My Ugly Truth About Codependency

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Today I am journaling about codependency because I truly hate the word. I wish someone decades ago could have come up with a nicer sounding word to fit the definition.

When I began some honest soul searching of my character flaws that led me to cheat on my husband, I began to realize that I am a poster child for codependency. Looking back on my life and choices, I have spent years outrunning being identified as “codependent” to any degree. Part of my personality (that I am still coming to terms with) is that I have mostly been the type of person who has to learn through failure and mistakes. So many times I have run so far from something only to find myself smacked in the face into the very thing I was running from to begin with. (Insert eye roll and deep sigh emoji here)

It felt like admitting that I was codependent meant I was weak, a doormat, and dependent or needy. And worst of all, because codependents can’t validate their own feelings very well, I had no idea what to do with all of these feelings of insecurity without anyone there to validate them.

I never wanted to be codependent. I know now this was how my own mother was labeled. She chose to stay married to my dad for 30 years. He had multiple and chronic addictions and infidelities. He finally chose to leave her after her multiple attempts at healing and reconciliation.

Their baggage became my baggage. Because I rarely have known where I end and someone else begins, I became a sponge that just absorbed everything. I absorbed and buried my anger towards both of my parents.

That buried anger ultimately came out in my own marriage. I hated my dad for never choosing integrity, yet pretending he did. I really resented my mom for not taking us kids and leaving him the first time. Growing up, there was a lot of Lucy and Charlie Brown going on. Lucy would put the football out there. And like Charlie Brown, we all hoped and swore this time would be different. Only to get up to kick the ball and have it pulled away. I have started to grieve many losses, most of which had to do with understanding and accepting the pain instead of feeling responsible for it.

Growing up as the youngest child in a large family, I often joke that all of the roles were taken so I took what was left. (I also joke to hide my pain...which I am learning is...you guessed it....a screaming neon sign that I am codependent). I learned early on to be whatever anyone needed me to be. I internalized every fight, argument and conflict. Sometimes, if I could just be cute or funny enough, I discovered I had the power to distract or bring about peace.

What does codependency have to do with infidelity?

A lot more than I would have liked. And to be honest, a lot more than I still like to admit.

I often wonder how many of us come into marriage with completely unrealistic expectations. I know I did. Because of the unhealed pain in my family of origin, I see how I internally expected my husband to be my savior. I expected him to pick up the pieces, be perfect, and somehow rescue me from all of my pain and emptiness.

It didn’t take me long to feel disappointment. I remember a few weeks into our marriage he announced he was leaving for the weekend to go deer hunting and we had a newborn at the time. I was in total disbelief and felt so angry. How could he leave me like this? Looking back I can actually smile on this. One of my husband’s greatest qualities is his strong sense of self and his boundaries. I did not define him and he would not compromise his passion or connection with God through spending time in the woods for anyone.

As a codependent, I always confused self-care for selfishness. I was resentful towards my husband for actually being healthy. I have been so selfish to expect him to be anything more than human.

As a codependent, I also looked to others for my happiness and sense of belonging. When my husband could not provide that for me, I sought it out wherever I could find it. I was completely unsafe for our marriage and didn’t even realize it. My need for connection was off the charts. Instead of allowing him to not meet all my needs all of the time, I fell for the instant gratification of two separate affairs. I justified each one by telling myself that my husband really didn’t care for me. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Understanding my tendency towards codependent behavior has been one of the biggest areas of focus in my recovery from my infidelity.

This has required developing a sense of self. I was so angry at my therapist for telling me I had no sense of self over and over the first few months. This made me feel angry and ashamed. I was so embarrassed to hear that I was a 43 year old woman with no sense of self. I even came home from my therapist’s office one day and googled it. It sounds silly and elementary, but now I view my sense of self as not being afraid to give my opinion. If I like something, I can make my needs be known. If I don’t like something, I can say that too.

Laugh if you must, but to those of us on the codependent spectrum, it is a really difficult thing to simply ask for what we need sometimes.

My hatred for the word codependency is slowly changing into a mild dislike. It is not something I need to loathe, hate or rid myself of. I am becoming more okay and accepting of it. Kindness is what leads us to repentance. Not self-hatred. I am trying to maintain compassion for my strong desire to fix, manage and control. Mostly because when I want to fix or control, I realize I’m usually just really afraid.

Most days I think we all want some kind of sense that it’s going to be okay. While Jesus promises that to us if we choose Him in eternity, He tells me plainly that in this world there is gonna be trouble. I just don’t have to go at it alone.

