Family of origin, dyadic relationship and the level of codependencies: a comparison of alcoholic and non-alcoholic couples

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Virginia Tech

One hundred and twenty participants (sixty couples) provided reports of their perceptions of the functioning of their families of origin (intimacy, individuation, intimidation, and triangulation), current nuclear family relationships (intimacy, individuation, personal authority, and triangulation), and level of codependence. Sixty of the participants (30 recovering alcoholics and their spouses) formed a clinical group; the remaining sixty (30 matched comparisons and their spouses) formed a comparison group. The participants also provided relevant background information.

Chi-square analyses were used to explore the nature of the sample and supported the general comparability of clinical and comparison groups. Analyses of variance were used to investigate potential differences between and within groups with respect to intergenerational functioning and level of codependence. These analyses revealed highly significant differences between clinical and comparison groups, and very few differences between spouses in either group, in terms of intergenerational family functioning and level of codependence. Both correlational analysis and multiple regression were used to explore the relationship of continuous background variables, intergenerational functioning and level of codependence. Codependence within the clinical population is predicted by family of origin factors, whereas within the comparison population it is more likely to be predicted by spousal factors.

Nine of the original 60 sixty couples were subsequently involved in a qualitative phase of the study. These couples, reporting varying levels of codependence, participated in semi-structured interviews. The stories told by the high, low and difference in codependence groups were generally congruent with the results of the analysis of the quantitative data.

The results of the study generally support the prospects of using Bowen's Family Systems Theory in explaining the various manifestations of family of origin dysfunction, including codependence. The study also clarifies the theoretical connection between evolving notions regarding codependence and the intergenerational family system emotional context.