Codependency, Over Used But Real

Does just reading the word “codependent” make you want to scream? I get it – I’ve heard way too much about it and seen it applied to pretty much anyone who’s not a full on narcissist.

That said, it’s a real thing, and it can cripple a marriage. Definitions vary a great deal, but at its core codependency is two people in an unhealthy relationship. One defends the other’s weakness/sin, or makes allowances for it, or for covers for it. The other person is unable to function on their own, relying on the other in an unhealthy way.

This has become increasingly tricky because some promote a level of separation and individuality that violates the kind of relationships and community God calls us to have. Some of what I would call agape love is seen as codependence by others. In a healthy marriage, we care for and about each other, and we care what our spouse thinks and feels. Total independence and not caring at all what anyone else thinks is not a Godly way to live. 

How do you draw these lines? Is the Bible your go to for relationship models? 

~ Paul – I’m XY, and I could survive without Lori, but I wouldn’t be happy about it!

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19 Comments on “Codependency, Over Used But Real

  1. This is one of my areas of concern for my wife. While I take care of all financial things, and DW is content to not concern herself with them, she ought to know how to, should something happen to me. So this morning, we had her first lesson on how to pay our bills online.

  2. I understand codependency as doing something FOR someone that is not mine to do. I cannot manage my husband’s alcoholism and he cannot manage my eating disorder. If I try to fix his problems for him, I damage my own well being and wear myself out so I’ve no energy to face my own issues.

    If I take responsibility for my issues and well being, then I can offer appropriate support and encouragement as he takes responsibility for his issues and well being. Walking alongside our spouses shows respect. Interfering with their opportunities for learning and growth shows disrespect.

    So when it comes to drawing the line, I ask whether I am trying to fix something that is not mine to fix and whether I’m interfering in my husband’s opportunity to learn and grow.

    • @StandingTall
      Great insights. Thank you for expressing them. I needed to hear this today.
      Interfering with another’s opportunity to learn and grow….great way to look at it.

    • Yeah, my husband also has a drinking problem, and I struggle with knowing if what I’m doing is what a normal wife / partner would do or if I’m enabling or codependent. And the emotional isolation that comes from addiction is doing a real number on me, and I think it’s making me codependent when I was never like that before I was married, just because of the desperation for affirmation. Sigh.

      • @sunny-dee I encourage you to explore some Alanon groups and find one that feels right for you. My husband stopped drinking more than two years ago, but that did not bring a magic end to the unhealthy behaviors I had developed over the past 30+ years. Hence I still attend meetings regularly.

        Much of what we learn in Alanon applies to most areas of life, and one of the most significant benefits is no longer feeling isolated. You spend time with others who understand your situation and you have a safe place where you don’t have to keep any secrets. God bless you in your journey of healing!

        • I’ve been attending Alanon for over 2 years now.
          It’s been a blessing.

        • I’ve thought about it, I just haven’t. Mainly because reading a lot of the testimonials just doesn’t fit my situation — my husband is not violent, he doesn’t have outbursts of anger, he hasn’t cheated, he shows up for work and helps around the house. He’s a functional alcoholic, and I feel almost overly dramatic to act like my situation is as bad as others’, if that makes sense.

          I have a very good friend (who is also a pastor) and her dad is a functioning alcoholic, same as my husband. She and I can talk whenever I need it, and she’s totally understanding and supportive. So I do have an outlet. And I’ve been doing a lot of other things — I’ve started talking more with my mom and other family, I lead a small group at my church — to get that emotional connection and to feed my own spirit, and it has made a HUGE difference.

          The main thing is that I am still sad that I can’t have some of that emotional connection in my marriage. I wish I could, and I think in a healthier environment, I would. It’s just not where we are.

          Although, StandingTall, I am so glad you mentioned that your relationship didn’t magically improve after your husband stopped drinking. The past couple of months, my husband has cut back a lot (like, he’ll go 5 or 6 days without drinking, then drink for a couple of days, then not drink — before, it was zero days not drinking). But it really hasn’t changed our interactions, not like I thought it would. I will continue working on me.

  3. I was codependent. Once I addressed it I found I swung to the other side and became too independent and even questioned being married. Thankfully, the swing has settled into a healthier zone.

  4. I think this goes back to last week on feeling responsibility for things you aren’t responsible for or have control over. I can’t control how my spouse acts or what he chooses. It is also not my responsibility.
    Tying your value and happiness to your significant others life choices basically equals codependency.

    I think it is necessary to depend on each other. It is expected to rely on each other. It is okay that I rely on my husband to mow the lawn (I’m allergic), and it is okay the he depends on me to manage paying our bills on time (he is busy working). Marriage is team work, and teams depend on each other. Codependency, on the other hand, isn’t healthy. It isn’t healthy to put your emotional and spiritual health on your spouse and their personal choices.

    • I think of seasons, too. I was told I was codependent and needed healing at a time where I would expect codependency to occur…during the baby/toddler years. I was bodily, circumstantially, and hormonally vulnerable…not to mention relationally and financially.

      Now that my youngest is long out of diapers and my oldest creeping towards adulthood, and I no longer struggle with post partum depression,I do not need to depend upon my husband at such a high level.

  5. A defining moment for me regarding the concept of codependency was reading Dr. Willard Harley’s essay “How the Co-dependency Movement is Ruining Marriages” ( ). My takeaways:

    1) Co-dependency originated in relation to those with chemical/drug addictions, and referred to behaviors/attitudes that work against the spouse and work against the addict’s recovery. Most of us are not married to addicts — most of us are married to much healthier individuals, so maybe the “rules of engagement” are different for us “normal” marriages and those married to addicts.

    2) If you are careless in your definitions, most of us — especially those of us trying to be “generous husbands/wives” — will easily meet your criteria for co-dependency. This can lead to unnecessarily — or even dangerously — pathologizing good, healthy, appropriate, relationship-building behaviors and attitudes.

    • I do think so much of this comes down to the healthiness of the people involved. Something that is awesome, wonderful, and supportive in a relationship with relatively healthy individuals could very well be codependency in a relationship with an addict (or other behavioral issues). It’s the nature of that behavioral problem — you can’t act the way you could or would want because of someone’s emotional health. Just like you may not be able to eat sweets if your spouse were diabetic, if that makes sense. It’s not that the action itself is inherently bad or “codependent,” it is that there are other things in play where that action is not fruitful.

    • @Mrshorty – Exactly what I was trying to show in this post. Thanks for the link to Harley’s essay – I had not seen it. I think “movement” is exactly the right word.
      BTW, I’ve seen people do unloving and unbiblical things in the name of ending co-dependancy. It can become another gospel!
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Brief Touch Packs A PunchMy Profile

    • “Most of us are not married to addicts” I believe very few households/relationships are unaffected by addictions.

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