At its core, I think codependency is just a desire to nurture others - which isn’t a bad thing. But like fertilizer in the garden, a little nurturing helps things grow. Too much of it will kill and destroy.

Only God can change people. Not me. He is in control. Not me. He defines what is good and bad. Not me. Healing will happen on His time table, not mine. (Spoiler alert, God doesn’t seem to do anything quickly.) He’s gonna do all of the healing in our hearts. Again... not me. His love is the only thing big enough to do that.

If you are a Bible reader, the book of Exodus tells a great story where God clearly defines to Moses who He was. God seems pretty big on the simple words “I am”. When I am acting codependently, I am ultimately trying to be God. And that is not who I want to be.

One of my favorite Anne Lamont quotes is “the biggest difference between us and God is that He doesn’t pretend to be us”.

Whether unfaithful or betrayed, codependency creeps into all of our relationships. Mine has crippled ours. This is a subject that is difficult and confusing and downright messy. My hope is that we continue to wrestle as a community with what it means to love well and help one another in this area. As always, thank you for reading.

If you want to dive deeper into the subject of codependency, Hope for Healing and Harboring Hope are two classes with much content in this area. If you haven’t taken one of them, it could be the very best step in your healing journey.

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The ugly truth about codependency

Thank you for sharing so honestly. I am on the same journey and our stories are so similar we could be sisters. Sisters in the Lord at best:) it’s a comfort to know someone else who shares a similiar story. Keep moving forward. And thank you again

Thank you for the

Thank you for the encouragement and comments. They really mean so much to know that none of us have to be alone in this journey. I hate all of the pain, but I do know sharing it lessens the shame. I see you are a mom of four boys.....that has to be so crazy! We have two girls but my sister has boys so I always laugh at her stories. She says anything in their home can be turned into a weapon at any time! I always love and admire moms of boys. Hang in there with your recovery.

Keeping on sharing!

Yes I do love my boys:) most of them are grown now but yes there was never a dull moment when they were younger. I enjoy the older boys too now:) They are a blessing to me. Keep on growing and helping others! Thank you !

Thank you!

I just started reading some of your stories and it feels so closely related to my own story. Thank you for being honest and heartfelt in what you write. It gives me hope that I too am growing and learning how to be a better person to myself and others after my unfaithfulness.

Thank you for your comment.

Thank you for your comment. I am glad you can see yourself in some of my struggles...and that you can gain a sense of knowing you aren't alone. I am happy to hear you are growing and wanting to choose a different life. Let anyone at AR know how they can help you guys as you navigate through this.

Hi...I am codependent!

Thank you for sharing your story! It is almost like I wrote this. Our stories are identical with the only difference is that I am the betrayed. Your words are uplifting and full of hope. I am on my journey to self discovery...it’s rocky but it is God’s will for me to go through this in order to grow spiritually with Him.

Thank you for the

Thank you for the encouragement and the kindness. I know the longer I grow and deal with this, it is so comforting to know none of us are alone in this journey. I am happy to hear you have God on your side. And yes, it is rocky. Best to you in your healing.

I just cried

Thank you again for being so open with your life journey.. I just cried as I read this.. I too am codependent and I HATE it.. I have been LABELED a codependent by many different therapists in the last 25 yrs..as well as a love addict or sex addict or shopping addict..anything to escape the pain. My father had numerous affairs which did effect me because when there is a new woman in his life. He seemed to forget about every one around for a few years I guess he was in THE FOG so he was never there for me . I always said that I would never marry a man like my father . I ended up marrying a man who is total opposite of him.. I grew up thinking that all men were like my father . I could fake tears n get a new jacket I could push his buttons n get the moon if I wanted .WHY?? because MY FATHER WAS AND IS A PUSHOVER FOR THE OPPOSITE SEX. N neither one of us have safe boundaries. I married a strong willed man who knows his place in life. My sense of self is almost non existent compared to my husband's. HE WILL NOT LET MY CODEPENCY RUN OVER HIM. I wanted n needed him to SAY he loved me 100x a day.. I craved his attention. I was so clingy n needy for him that I was hurt or felt unloved by him when he didn't do the same.. Which in turn led to my AFFAIR..finally I was living in that FOG just like my FATHER.. When I came out of it is when I really started seeing how damaged I am. I don't want multiple AP to give me a quick fix or high. And I don't want my husband to be my Knight or saviour.. I want to learn WHO I am. I want to save my own self from my addictions. I want to be strong one day n not have to need another person to validate ME n tell me WHO I AM. I want to be that strong person instead of everyone's doormat. I want my self back. I want my self esteem back. I want my integrity back . n I pray to GOD that he will help me find a better n stronger ME..someone that my son can look up to. Someone with morals n values n to be satisfied in his own skin.
THANK YOU Elizabeth

Thank you for such a

Thank you for such a heartbreaking and heartfelt response. It seems you are finally in a place of surrender and honesty, which I know is where God wants to move in and do His best work. I love your determination of wanting your sense of self back. Keep your eyes above and keep working hard at healing.

