Sunday, November 30, 2008

Some thoughts on codependency

Occasionally -- in fact, far more often than I should or I like to admit -- I think about my last girlfriend, whom I left over seven years ago. When a relationship fails the normal person retraces the steps, replaying the mistakes he or she made, the things that should or shouldn't have been said etc. and makes the adjustments to progress to the next relationship.

However, the codependent person, which my ex-girlfriend was, doesn't do that -- he or (more likely) she continues down the same path and ends up with the same results.

In my research, I've learned a few things. One, codependents believe that they have more power than they do to cause change in other people and try to exercise it. Two, and related to the first, they and their emotional needs take prominence and they often use guilt in the process to get them met. Either way, life surrounds what they believe and, as a result, they are often unwilling to adjust to their partners' views. In other words, they cannot live life on life's terms, which is why they often get so frustrated in their relationships; they live to possess.

This worked out in numerous ways with my ex. In our relationship I was supposed to have no real opinion on anything, whether on politics, theology or any other issue that interested me; in fact, the only time she ever solicited it was about our upcoming wedding. That alone, in retrospect, should have told me that a wedding shouldn't take place -- but I hoped that, with maturity on her part, things might change.

Anyway, because I'm somewhat of a traditionalist, where the husband/father holds ultimate responsibility for the family (she had three sons by previous marriages that ended in divorce), in this particular situation I knew that the only way our relationship could survive was that if we as a family attended my church, a metropolitan, multicultural fellowship of around 3,000 through whose singles ministry we met. On the other hand, because she feared both change and the loss of control, she wanted me to attend her small, suburban, mono-cultural neighborhood assembly that, if I did go there consistently, I probably would have split in about a year. That impasse finally caused me to bail out.

But with a codependent willing to get involved with me, what does that then say about me? Apparently I came across to her as someone who could or needed to be "fixed" or otherwise changed to meet her expectations. Though I don't myself drink, my late father was an alcoholic, as are are many members of that side of the family, which means I myself have struggled in my intimate relationships. So after things ended with my girlfriend I took six months off of dating to figure out my mistakes, one of which was not being more forceful about what I was and where I stood, demanding respect and drawing boundaries. (I haven't dated anyone steadily since.)

I've never been married and would like to be; however, today I understand and recognize some behaviors that I will not tolerate. And though I know that no relationship can ever be perfect, I hope that I would be able to work out my difference with my partner so that we can develop a sense of unity and purpose. That's what I believe God intends.

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