Are you co-dependent?

Does it feel as if you are wearing a mask? In reality you are unhappy, but you do not want to end your marriage and you know your husband is also unhappy. Does it feel as if that idiom – you can’t live with them, but can’t live without them – is applicable to you marriage? You are probably struggling with co-dependency.

Ansunette is driving to school with her kids and as she is driving her mind wanders. She doesn’t want to be in her marriage any more, but she doesn’t want to live without Frans. “Did you remember your sandwiches?” she asks to divert her own thoughts. The twins shake their heads. “I’ll bring it to school during recess,” Ansunette answers. At that moment Frans calls to find out if they can entertain work colleagues tonight. Ansunette can feel a cold developing and had actually planned to make it an early night but she says it’s okay and after dropping off the kids she heads for the supermarket. Her unhappiness will have to wait, her husband needs her. . .

What is co-dependency?
In a co-dependent marriage neither person is emotionally healthy. A co-dependent person often feels responsible for the entire world but does not accept the responsibility to live his or her own life. They are people that give a lot to others but have difficulty receiving. It is thus also those unhealthy, acquired behavioural patterns that lead to a reduced capacity to be in or partake in a loving relationship. Emotional intimacy becomes difficult and such people unknowingly wear masks to protect themselves.

A child that grows up in an environment where he or she does not experience all the security and love he or she requires, will not be a strong, healthy and emotionally whole adult. It often happens that two dependent people marry. Two emotionally dependent people thus try to rely on each other and become all the more dependent on one another. Thus, there are no healthy borders and both parties lose their identity. The two people in the relationship will often not notice what is happening as the dependency is an old pattern and it feels normal.

Co-dependent people often have low self-esteem, feel responsible for others, repress their emotions or try to control their environment and partner. There is often a denial of what is wrong in the relationship. Yet, the person seeks love and acceptance from his or her partner. It is, however, difficult because the couple struggle to communicate effectively. A lack of emotional intimacy then often lead to sexual problems.

Do these signs look familiar?

• Feelings of guilt.
• Depression.
• Obsessive-compulsive behaviour.
• Anxiety.
• The victim of repeated physical and emotional abuse.
• Denial of emotion (feeling dead).
• Fear of rejection.
• Trying to control his or her world at any cost.
• Confuse love with feelings of sympathy. Dependent people often love what they feel sorry for and what they can “save”.
• Very loyal, even when loyalty is not deserved.
• Looks after everyone around him or her, except him- or herself and thier own needs.
• Define him- or herself by those around them.
• An insatiable need for recognition and attention.
• The use of substances to conceal the emptiness inside (alcohol, food, work, etc).
• “Walk on eggs” around each other.
• Pretend that everything is going well.
• Does not have healthy borders.
• Takes everything personally.
• Blames him- or herself.
• Feels he or she is not enough.

Co-dependent people are inclined to be rescuers. This means that they do not allow other people to take responsibility. The rescuer becomes angry that the other person cannot accept their own responsibilities and steps into the role of the persecutor. This then makes them feel sorry for themselves and they feel used and then they start taking on the victim role. We call this the victim-triangle. In a co-dependent relationship the marriage partners regularly move between these three roles.

The rescuer will be prone to do things he or she does not really want to. To say yes when you actually mean no. To do things for others, even when you are not asked to do so. Co-dependent people are prone to attempt to save other’s emotions, to think for them and to solve their problems. When you are in the rescuer role it is difficult to ask for something you need. The rescuer thus saves the person in the victim role.

What now?

• Get therapy for the things in your past you have not dealt with. Mourn. Get perspective and insight into how the things from your childhood influence your life and relationships.
• Get help to provide the child inside with all the love, nurturing and pampering he or she needs. It will lead to you not expecting it from your partner in an exaggerated manner.
• Stop searching for happiness from other people and especially from your partner. The source of your happiness is within yourself. Be grounded within yourself. Learn to depend upon yourself. Other people may not always have been there for you, but you can be there for yourself.
• Become dependent on God. HE is there and HE cares unconditionally. Faith often brings much needed security that we cannot find in people.
• Strive towards independence. Emotionally and financially. In this manner we free each other from the bondage and you can be there for your partner emotionally and physically.
• One of the most important ways to step away from dependency is to look at yourself. I am responsible for looking after my own spirituality, emotional, physical and financial health. Remember, you are responsible for the amount of joy you experience and if you live life to the full and enjoy it.
• Learn to accept yourself unconditionally with all the light and dark sides of yourself.

The dependent person often denies his or her anger. It is thus important to give yourself the permission to become angry. Feel the emotion and let others also become angry. Do not let anger control you. Do something that helps you to get rid of the anger energy. Hit or scream into a pillow. Clean he kitchen, exercise, or hit a punching bag. For some people it is helpful to write a letter they do not intend to send. Get rid of all the guilt feelings, it will take you nowhere and just holds you in an unhealthy pattern.

Ultimately we believe that everything is as it should be. “Let go and let God”