Co-dependency and divorce


date published

3rd December 2018

written by

Emma Heptonstall Image

date published

3rd December 2018

Co-dependency and divorce

Do you want out of a co-dependent marriage?

Divorce is always a huge life event, with the potential to de-rail even the most stable and serene of us. That potential is even greater when it comes to divorcing a high conflict personality.

It’s particularly hard to take care of yourself in a high conflict situation because you may have spent years living with behaviours that have lowered your boundaries and self esteem. Finding yourself in a co-dependent marriage is one example. In this blog we look at what it means for you and your divorce, and what you can do about it.

What is co-dependency?

Co-dependency is a term that has come into fashion in recent years. Used for anything from couples who can’t seem to be apart from one another, to dysfunctional relationships in which one partner’s needs over-ride the other. This is sometimes because of addiction.  A psychological definition of co-dependency is:

‘a specific relationship addiction characterized by preoccupation and extreme dependence—emotional, social and sometimes physical—on another person’.

In other words, co-dependency involves one partner spending a lot of energy meeting the other partner’s needs to the detriment of their own.

Are you co-dependent?

But what does this look like in real life? Often, people with co-dependency issues will:

  • Have low self-esteem
  • Find it hard to say no
  • Have poor boundaries
  • Feel the need to fix or take care of people
  • Find it hard to communicate honestly (because you don’t want to upset people or aren’t fully aware of what you really want or need)
  • Focus on mistakes
  • Need to be liked by everyone
  • Deny or suppress their needs, thoughts, and feelings
  • Confuse love and pity
  • Have a fear of abandonment, including holding onto bad relationships

Why does co-dependency matter?

It’s clear from the list above that being co-dependent isn’t much fun, nor the healthiest way to live your life.

Often, someone with co-dependency issues will base their self-esteem on the opinions of those they are desperately trying to care for – which is a particularly toxic mix if the other person happens to be a narcissist. Unchecked, co-dependency can result in you feeling completely reliant on the praise of others for your own self-esteem, and with little sense of your own worth or value outside of your care-taking role.

To live a fulfilling life, take action on your divorce and avoid entering future dysfunctional relationship cycles. Realise when you are showing co-dependent behaviour and take steps to change your patterns.

Breaking the cycle of co-dependency

Tackling co-dependency issues is critical to approaching and navigating divorce, especially when divorcing a narcissist or other high conflict personality. Here are some steps you can take to move away from co-dependent behaviour:

Get support

Sometimes we need a mirror holding up to us so we can see what’s going on. If you suspect you have co-dependent tendencies, seek help. Talk to a trusted friend, or even better, contact a therapist or coach to talk through your situation, your behaviour patterns and your feelings.

Be aware

The first step to change is awareness – recognising when you are showing these behaviours, and how they are making you feel. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t change everything at once. Notice what you are doing, your motivations and how it makes you feel.

Practice saying no

Co-dependents often find it hard to say no for two reasons: they don’t want to displease others, and they have lost sense of their own needs and priorities. If this sounds like you, start saying no. You don’t have to start big, or with your high conflict soon-to-be-ex-husband. Simply taking the time to say ‘I’ll get back to you’ when someone asks you for a favour is a start.

If this co-dependency conversation is ringing bells for you, rest assured support is on the way! I am developing resources and programmes for women in high conflict relationships so you can navigate divorce as smoothly as possible.

Contact me to be first to hear about it.

contact Emma

The Divorce Alchemist

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a practising family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit


  1. Brandie Robinson

    I believe my husband and I are both co- dependant. We’ve had a really rough marriage, a lot of fighting. Verbal, mental and financial abuse. I finally seperated from my husband, we went to counseling where I learned he is a narcissist. I think he’s like jeckyl and Hyde, I swear he acts like 2 different people. He is a mean monster and the sweetest man I’ve ever met. I’m in love with one and can not stand the other. And can not seem to let go. We’ve been separated now for 7 months and I think I’ve decided it’s best if I don’t move back in with him, it’s too high stress for me. But I can’t seem to let him go. Is this co-dependancy?

    • Emma Heptonstall

      Hi Brandie, they are certainly aspects of co-dependency, and what you describe may also be something known as trauma-bonding, where we become addicted to the push pull of this behaviour. Seeking therapy (if you haven’t already) will be a good option for you to understand the dynamics of this relationship so that you can continue to remain free of it and also not chose a similar partner in the future.


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