Co-dependency. It’s not what we do, but why we do it.
Take my friend Emma, for example, who I introduced in an earlier post. If you recall, she was sticking it out in an unhealthy relationship convinced she was doing the right thing. But I beg to differ and here’s why.
If Emma and her husband were both committed to making their marriage successful and were actively seeking professional help in working it out, then I would give her credit for not giving up easily. In such a case, honoring her marriage vows would be motivated by love. She would purely want to make it work for the sake of making it work. No hidden agendas. But the key word here is, both.
Are they both working on salvaging their marriage? Or is Emma doing all the work while her husband happily skips along in status-quo land? If she alone is trying to save her marriage, then she is demonstrating co-dependency. She needs to make it work because she’s looking for a payoff. And for her, the payoff is the feeling of doing the right thing.
If guilt or fear is the motivating factor in staying in an unhealthy relationship, then the marriage is already doomed. You can stay together forever, but it will never be a real marriage. It’s fake. It may look whole on the outside but it’s empty on the inside and your marriage license is merely a piece of paper that says you file your taxes jointly.
This is the co-dependent’s mantra: If I try hard enough, I can fix it.
This is where Emma gets stuck. She thinks she can fix her marriage by herself. If she’s patient enough. If she’s loving enough. If she gives enough. If she’s unselfish enough.
What complicates Emma’s little plan is that her desire to make her marriage work is not the only factor in play. What does her husband want? Is he willing to put in the sweat in order to reap the equity? Is he motivated by love to change what isn’t working? Or, is he content with the way things are, thinking good enough is good enough? Or even worse, that Emma deserves to be his emotional punching bag?
My ex-husband use to say, “Either shit or get off the pot.” I apologize for the crudeness, but it’s so true. Either do something, taking real steps toward fixing the core problem, or stop complaining. Stop pretending. Be honest. Most likely you are fooling no one but yourself with your pretense that everything is fine when it’s not.
In my first marriage, our son came to us one day and said, “Mom, I love you and Dad, I love you, but I can’t stand being around the two of you together.” As a Junior in high school he moved out and went to live with friends. If that isn’t a wake up call, I don’t know what is. My husband and I were legally married, living under one roof, regularly attending church, and raising our children together, but we were failing miserably in giving them the home they so desperately needed.
That’s what we co-dependents do. We settle for what is instead of either making it what it could be or admitting it’s beyond repair.
I do not advocate divorce. I do advocate healthy relationships. Therefore, if the one you’re with insists on maintaining their dysfunctional status-quo, you have not only the right but the responsibility to separate yourself and your children from the crazy-making. I’m not talking about imperfect people. We’re all imperfect. I’m talking about toxic people. Unsafe people. Crazymaking people!
You know who they are by the gut-wrenching feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when they verbally attack you for no good reason. “It’s your fault everything goes wrong,” they say. “You can’t do anything right. You don’t try hard enough.” You know the spiel. They’re very convincing and you find yourself walking on eggshells, trying to prevent anything from upsetting them.
Even if there was a good reason for confrontation, the matter should be discussed in a respectful manner. Never, ever with insulting, name-calling, blaming, or shaming! This is verbal and emotional abuse and it causes as many scars as the physical kind. Do not be deceived into thinking it’s your fault or that you deserve it. No one deserves to be treated with disrespect!
But after two failed marriages already under her belt, Emma is desperate for the self-respect she’d get from doing what she considers to be the right thing. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that by allowing her husband to treat her disrespectfully, Emma is inadvertently teaching their children to disrespect and verbally abuse others. This is how dysfunction travels from one generation to another until someone has the courage to stand up and say, “Enough! No more!”
Recently on Facebook I read this post submitted by Whitney Renee Huntwork on February 19, 2017:
How we treat others and how we allow others to treat us, is a big deal. Larger than we realize. I was raised in an era where such things were not discussed. What happened behind closed doors, stayed behind closed doors. In religious circles it was considered sinful to separate for any reason and it was believed that you somehow earned heavenly brownie points for being long-suffering and patient and kind in the midst of abuse. That’s a lie.
Nowhere in the Bible does God say you should allow yourself and those under your care to be abused. Jesus was known for speaking up against pretense and injustice. He gently corrected the sin while still loving the sinner. He taught us when and how to be angry. Healthy relationships always has been and always will be His message to mankind. He died a humiliating and cruel death on the cross to restore broken relationships, first with God Himself, then with ourselves and others. There is hope, and there is help. “Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.”
Thankfully, we have more resources available to us today to deal with such issues than did our predecessors.
Unlike them, we have no excuse!
It’s time we realize that our co-dependency in sticking by an abuser is doing no one any good. It is, in fact, doing a great deal of harm! Whatever payoff we think we’re getting is not worth it.
Whether our motivation is to support the underdog (my motivation), or whether our motivation is to do the seemingly right thing (Emma’s motivation), it’s time we stop the crazy-making. Separate yourself and your children from it long enough to be able to accurately evaluate what’s really going on, what your options are, and what needs to be done next.
By all means, get help from available safe people and professionals. You are not alone. Yes, life is filled with problems and challenges. As a healthy individual, you can meet them with wisdom and courage.
We each have the responsibility of taking care of what God has given us: the opportunity for physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional health. We do this best when living a crazy-free life!