Moving past the cycle of codepency/abuse into healing

Thanks for sharing your story... I'm an UH, and recently have come to understand and fully accept that I've been codependent in all my romantic relationships (over 25 years.) It's heartening to see there are some others that identify with codependency as the unfaithful (it seems most all the content here is about how the betrayed can adopt codependent tendencies after D-Day.) 

Like many of you, my wife is the opposite. Very clear in her purpose, directed. This is where I'd actually like to ask for guidance and perspective, to see if anyone has a shared experience. I own my codepency, and I also own my choice to deal with my pain and insecurity by seeking an affair was the absolute WORST path I could have chosen. It has robbed my wife of so so much, and has created pain for many in our lives. I wasn't aware, or skilled, or even valued myself enough to speak up to my wife about my struggles, and things occurring in our relationship that were eroding our connection. I was too weak. Scared. Conflict avoidant. 

The part where I'm struggling now, is that after D-Day, I've been struggling with my own unresolved anger toward my wife. All the anger, fear, pain, I had before the affair (which I buried and distracted myself while having the affair.) Has come back front and center, but with a newfound understanding of all those unhealthy things that were happening in our marriage, that I was previously ignoring, they really weren't ok. I know it doesn't make sense. It isn't fair. But it is real, and believe a big part of the healing from codependency and infidelity is owning the truth, not pretending it's not there.

My point is I had this pent up anger and resentment for how my wife behaved towards me going back to when we were dating. The tactics she used to control and get what she wanted are on the spectrum of verbally and emotionally abusive. But, as a codependent, I ignored these for years, thought if I just tried harder, she'd come around to being kind, loving, patient and understanding... it was misguided thinking, not fair to her.

Eventually it got bad enough for me that I emotionally disconnected, before seeking an affair. (note, I can only see this now, at the time, my mental process seemed logical, which also really sad.) I've been trying to use the tool of deceived self and true self to put my feelings away. But there is truth in how my wife behaved towards repeatedly over the years. To act as if that abusive behavior didn't happen seems on par with acting as if my affair didn't happen. 

I've been completely disconnected from my AP for months, and have no desire to return to that relationship. But when I look back at my wife, who I have now inflicted so much pain, I want to help her heal, but my brain also sees her as dangerous and controlling. To break the codepency and make the relationship safe, it feels I need to be able to create boundaries, speak my truth, and stop doing things I'm asked that I know will create resentment later. The affair recovery process, however, doesn't seem to support this idea. As the unfaithful, we're supposed to have no boundaries, no safety (except physical), we're supposed to endure the anger even when it's verbal abusive and threatening... Frankly it all just screams of going back into codependent behavior, which is it's own spiral of destruction. 

Have any of you dealt with similar experiences? 

The topic of safety for the unfaithful spouse and abusive behavior towards the unfaithful seems to be a taboo subject... But this my struggle, honestly my obsession. If you're reading this and all you can think is "what a self-absorbed jerk, he just doesn't get it." Please don't worry, I'm already struggling with these thoughts on my own... I know I don't fully get it right now, in large part because of my self-absorbed recovery. I'm here vulnerable and honest, writing and reaching out because I want to get past this overwhelming thoughts and feelings, let go of my own pain and trauma. All this so that I show up to my wife without anger, fear, resentment or defensiveness, and help her heal from the tremendous overwhelming pain I've created for her. 

Any ideas or shared experiences to help get there are appreciated!

Thanks for reaching out and

Thanks for reaching out and asking for help. Have you taken any of the courses at AR? Specifically HFH? If you haven't, there is an entire lesson in the curriculum devoted solely to this subject. It might be of great value. Secondly, when it comes to codependency and possibly abusive behaviors, one of my favorite authors and experts on the subject is Leslie Vernick. She really is able to put words to what is otherwise a pretty complicated situation. Hope this helps. Thanks for commenting and best to you in your recovery.

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