4 Steps to Take if You're Financially Codependent
Most of us are already familiar with financial dependency, but financial codependency is much less talked about.
Here's one definition of codependency I found online:
"Codependency provides a false sense of comfort. It's depending on someone emotionally and financially, seeking validation rather than being full with oneself first and having an interdependent coexistence with one's partner. To do so robs both individuals of their peace and individuality."
Financial dependency means that you rely on someone else for your financial well being.
Financial codependency, on the other hand, means you rely on someone else's financial situation for your EMOTIONAL well being.
When you're financially codependent on someone, your personal peace is dependent on whether the other person is using their money how you want or expect them to. When they’re not, you feel stressed, angry, or resentful.
It might be tempting to think that only selfish or narcissistic people could suffer from financial codependency. After all, the main issue is that one's inner peace is affected by someone else's money! But that's not the case.
Think of the parent who sent their kid to college, only to see them blowing every penny they earned from their part time job on partying every night. They're going to be worried that their kid might ruin their best shot at a better life, and they might strain the relationship between themselves and their child just to correct it.
Money is not a good stand-in for every other aspect of a healthy relationship
In this case, the parent might be trying share a lesson with their child that they learned a long time ago (don't waste money and opportunities while you're young), but that the child hasn't yet learned. This parent is financially codependent on their child because they're trying to shield their child from learning this lesson the hard way- though that's how most important lessons are learned! In the meantime, they're stressing their own inner peace as well as their relationship with their kid.
Financial codependency is so much less talked about than financial dependency, but it may be just as unhealthy and dangerous as financial dependency!
Why? Because money is not a good stand-in for every other aspect of a healthy relationship. You or the other person may need to learn how to establish boundaries, communicate clearly, or spend quality time together.
When you’re financially codependent, you’ve established MONEY as your de facto intermediary for tough conversation. Consciously or subconsciously, you use money as a tool to avoid saying things that need to be said. Things like:
- “I love you,”
- “I care about you, but I need some space,”
- “Unfortunately, I can’t help you in this area,”
- “I don’t like it when you treat me this way,”
- “I need to focus on my own financial goals right now.”
In other words, you’re throwing money at a deeper problem- and worse, disguising it as generosity or kindness.
"To do so robs both individuals of their peace and individuality."
When you're financially codependent on someone (or allowing someone to be financially codependent on you!), you're actually hurting both individuals. Just like with any kind of codependency, your relationship hinges on how you feel about some aspect of their life- and it always suffers as a result. The more you rely on the false sense of comfort that comes from knowing (and possibly trying to control) their finances, the more you are crippling yourself in other, more effective, areas of your life.
So what now?
If you feel like you are financially codependent on someone else, here are some steps you can take to begin to repair the relationship:
Evaluate what's really causing you distress. Is it the fear that the person you care about will suffer as a result of their actions (like you might have?). Is it a fear of any sort of confrontation at all?
Explore ways that you can help yourself before you try to help the other person. For instance, maybe you've always secretly believed that you "were an idiot" for taking out student loans or an auto loan. Whether it was a good decision at the time or not is irrelevant at this point: just learn to forgive yourself.
Practice sharing what you know and value without talking about money. Perhaps you've noticed that expensive dinners seem to be a stand-in for quality time. Reaffirm to yourself and the other person that you value your time together no matter where it's spent.
Finally, lay down your own boundaries regarding your budget and money. If you can't respect your own boundaries, how can you expect to respect someone else's? Only share what you need to about your money and practice answering questions matter-of-factly. You don't need to provide an explanation for how you spend your money any more than anyone else does.
PLEASE NOTE: Financial codependency occurs when two separate people- who should have fairly separate financial lives- intertwine them emotionally. If you're in a marriage (or other partnership) where you've agreed that the finances should be shared, then it's normal for the emotional aspect to be shared as well!