Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Understanding Codependency and Betrayal: An Excerpt from Harboring Hope

codependency and betrayal

"Bad marriages don’t cause infidelity; infidelity causes bad marriages."
 
- Frank Pittman

 

If you’ve ever joined a group or been to see a counselor, you may have heard others talking about codependency. However, codependency as a term may be unfamiliar to many individuals recovering from betrayal. It can be extremely confusing to those who have not encountered it before, and at a time when you need support, this term can cause you further confusion, shame, and humiliation. Yet codependency is not something to feel such shame about. It is important to understand what codependency is and what it is not.

Definitions of Codependency

Codependency as a term was first coined in the 1970s by those associated with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA had recognized a pattern within families of alcoholics, which involved a pathological dependence upon one another. Thirty years later, there are as many definitions of codependency as there are authors who write about it. Hence, we’d like to provide a simple explanation for your recovery and personal healing.   

Before we describe our view of codependency, however, another important point to understand is that codependency is a controversial topic; there is much disagreement over it. Some authors would even say that the concept behind the term has faulty reasoning. Codependency has evolved into a label thrown at anyone who may put others before themselves. While it was originally defined in connection with people who were involved with alcoholics, the term has become much broader in definition since. Even the experts describe it differently, but our favorite definition of codependency is:

"An overreaction to things (people, etc.) outside of you, and under-reaction to things (feelings etc.) inside of you."
 
- Richard Rohr

 

This definition would suggest that the first step to confronting our own codependency would be to become more aware of our own thoughts and feelings, and perhaps taking more time to discover ourselves (which many of us were taught was selfish). Once we have done so, we stand a far greater chance of becoming compassionate and lovingly responsive to our own needs, and in turn, others as well.

Codependency and Betrayal

You may wonder what all of this talk of codependency has to do with you. We think one may tend to act more codependent at times with certain people than they might at other times with different people. Even if you believe that you have not struggled with codependency in the past, experiencing betrayal in your marriage will tend to make you vulnerable to becoming more codependent toward your spouse, or even a future relationship if your spouse has left.

Marital betrayal usually evokes fear within the hurting spouse. Most betrayed individuals, at this time in their lives, naturally find that the pain of the past increases the fear of the future. In the excruciating pain experienced after the infidelity is exposed, it is normal for fear to increase. In turn, fear usually encourages people to control, and control seduces them into codependent behavior. After an affair is discovered, it is not unusual for codependency to overtake a hurting spouse and convince them to manage their spouse’s recovery. As tempting as this is, ultimately it is not helpful.

We do not want you to beat yourself up over one more thing you haven’t done right or need to improve. This is the season for self-care and mercy.  Most people, in their codependency, feel guilty about being codependent. If you used to be more codependent but have been through recovery, you make be shocked to discover that you still have some codependency. It’s imperative at this time in your own recovery that you’re patient with yourself and your own speed of recovery.   

After discovering infidelity, there is a time period during which it is normal for a hurting individual to want to know everything the spouse is doing. He or she may feel the need to check the unfaithful person’s computer, email, cell phone, mileage on the car, and so on. Commonly, the betrayed individual also is torn between the need to tell others what is going on and the desire to continue to protect themselves and their spouse from others’ bad opinions (in case of reconciliation). It is also typical for the betrayed to find themselves needing constant reassurance from their spouse. They might have felt self-confident before the infidelity was exposed and be shocked to realize that their self-esteem has sunk so low. All these thoughts and feelings are universal.

Below is the list of just some examples of codependency that Leslie has included in the Harboring Hope course to help individuals begin to understand their own codependency.

Codependency...

  • thinks and feels responsible for other people (excluding your young children).
  • feels compelled to help others solve their problems, even if they have not asked for help.
  • blames others for your own bad feelings.
  • feels unappreciated.
  • fears rejection.
  • feels ashamed of who you are.
  • constantly worries what others think.
  • needs the approval of others.
  • focuses all energies on others, their problems, and getting their acceptance.
  • feels a need to threaten, manipulate, and beg in order to keep from being deserted.
  • says whatever will please or provoke, to get you what you need.
  • lets others keep hurting you and never says anything.
  • consistently feels like a martyr.

Fear

Fear is at the center of codependency, and a betrayal will certainly induce and increase fear. Right now it would be strange if you did not have some fear. You may be paralyzed by your fear, which is understandable. The challenge is to not let fear have the final voice in helping you decide what to do or not to do.  Fear is a great indicator that we need to turn away from a situation or circumstance, but it also has a seductive voice that can begin to sound like wisdom.

Fear can begin to tell me things like, “I must control my spouse’s recovery if I am going to be okay” or “I must know where my mate is at all times because if I don’t, he [or she] will act out” or “I will not be okay if my wife [or husband] leaves me.” These are normal things to think after a betrayal, but they are not truth.

Another part of the challenge is to quit trying to do it yourself. This can lead to control. Fear will always encourage us to control. If you have trouble believing this, take some time to prayerfully consider who and what you are trying to control. Then look for the fear behind it; it is there.

Here’s the bad news. You have no control. Control is just an illusion that helps us deal with fear. We have choices, but no control. Telling your spouse your expectations is different. Sharing your feelings with them is important. On the other hand, telling your mate what he or she should or should not be doing isn’t good for anyone. They need to be willing to do things to help you feel safer.

We hope you’ve enjoyed today’s excerpt from our Harboring Hope online course

It’s OK for you, the betrayed spouse, to get help. Being vulnerable in a safe environment is how we heal and recover from traumatic experiences.

"Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness."
 
- Brené Brown

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