before his full time is up. She tries to turn him against his dad and his stepmom, although they could provide him endless opportunities.

I want her to be out of his life because she is truly a negative influence, but I don’t know how to make her leave.

Psychologist’s Reply

Here is the short answer to your question: You can’t.

You clearly care very deeply about your boyfriend and seem well aware of the destructive impact his disordered relationship with his mother is having upon him. I think it is important to enumerate some of the issues between your boyfriend and his mom that you brought up in your question before we go further.

  • Substance Dependence
  • Boundary Violations
  • Financial Abuse
  • Emotional Manipulation

Any one of these would be concerning, and the combination seems overwhelming. Clearly it would be difficult for anyone to overcome these challenges without help. However, while you recognize that there are major problems here, it is not clear whether your boyfriend does. People who grow up in family systems that encourage and enable pathology rather than promoting growth and wellness often struggle to break free from those patterns in their adult lives. As in your boyfriend’s case, serious obstacles such as substance abuse can drown out any latent desire for positive change.

Given that your boyfriend is struggling so much, it is hard to imagine that his problems, both drug- and family-related, have not seriously impacted your relationship with him. At this point it seems worthwhile to consider whether or not you are making healthy choices for yourself in choosing a partner with both serious substance abuse problems and a very unhealthy relationship with his family. It is not unusual for someone who chooses this type of partner to be codependent.

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‘Codependent’ is a way of describing someone whose self-sacrificing or caretaking behavior goes beyond normal and becomes excessive and unhealthy. This might come out of a personal history of trauma, such as experiencing a difficult divorce or a parent’s illness as a child. Perhaps the defining characteristic of someone who is codependent is that they have a need to be needed. Co-Dependents Anonymous lists five different patterns of behavior that characterize codependence:

  1. Denial or inability to recognize your own true feelings
  2. Low Self-Esteem
  3. Compliance with others in order to avoid rejection and disapproval
  4. Desire for control of others’ behavior and feelings
  5. Avoidance of intimacy and confrontation

Note that denial is the first on the list — most people initially have a hard time self-identifying their own codependent behavior. Incidentally, codependency is often seen in the relationships of people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This might describe your boyfriend and his mother. If so, be aware that it also says much about your own relationship with him. The fact that your question focuses on changing his behavior and his life, rather than exploring your own motivations for staying in this relationship, suggests that it would be worthwhile to at least look over the self-evaluation on the Co-Dependents Anonymous website.

Finally, to return to my initial answer to your question, there is truly nothing that you can do to excise your boyfriend’s mother from his life. That will ultimately be his choice, and is completely out of your control. What you do have control over is how you choose to proceed in this and other relationships in your life. Taking care of yourself and allowing yourself to make healthy choices will not only improve your quality of life, but may even set a positive example for your boyfriend to follow, if he is willing.

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