Ask Pastor Roger Barrier - Church Leadership

Co-Dependent Love

Co-Dependent Love

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at

Dear Roger,

Long story short. I had a bad childhood and parents that I couldn't count on for anything. I moved out of my grandparents house when I was 19 to live on my own because that environment was toxic.

I was in college at the time and needed someone to help me pay the bills. Since I was working 5 days a week, going to school full time, and had no one I could count on, I let my boyfriend of 2 weeks move in with me, not only to help financially but because he was homeless. He had no mother and an alcoholic father who is dirt poor, and I love to heal a broken wing.

Anyway, we really butted heads and I felt trapped but pushed through it all because I am serious about pulling myself out of poverty.

Once we became successful, we got "married" at the justice of the peace and thought it would financially be a good move since it saved us tax money. We didn't have a witness or friends or family involved. I didn't wear a dress, we didn't get rings, and I didn't change my name. It honestly was just a financial move.

My main concern now is that we have a mother-child relationship and it has always been this way. I love him, but have never loved him like a husband, only like a family member. This is complicated to me because on one hand I feel like I'm living a lie, yet on the other hand I don't want to lose him. I just don't know what is right. My heart says he is not the one for me and at the same time it sings out "don't abandon him". What does God want me to do?

Sincerely, "VB"

Dear VB,

A co-dependent relationship is one in which one person exists to keep the other person afloat. It sounds to me that you are co-dependent with your friend. Co-dependency is never a satisfactory relationship for the one who is doing most of the giving. Unfortunately, co-dependency assures that your partner will struggle to get his feet on the ground and struggle continually to ever lead a profitable life.

I suggest that you chart a course out of co-dependency as soon as possible.

Counseling may help you work through the issues and develop a more functional relationship with him.

If no capable counselor is available then I recommend that you select one or more of the many good Christian resources to guide you to freedom. I just googled "codependency books" on the internet and scores of good options are available. Of course, you probably don't need a hard-back book. Plenty of good articles are available right on the internet.

In my experience, extracting one's self from the prison of co-dependency is incredibly difficult, but certainly not impossible. Co-dependency is so dysfunctional and the freedom that comes from functionality is so refreshing that it is well worth the pain and effort.

I really appreciate your strength of character. To victoriously overcome so many setbacks and difficulties is remarkable. Many would have surrendered long ago. I believe that God has many good days in store for you in the future.

As I read your letter, it sounds like your "love life" hasn't turned out the way you thought it might.

Remember that love in the Bible is never a feeling. It is always a verb. In our culture we have deep emotional feelings that we call love. But according to the Word of God love is an action. When we begin to act lovingly toward someone, the feelings will often follow. You might try acting in a loving way toward him and perhaps the feelings of love will come and he actually will be the "one" who is for you.

The Love Chapter of the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13  In verses four through seven Paul shares fifteen characteristics of love: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

In English translations each portrayal of love is a simple descriptive adjective. But, not so in Greek. In Greek each is a verbal adjective--verbal adjectives imply and signify action. They don't just "feel" good; they do things.

Occasionally, I counsel with couples who "don't love each other anymore." After describing their problems, the husband (or wife) might say something like this, "So, you see Pastor, we might as well get divorced."

I often reply, "You're telling me that even though Jesus said that we are to love our wives, you can't do that.

"Yes, that is right pastor."

"Jesus says we are to love our neighbors. Well can you love her like a neighbor?"

"No, not really," he replies.

"Then," I say, "Jesus says that we are to love our enemies. I guess that you will just have to love like an enemy.”

I relate this little scenario to help illustrate from God's perspective, that love is not always a feeling, but it is always an action.

New Testament Greek has three different words, all of which are often--but not always--translated as "love" in the English Bible. This is important because you are trying to decide whether or not you really love him.

"Eros" is the Greek word for erotic of sexual love. Perhaps you experienced that in your relationship with him. But, he was never your real "love."

"Philos" is the Greek word for brotherly love. It describes the feelings and commitment that you will likely have with a close friend. It is often is used to describe the love of a man for a woman and vice versa. You have most likely experienced "philos" with your friend.

What I don't hear in your letter is what the Bible calls, "agape," love. Agape is like God's divine love. God's love never stops loving. God's love loves the unlovable. Agape puts the needs of others first. Agape love is worth exploring as you consider your relationship with him.

Finally, your last questions makes it sound like you would like to get out of the marriage. Frankly, I question whether or not you are married now or that you ever had a marriage in the first place. You went to the justice of the peace with the intent of lowering your taxes. What you did was not marriage. It was a federal income tax matter.

I suppose that a marriage that was entered into with fraudulent intentions might find justification for ending the fraud and starting over. You will have to decide just how you plan to handle the co-dependency issue and whether or not you can, or really want to, end the relationship. Either way, I encourage you to make your decision and get on with your life as soon as possible.

You also must decide whether or not you love him. If you decide that you do, I suggest that you strongly consider marriage. (Don't miss the fact that marriage to someone with whom you are co-dependent often brings years of misery and heartache--for both of you.)

If you don't really love him and conclude that he is "not the one", then I would strongly consider that it is time to break the chains and get on with your life

VB, I'm sorry that you are in such a tough situation. Life shouldn't be this way. I am sorry. Fortunately, it seems to me that you have a great deal of insight and the courage and strength to make the right decisions. I will pray for God to bless you with such clear-cut direction that you can't miss the plans that He has in store for you. May He grant you good and wise solutions--and good days ahead.

Let me know how things turn out.

Love, Roger


Dear Reader,

I always invite those who write me to tell me some day how things are working out. Several weeks after I answered VB's letter, I received the following response from her:

"Thank you Roger. You provided a wonderful and well thought out answer. It was the answer I needed. We are in a co-dependent relationship and we did enter into this marriage for financial reasons. I honestly knew those things but never really thought "this is co-dependent". That's an important thing for not only me, but for him to understand as well. I feel like love should be 100% selfless, especially after reading your response about what the Bible says. I never knew love was a verb. That concept is one I have really just begun to understand. Now that I know love is not a feeling, but a verb, I feel that it is important to get counseling. I also feel like if this marriage ended that I could start over and it wouldn't be the end of the world since it wasn't entered into for pure reasons. We will work on it though because I won't give up easily. We have been together for 5 years and I will try counseling and let you know what happens.

Thank you, VB

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

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