Demi Moore Said Her Marriage to Ashton Kutcher Was a 'Codependency.' Here's What That Means
Demi Moore’s explosive memoir Inside Out has been making the headlines since it was released in September, thanks to the 56-year-old actress’s brutal honesty about everything from her childhood trauma to her addiction to alcohol. In the tell-all book, Moore also lifts the lid on her past relationships, including her six-year marriage to Ashton Kutcher.
It was during her marriage to Kutcher in the early 2000s that Moore relapsed after almost 20 years of sobriety. And during her appearance on Jada Pinkett Smith’s Facebook Live talk show Red Table Talk, which aired Monday, she called the relationship itself an “addiction.”
"The addiction in the codependency—like my addiction to Ashton—that was probably almost more devastating because it took me seriously away emotionally," said Moore.
Moore and two of her three daughters, Rumer Willis, 31, and Tallulah Willis, 25, joined Pinkett Smith and her mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, and daughter, Willow Smith, at the red table for a frank conversation about the pain that gets passed down from parent to child.
Moore said she dealt with “the torture of feeling not good enough” her entire life. She also admits in her book that she changed herself to try to please him.
So what does it mean to be "addicted" to a person and describe a relationship as a codependency?
“As with any addiction, the thought and anticipation of being with the person dominates your thoughts and behaviors, which can be desperate and obsessive,” Catherine Jackson, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Dr. J’s Holistic Health and Wellness, tells Health. “Addictive relationships are toxic and unhealthy. They can also be very strong and difficult to break.”
Codependency is simply a clinical term for an addictive relationship, explains Jackson. “It’s an unhealthy relationship that may result in—for one or both partners—poor mental health, lack of responsibility, addiction, immaturity, antisocial behaviors, and underachievement,” she adds.
“Codependency fosters a relationship of sole dependency on your partner for approval, self-worth, and confidence. It makes your partner responsible for your happiness—which is not fair. It’s a one-sided, imbalanced relationship that is extremely difficult and draining. In cases where both partners are codependent on each other, neither of them are able to reach their individual potential.”
Some signs of codependency, according to Jackson, include using the pronoun “we” and having difficulty speaking for yourself only, being a caretaker or assuming a “rescuing” role, having poor or non-existent relationship boundaries, and having difficulty making decisions, especially without the input of the other person.
If you have a history of trauma—Moore certainly fits into that category; she recalls in her book the moment she used her fingers (“the small fingers of a child”) to dig pills out of her mother’s mouth after she tried to overdose—you’re more likely to be in a codependent relationship, says Jackson.
Christine Schneider, PhD, a licensed social worker affiliated with Missouri’s Integrative Mind Institute, tells Health that codependency is typically due to a lack of security in your own ability to regulate your emotions, and this can lead to a toxic partnership.
“The fantasy (called a ‘fusion fantasy’) typically involves the belief that being in a relationship will save you from feelings of rejection or loneliness,” she says. “When feelings of rejection or loneliness do surface, the codependent will typically rage out at the relationship ‘failures’ rather than working through the emotions.”
During Red Table Talk, Moore admitted that her “addiction” to Kutcher prevented her from being the mom she wanted to be. “It took me seriously away emotionally,” she said. Her daughters agreed that it had a detrimental effect on them, too.
Rumer, who described herself as a “love addict,” said she watched her mom “not be in control around a man” and asked herself, “Who is this person?” Tallulah, who didn’t speak to Moore for three years, said she felt “forgotten” and that her mom didn’t love her.
Not all codependent relationships have to end, says Schneider—but it takes a lot of work (typically therapy) to turn them into healthy partnerships. “Accepting the limitations of healthy relationships will allow partners to accept negative feelings as normal and allow them to change from the sense of ‘needing’ the relationship to ‘wanting’ the relationship,” she says.
As for Moore and her daughters, they’re clearly still going through the healing process—of which their emotional Red Table Talk experience has no doubt played a part
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