“They [Co-dependents] have worried themselves sick about other people. They have tried to help in ways that didn’t help. They have said yes when they meant no.
They have tried to make other people see things their way. They have bent over backwards avoiding hurting people’s feelings and, in so doing, have hurt themselves. They have been afraid to trust their feelings. They have believed lies and then felt betrayed.
They have wanted to get even and punish others. They have felt so angry they wanted to kill.
They have struggled for their rights while other people said they didn’t have any..”
― Melody Beattie
Aretha and Evan
Aretha and Ethan have been married for 12 years. Within the last three years Ethan’s moods have changed. The new job hasn’t turned out to be rewarding due to bad office politics. Ethan comes home irritable, demanding and closed off. Instead of dealing with his emotions and dislike for the job, he drinks a six-pack of beer a few times a week and even more on weekends.
Aretha is a stay-at-home wife. As a full-time caregiver, she spends time cooking, cleaning, shopping and caring for their pets. Ethan is one of the few people she regularly spends time with. Aretha spends hours listening to him complain about his work scene. They discuss almost nothing beyond who did what to whom at work. Aretha justifies Ethan’s drinking as a means to let off steam and relax.
For months on end Aretha and Ethan cycle through the same routine – work, household chores, complaining and drinking. Aretha’s tolerance for the negativity and drinking is beginning to wane. She notices they no longer share their dreams as a couple. Their bedroom life somehow disappeared. Aretha feels alone, confused and mad.
“Why does my life revolve around Ethan in unhealthy ways? Is it his job or the drinking which is turning me into a control freak? My need to constantly fix him or fix things for him is over the top. I am losing my identity as a person.
My feelings are all over the place.
One minute I am judgmental and hurt, the next minute I am warm and fuzzy. I want us to be close, but fear Ethan will reject me when I stand up for myself. I don’t want to hurt him. But I can no longer walk on eggshells in order to avoid an argument.
What about Ethan constantly triggers my anger and insecurities? It’s getting to the point where I no longer wish to take his calls or texts. I need help.”
The negativity slowly takes a toll on Aretha’s body. She experiences an array of different symptoms: heart palpitations, headaches and stomach aches.
Codependent or Committed?
Aretha confides to a trusted friend about her mental confusion and emotional pain. She feels guilty casting a negative shadow on her marriage relationship. After all, everyone seems to believe the narrative that they are the “perfect couple and don’t have problems.”
Aretha’s friend suggests she speak to a wellness coach to help sort out jumbled feelings. Aretha learns about a concept called codependency. She searches online for a better understanding and discovers Codependents Anonymous. The codependent definition resonates deeply with Aretha.
“Somewhere along the line, we learned to doubt our perception, discount our feelings, and overlook our needs. We looked to others to tell us what to think, feel, and behave. Other people supplied us with information about who we were and should be.
It became more important to be compliant or avoidant rather than to be authentic, and we adopted rigid beliefs about what “should be.” We believed that if we could just “get it right,” things would be okay. When we “got it wrong,” our sense of security and self-worth evaporated.
— Codependents Anonymous
Recognition and shame set in for Aretha. Her gut and heart give her clear signals which indicate she is coming upon a long-buried inner wound.
Codependency and Fantasy
Living in fantasy is difficult. Codependents appear like other people when it comes to household and professional responsibilities. Yet they have the added burden of hovering over someone else or even more than one person, such as an entire family or group.
They no longer are capable of separating their thoughts, emotions and money from their co-dependent object or objects. The False Self embodies what it means to be codependent.
Fantasy is the cornerstone of codependent relationships. The inner world of co-dependents relies on faulty misconceptions. Here are some of the false commandments codependents blindly follow:
- If the other person or relationship improves, I will effortlessly return to normal. My mission is to figure out the perfect solution.
- It’s the other person’s fault that I am overweight, depressed, guilty, etc.
- I hold the key to the other person’s healing. Without me the other person will fail/die/fall apart.
- I am not enough for the other person.
- I provide what the other person didn’t get before we met (love, money, sex, etc.).
- Worry and guilt comprise a large portion of my love definition.
- I can help or alleviate difficulties for the other person.
- My happiness is solely dependent on the other’s happiness.
- If the other person doesn’t do well, it will affect my reputation.
- I turn the other cheek/close my eyes and pretend I forgive the other. However I carry the pain of being hurt.
Aretha’s Old Fantasy Story:
Marriage means being there for your spouse but I am failing Ethan. Regardless of how much time I spend listening to his stories about work, I can’t make him feel better. Is his increased use of alcohol a sign that he is unhappy in the relationship? Why doesn’t he find me attractive anymore? Is there anything I can give him so that we can get back on track with our marriage? Will Ethan ever take care of me in a way that isn’t disappointing or lacking effort? Will he ever be emotionally available to me?
I’m tired of looking in the mirror and seeing someone who is run down, lonely and scared. I’m tired of pretending to be happy in front of my friends and family. I’m tired of defending myself, my needs and my dreams.
I’m tired of the ongoing pain in my body but I won’t complain about it in front of Ethan. He will see me as weak and helpless. Plus I don’t want to bother him or anyone else with my problems. No one wants to hear me whine.
Committed to Truth
Relationships rooted in Peace, Love and Joy (Truth) possess ease and grace. Although egos attempt to set up scenarios for conflict, long-term sustainability lives in deeper truths. Commitment means honoring the Me (each person) and making room to honor the We. Codependents spend more time in the Me because the We doesn’t feel safe or steady.
Until codependents reach a breaking point, they don’t appreciate this definition of commitment. Until codependents feel the nudge toward humility and openness they continue to behave from a place of fantasy and stress. Until codependents believe their feelings, presence and dreams matter – they can’t release the drama that seems to follow them around.
Truth is the foundation of commitment. Committed relationships thrive from a place of clarity, strength and flexibility. Here are the commandments of commitment.
- We are equal and worthy of Peace, Love and Joy in this relationship.
- Forgiveness allows us to recover from ego set ups and practice love from a higher place.
- We are free to enjoy pursuits and relationships outside of the We.
- We choose partnership based on safety, honesty and openness.
- We hold space for our beloved so s/he can heal and be responsible for his/her own wellbeing.
- We try to be considerate, respectful and trusting with each other.
- We are enough for each other.
- We laugh at the ego and the quirkiness of life.
- We are present to and for each other.
- We stand for and practice relationship with gratitude.
Through coaching Aretha slowly makes strides to better understand herself. She is unsure where her marriage is headed, but feels stronger and more authentic that she has found a way to express herself.
Aretha’s New Authentic Story
Taking ownership for my part in the marriage has been a challenging experience. Coach has given me reading materials and a journal to understand the patterns, choices and behaviors that got me to this point.
I feel supported and am learning to change from a place of strength. Each I learn to express my wishes to friends and family. My requests may be denied, but I feel stronger in myself knowing I’ve expressed my genuine feelings.
Even though there is a lot of work ahead, my priority is to create healthy relationships with myself and others. My priority is to listen to and take care of my body. This is my first attempt at authentic commitment.