Article in the Kingston Daily Freeman

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Codependency vs. True Love

            As my husband has just finished his seventh week in a Christian rehab, Transformation Life Center, I’ve been thinking a lot about what God is doing in my life, especially since I’m now at home by myself. In the beginning I missed my husband so much and I prayed for him all the time. I thought he would be happy to see me after the first month of no contact, but he wasn’t. He said seeing me brought up all kinds of emotions. Initially I was so hurt, that’s part of codependency—hurt by his feeling towards me and my inability to change his reaction towards me. I later recognized that it had little to do with me personally, but with him. I began to really think about this issue of co-dependence and the 1 Corinthians definition of love. “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails" (Corinthians 13: 4-8).
            I thought I was trying to love my husband in this way, but I see some of my actions revealed characteristics of codependency. “Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves. They’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own. Others need always to be in a relationship, because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re by themselves for too long” (Symptoms of Codependents). I was feeling rejected and abandoned by him, though I knew he probably was dealing with both withdrawal symptoms from nicotine and some other difficult issues. After a few days of prayer and talking with others I began to realize that my husband’s actions were based on his issues, not mine. I forgave him and went to visit him the next week with even worse results. I felt really hurt and angry. Why should I continue to forgive someone who treats me as if I’m the problem?
            Perhaps I have been part of the problem by allowing him to function as a part-time husband? In an effort to be less demanding I allowed him to be himself more and do what he wanted; I gave him more rope you could say, and he hung himself. Was it my fault that I didn’t monitor his behavior? No! That would be taking the blame on myself and trying to control him, two more characteristics of codependents. Actually this journey to love him unconditionally is what brought him to his own crisis. Unconditional love is not codependency because you don’t need their love to function and you don’t need them to act in certain ways to be happy. I’ve been learning that particular lesson for years. I became independent because I couldn’t depend on him for love, so I thought I wasn’t codependent, but I still was to some degree.
            I thought back to God’s original design of marriage for Adam and Eve. Didn’t they need each other? Didn’t God design us to need each other? Yes. I thought I had put God first and my husband second, but actually I had put my happiness first, which depended too much on circumstances. God used my husband’s problems to draw me closer to Jesus, but I still had some unhealthy dependence on my husband. I expected my husband to change, to be the man of God he could be. I knew my husband had the ability to love God, others and me, but he struggled with it so much because of his past. Yet I kept wanting and believing he would change. Nothing wrong with that, right? Well maybe. Even though it is a reasonable expectation of a wife and the desire of a woman to be loved, trying to manipulate it into happening is just another symptom of codependency. I didn’t think I was manipulating situations, and I had certainly improved over the years, but I think I was doing this in more subtle ways, such as having dinner together almost every night even though he didn’t like it.
            But that isn’t the core of the issue. Wanting things to go my way is. Being in control is another symptom of codependents. As a teacher I have to be in control in order to manage the classroom, but now the trend is to have classes more student directed. Over the years I’ve learned to let go more and more in the marriage, but being somewhat strong willed this was difficult. However my desire for control lately was more subtle. I wanted to have a happy marriage and I tried to have one, but my husband didn’t seem to care much. He didn’t seem to want to put in the effort into anything, so I put in double the effort. I forgave him over and over and kept enduring, and I thought that was true love, but I still wanted him to change, to be more loving. Basically, even though I didn’t have control because I knew I couldn’t control him or God, I still wanted a loving marriage with a happy ending, which may still be the result, but I am no longer depending on my husband changing. And that is what is so freeing!
            I believe my husband will change with this program he’s attending, but I’m not dependent on it or co-dependent on him. It’s a subtle difference, but one that makes a big difference in my attitude. I have freed my husband to make his own choices, and the Lord has freed me from being dependent on my husband and how he treats me. That doesn’t mean I will let him verbally abuse me, as we have decided not to see each other until he can be nicer, but I am becoming more and more dependent on the Lord and His love. I don’t always have to be with people to be happy. I have greater and greater joy spending time with Him and reading His Word. And that’s what God is showing me. He is able to do exceeding abundantly, beyond what we ask or think, even in challenging circumstances.

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