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These rules, practice collectively or singly, make it difficult for people to be close or intimate. The desire to share oneself (i.e., feelings, thoughts, preferences, wants and needs) becomes frightening. The family system's mask of perfection and idealism is threatened. These families, with their codes of silence, suffer from chronic tension and anxiety that lurk below the surface.
Remarks such as, “You could have cut the tension with a knife,” are not uncommon. Family members operating in these systems are unusually relieved no one said anything, for fear of what might happen -- “I'm sure glad I got out of there before someone said something.”
Talking about feelings or problems helps to resolve tension. These families believe, however, that if they don't talk about problems, the tension will go away. Any sort of emotional bonding between family members is impossible as long as these rules are observed.
Although there is no clearly absent parent due to alcohol or drug abuse, families operating under co-dependent rules create the potential for covertly incestuous relationship. Co-dependent families originate from marriages which operate in a code of silence. Even though there is no obvious break, healthy intimacy and sexuality have no chance to grow. One or both partners will feel dissatisfied.
Trapped by a set of rules which do not permit the healthy expression of feelings and problems, a parent can easily turn to a child to get needs met. The child lessens the parent's loneliness and helps the parent deny the breakdown inherent in a marriage built on co-dependent rules. It is easy to see how a parent can channel his or her passion and energy into the child and how that child can feel like the parent's surrogate partner. For the adult child of a dysfunctional family, the task of seeing the family for what it was becomes difficult due to the family's rigid adherence to the idealistic or perfect image. To name the covert incest that went on is much more difficult. Yet to break the walls of silence and denial is far better than to keep the pain and suffering of being a parent's surrogate partner secret for a lifetime.