Relationship Problems & Co-Dependency


“My relationship is falling apart!”

Sadly, things like this are frequently expressed in my office.

We are relational beings who exist in a world where we rely on one another for support, engagement, and growth. When relationships begin to wilt, we experience deep feelings of distress and grief. Our needs for security and attachment can be threatened, causing us to act drastically to restore that sense of belonging.

Although many of us have relationship difficulties, those issues may stem from a variety of problems. First, a relationship may be one-sided or imbalanced, where one partner relies heavily on the other for having needs met, known as co-dependency. Second, a relationship may be harmful or abusive, thereby extinguishing a sense of safety and control. Third, a relationship may lack harmonious communication and discussion of needs. 

What is Co-Dependency?

Co-dependency happens when one person in a relationship is overly reliant on and enmeshed in the role of their partner. A person who is co-dependent may struggle with self-worth and belonging, thereby using their partner as a means of distraction from uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Many times, co-dependency involves desperate attempts to cope with emotional distress by relying on their partner in a way that is not reciprocal or balanced.

The DSM-5 notes that many people with co-dependent relationship tendencies may meet criteria for Dependent Personality Disorder, which is a common issue for people who experience relational trauma during their youth.

Criteria for Dependent Personality Disorder include (DSM-5):

  • Difficulty making routine decisions without input, reassurance, and advice from others.
  • Requiring others to assume responsibilities which they should be attending to.
  • Fear of disagreeing with others and risking disapproval.
  • Difficulty starting projects without support from others.
  • Excessive need to obtain nurturance and support from others, even allowing other to impose themselves rather than risk rejection or disapproval.
  • Feeling vulnerable and helpless when alone.
  • Desperately seeking another relationship when one ends.
  • Unrealistic preoccupation with being left alone.

Of course, not everyone who feels co-dependent meets criteria for Dependent Personality Disorder. Luckily, the concerns for people who are co-dependent (or in a co-dependent relationship) can be helped with therapy (Sperry, 2013).

Are you in a co-dependent relationship? Do you or a loved one struggle with a sense of self-worth and belonging? Want to learn about how I can help? Contact me today to schedule your first appointment.

What is an Abusive Relationship?

An abusive relationship involves the use of power to control the other person.

Abuse can be broken down into two main categories of physical and psychological. Physical abuse may involve bodily harm, nonconsensual sexual advances or behaviors, removal or control over resources (finances, food), etc. Psychological abuse may involve verbal intimidation (yelling, ordering), taunting, making threats, emotional manipulation, etc.

There is not always a clear-cut definition for what “counts” as abusive; however, psychologists agree that the effects of those behaviors on the partner can determine the level of abuse (Sperry, 2013). For example, in some relationships, arguing may happen occasionally and leave both partners feeling unaffected. In others, arguing may be deeply harmful and traumatic for one or both partners.

In general, abuse may be happening if one of the following is threatened:

  • Safety
  • Control or freedom
  • Resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, I can help. If violence or nonconsensual sexual behavior is involved, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 as soon as possible, and schedule your first appointment with me via the Contact Me page.

Communication Issues and Argument

John Gottman (1998) described the four most common communication problems in relationships as being The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The presence of one or more of these communication problems indicated unhealthy patterns in the relationship. These included Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling.

  • Criticism – being judgmental, insensitive, and derogatory regarding one’s partner
  • Defensiveness – being easily offended and reactive
  • Contempt – a sense of disregard or uncaring for one’s partner
  • Stonewalling – shutting out one’s partner or a refusal to respond

These four horsemen are common in unhealthy relationships, and with therapy and practice couples can learn to communicate and meet each other’s needs more effectively.

If you and your partner, or someone you care about, struggles with issues of communication in relationship, contact me today. Together, we can restore your relationship and improve the quality of your bond.

Dr. Jaffe Can Help

If you and/or your partner are invested in restoring or strengthening your relationship, contact me today. I utilize therapeutic techniques, such as Psychodynamic theory, to identify patterns in relationships that are problematic and collaborate with couples to find solutions (Baucom et al, 1998). In addition, I also employ methods from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Gestalt Therapy, and other techniques based on the needs and goals of my clients.

Therapy for marital and relational problems involves increasing interpersonal awareness, attuning to bids for connection, and establishing healthy boundaries. As we meet to work on relational problems, you will learn to:

  • Express needs to your partner in a healthy manner
  • Notice when your partner is feeling distressed
  • Gain awareness about your family system
  • Identify behaviors that make you and your partner feel threatened
  • Increase safety in the relationship

Interested in Therapy Services?

If you are interested in therapy services for relationship problems, please contact me as soon as possible.

I would love to hear from you, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. It is never too late to get help.

Schedule your first appointment today, and give wellness a try!

Read About Dr. Jaffe

Want to learn more about me?

Click on About Me to learn more about my credentials and specialties.

My clinic is based in Encino, California, but I also work with people from all over the area, including Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks, San Fernando, Inglewood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, and beyond!

Want to Learn More?

Interested in learning more about therapy and mental health? Check out the tabs above, or click on the links below:




Baucom, D. H., Shoham, V., Mueser, K. T., Daiuto, A. D., & Stickle, T. R. (1998). Empirically supported couple and family interventions for marital distress and adult mental health problems. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 66(1), 53.

Gottman, J. M., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting marital happiness and stability from newlywed interactions. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 5-22.

Hegarty, K., Sheehan, M., & Schonfeld, C. (1999). A multidimensional definition of partner abuse: development and preliminary validation of the Composite Abuse Scale. Journal of family violence, 14(4), 399-415.

Sperry, L. (2013). Handbook of diagnosis and treatment of DSM-IV personality disorders. Routledge.

Robert Jaffe, Ph.D, LMFT
15720 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 520
Encino, CA 91436
Phone: 818-462-8383
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