by Dick Innes
Phil, a businessman, has gone bankrupt twice. As a result, he and Janet, his wife, have lost two homes. Both times, Janet worked hard to pay off their debts and rescue Phil. Phil has also been involved in an affair for the past several years. When Janet found out about this, she was hurt terribly, but when Phil said how sorry he was, assured Janet how much he loved her, and promised that he would never see the other women again, Janet forgave him and took him back.
Later, Phil told Janet he had found work in another city and would be away for several weeks. He was gone for more than two months. Phil wrote and told Janet how much he missed her and that she was the only woman in his life, but he didn't send her any support. Again Janet was left with responsibility of paying all the bills.
After he returned, Janet discovered that Phil and been away with the other woman!
Kym is married to a transvestite. "I knew John was this way before I married him," Kym told me, "but I believed if I loved him I could change him. But it isn't working. When he dresses like a woman and wants me to make love to him this way, I feel sick in my stomach, My counselor has advised me to accept him as he is. What should I do?"
Fred's thirty-six-year-old son, Bill, is an alcoholic and is still living at home with his parents. "We've done everything for him," Fred said. "I pay his bills, including his car payments, and take care of him when he is too sick to go to work, and pick him up when he's too drunk to drive. I've been helping him for years, but he is no better. What more can I do?"
Exactly what should Fred, Kym, Janet and others in similar or related situations do? What is the Christian thing to do?
First, they need to understand the true nature of their problems. True, the people mentioned above all have serious problems, but Janet, Kym and Fred's problems are first and foremost their own. They all suffer from codependency.
Only in recent years has codependency been recognized as the debilitating sickness it can be. At first, it was identified as a problem in alcoholic families. For example, even after alcoholic husbands dried out, twelve months later, many of their families fell apart. When the care-taking wife no longer had a needy spouse, she felt she wasn't loved anymore because she wasn't needed. What she failed to see was that she had been dependent on his dependency. Her need to be needed was enabling her husband to stay sick. In other words, she was codependent.
She felt she wasn't loved anymore because she wasn't needed.
Codependency, it is now seen, goes far beyond taking care of an alcoholic. It applies to the caretakers of any over-dependent person--such as drug addicts, work addicts, food addicts, spend addicts, TV addicts, sex addicts, religion addicts, sport addicts, money-making addicts, and to anyone addicted to any kind of compulsive behavior. In fact, latest estimates say that up to ninety-eight percent of us are either over-dependent or codependent.
Second, to resolve their problems, codependents need to admit their sickness and stop blaming others for their unhappiness or the difficulties they have.
Blaming others for their problems is denying their own problem, which is at the heart of most unhappiness. Only as we face the truth, as Jesus put it, will we ever find freedom and happiness.
Third, codependents need to stop trying to change others. They have a compulsion to fix everybody else but themselves. Trying to change or fix others only leads to frustration and anger. The only person we can ever fix or change is our self, and as we change, others around us are forced to change--one way or the other.
Fourth, the codependent needs to come to terms with his or her own problem. While an over dependent person is often addicted to some form of compulsive behavior, the codependent is addicted to the addict. In reality, but are over dependent.
The codependent is addicted to the addict.
Because codependents need to feel needed in order to feel loved, they suffer from love deprivation, usually from childhood, and have confused feeling needed for feeling loved. This is why many codependents have gone into the helping professions. In order to feel needed, some codependents will go to any length to keep a needy person dependent on them. They can be loyal to the point of being destructive both to themselves and others.
On the surface, codependency can appear to be very loving, kind and Christian, However, at its core it is a confusion of responsibility. The codependent is so busy taking too much responsibility meeting the needs of others, he neglects taking responsibility for meeting his own needs and facing his own problems.
In so doing, he short-circuits the natural consequences of his loved one's destructive behavior. For instance, as long as Janet keeps paying Phil's bills for him and keeps taking him back without serious consequences after his affairs, he will never learn responsibility in financial matters or relationships. Only when Janet "lets go" of (stops clinging to) Phil and allows him to face the consequences of his irresponsible business and personal behavior will there be any hope for Phil to recover.
And, as I said to Kym, "It is one thing to accept John. It is another matter altogether to accept his transvestite behavior. As long as you accept his behavior and keep protecting him, he will never get better and you will be part of his sickness."
And as long as Fred keeps paying Bill's debts for him, Bill will never accept his own responsibility and grow up.
The fact is, we are all responsible. As the Bible says, we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of how responsibly we have lived.1
Codependents need to allow irresponsible people to face the consequences of their actions, and, if necessary, let them hit bottom.
Codependents also need to accept responsibility for themselves and work of their own growth. One of the most effective ways to do this is to join a twelve-step support or similar group. Here, they can learn to feel loved for whom they are and not for what they do for others. Codependents also need to trust their lives to God, a power greater than themselves, and daily ask him to face them with the reality of their own problems and give them the courage and strength to help overcome them. God can make a much better job of our lives than we can. Why not trust your life to him today?
1.See II Corinthians 5:10