Confronting Codependency in Your Marriage
- Meg Wilson Author, Hope After Betrayel
- 2008 18 Aug
Sitting in the support group for wives of sex addicts was difficult enough. Mental taunts like: “How did I get here?” and “Why do I have to be in a group when my husband is the one who made poor choices?” continued. To make it worse the leader of the group called us “codependents.” I never liked labels and this was the mother-of-all-labels as far as I was concerned. Now I was mad.
Something kept me going to the group though. It might have been the comfort of knowing I wasn’t the only woman who found her life tossed upside-down, or the insightful information about addictions and how they work, but every time I heard that label, I bristled. By the time we got to the lesson dealing with codependency my arsenal of explanations dealing with why an educated, sensitive, yet independent woman could not be codependent, was well stocked.
The leader started by reading a clinical definition of codependency. I listened to each line trying to shoot down phrases like “let’s another person affect their behavior” and “tries to control others” as well as “tends to be overly responsible for others.” My resolve not to be labeled dropped along with every weapon in my arsenal. The truth blew every argument to bits.
Once I was ready to listen, weights began to be lifted like a soldier taking off his heavy armor. This label wasn’t a bad thing. It was a door I could learn to exit. I wasn’t doomed to live in some cage with a sign over my head. Other people’s behaviors didn’t have to become my problem. I have enough of my own baggage to carry, but I could put down everyone else’s. Even my husband and children had to take care of their own issues. (My daughters were teenagers by this time.)
Slowly, I realized all the ways I tried to change other people’s behaviors. From an early age I learned to avoid conflict. I anticipated family member’s needs so I wouldn’t have to deal with conflict. Anger was a powerful tool in our home. My husband unconsciously learned to use his defensiveness to manipulate me. I had conditioned him each time my actions said, if you get mad at me I would do whatever it takes to make it stop. From an early age I leaned to avoid conflict.
An amazing truth emerged through the healing process. Conflict and anger lessened when I was honest with my feelings, when I let others express their anger, and when I didn’t take responsibility for others emotions. I learned I couldn’t make anyone mad because my feelings are the only ones I’m responsible for. This may sound obvious to some, but for me it was revolutionary and oh, so, freeing.
I now recognize the feeling of resentment that follows when I fall into the old patterns. Once my eyes were opened to the futility of trying to control others, it became obvious. Finally, the constant frustrations in my relationships had been identified. All those “good intentions” were unmasked and seen for what they really were. Things like never saying “no” when someone asked me to do something. I thought I was being a good person, but I really didn’t want anyone to dislike me or be angry with me—it was all about me.
When I realized that saying “yes” for the wrong reasons hurts the people I love by enabling them to be manipulative or selfish, it was easier to stop. This taught me to focus on the truth of a situation and set aside the emotion. I try to deal with the facts instead of worrying about what the person will think of me. What matters most is what God thinks of me.
For years I wandered in the desert of pleasing others and I was exhausted. These truths were like a drink of cool water. Further refreshment came as the Lord gently showed me how I had misinterpreted His Word to justify my codependency. I wrestled with Him for a while over the verses about forgiving 70 times 7 and turning the other cheek. Finally, God showed me the difference between carrying other’s burdens and their load.
Galatians 6:1-5 talks about carrying each other’s burdens in the context of sharing the sorrow of sin. If I don’t empathize with others I may think I am better than them. When one member of the body is in pain, we all suffer. However, at the end of the section it clearly states, “each one should carry his own load.” This means the consequences of another person’s actions belong to them. They affect me and may make me sad. They may even force me to draw a line or create a negative consequence. But knowing that I am responsible to God for only my load removed many backbreaking—and heartbreaking—lies for me.
Going deeper revealed that my codependency was driven by a low self-worth. I felt at the core, I was less than. Allowing God to reach down and personally show me His love changed everything. As I shared in last month’s article, “Looking For The Wrong Addiction,” finding out about my husband’s sex addiction crumbled the shaky foundation I built on him. Once I tumbled down to the solid ground, I found Christ’s arms waiting.
Christ showed me that I had value because His Father created me perfectly and He paid for every sin that could ever diminish God’s work. I wasn’t less than anyone. I also wasn’t more than either. God leveled the playing field that was in my mind. He created and loves each of His children perfectly. These aren’t just words for Sunday, they are truth for every day; and when they sank into my heart, they made a real and palpable difference. Every label was wiped away that once said: “Less Than,” “Sinner,” and “Codependent.”
I no longer bristle when I hear the labels. I’ve gotten over it! Now I listen to see if God has yet another lesson for me to learn. There are still blind spots, so I’ll continue to work on any codependent residue, staying in the light of truth where the ground is solid and the load is light.
Crosswalk.com welcome's Meg Wilson as the newest contributor to our Marriage channel. Watch for Meg’s article next month as she shares more about healing from codependency.
Meg is a regular speaker to women’s groups, Bible studies, and conferences. Five years ago she founded the Healing Hearts Ministry to offer help and hope to women whose husbands are caught in the web of sexual addiction. Her book Hope After Betrayel: Healing When Sexual Addiction Invades Your Marriage (Kregel Publishers) was released last year. You can visit her website at www.hopeafterbetrayal.com