"I spent most of my life doing the Serenity prayer backwards, that is, trying to change the external things over which I had no control - other people and life events mostly - and taking no responsibility (except shaming and blaming myself) for my own internal process - over which I can have some degree of control. Having some control is not a bad thing; trying to control something or somebody over which I have no control is what is dysfunctional."
- From Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney
It is one thing realising that you lean towards co-dependency or independency, but it is another thing entirely realising that you live with one or the other too. I believe that we are meant to love people and leave the changing up to God, and that includes our husbands. We are, however, called to bring out the best in our husband by building him up with our words and actions.
Realising that we live with either a co-dependent or an independent is an opportunity to better understand our husband and to understand how we can build him up and bring out His God given potential.
Living with a Co-dependent
Understand that when they try to control you it is probably based in their fear. Don’t become angry at him for being so controlling but rather take time to understand his fear and reassure him so that he no longer needs to fear. Depending on what the fear is, you may be able to assist or may only be able to pray that God’s perfect love will deal with his fear. Men are usually less emotional than women but yet a co-dependent male could possibly be that way due to emotional pain from the past going back as early as his childhood.
What we tend to do, as women, is react to that hurt and pile on more hurt by nagging or accusing. Your husband will never come out of his shell and be his true self with this sort of behaviour. If you truly want to draw out his potential then understand that he may have hurt that he doesn’t know how to process and don’t force him to deal with it. Worst of all; don’t make him feel guilty for having it in the first place. A co-dependent man already feels weak because he is co-dependent, making him feel guilty about this weakness will only render him powerless to do anything about it.
Gently and lovingly build up your co-dependent husband with wise and kind words, showing him that he can trust you with his heart. Don’t force him to talk about his feelings; men usually don’t do that very often. But when he does choose to let you know how he feels make sure you don’t interrupt and simply listen. If he sees that he can trust you with what he has said, he will feel comfortable talking about more.
Living with a co-dependent will require a great deal of patience on your part, as he will need years of consistency from you in order to trust you. He is driven by fear but your response to his fear will either push him further into his shell or give him to freedom to let go of his fear. The bottom line is to love him by showing him the respect he needs as a man and to ask God for keys to unlock his potential.
If your husband is co-dependent, he will live for you approval in an unhealthy way. Although it is good to give him your approval you need to set clear boundaries in this area. A typical co-dependent person, when asked about themselves, will reply by bouncing the question back onto you. They will seldom give you a straight answer about themselves. It would be good if you understood this and make sure that you did not jump at the opportunity to talk about yourself, but that you insisted, as much as possible but not too much, that he answered your question directly.
Patience is a key in unlocking the co-dependent. The process of owning himself is frustrating and confusing for him as he would prefer not to talk about himself at all or even admit that he has a ‘self’. Boundaries are unfamiliar and bewildering to him too and he may not respond well to them.
Co-dependent men tend to do too much for other people as they are people pleasers. Married co-dependents can often be seen out and about do all sorts of things for other people rather than be at home doing things for their family. It is essential that they find a balance and your role is to gently communicate how you feel about his people pleasing. Choose your words carefully and wisely so as to continue to build him up while sharing how his actions affect you.
It’s tricky but it can be done and if necessary use the build – break –build method of saying harsh things directly to him. This means that you try to sandwich the negative between two positives. Say something that builds him up and then say what you have to say that might break him down but quickly follow that with something else that will build him up again.
Living with an Independent
Understand that an independent person probably doesn’t realise that they are independent. There is a lot less research it seems about an independent person than a co-dependent person, as society seems to praise independence. What society calls independence is actually suppressing our true selves. However, the Bible has clearly told us not to be independent of each other.
Not all independents are wounded; their behaviour could mostly be learned from his parents. You might see a similar pattern in his parents and his relationship with his parents. Does he have a good relationship with his parents or are they quite distant with deep things and affection? An extreme case of independence due to childhood trauma can result in Asperger's Syndrome, which will leave them having few or no real friends, and seldom enjoy socializing.
Helping you independent husband could mean helping him to own up to his childhood traumas and helping him to admit that they were damaging to him. Prayer is key to this process as you don’t want to be his counsellor or his mother, you want to be his loving wife who is helping him move towards interdependence.
The chances are that if your husband leans towards independence then you are quite possibly on the co-dependent side. Be careful not to be needy as this will cause him to cling to his independence even more. Respect his need for independence but pray for keys to help him be comfortable enough with you to need you too.
Encourage him in building friendships with other men and with his family as this too will help him become more interdependent in general. The worst thing you can do is become insecure when he starts to show sign of wanting to develop other relationships.
Living with an independent man means that you should not take everything he says and does to personally. It is not because you are not enough that he acts this way but it is quite possibly because he doesn’t feel enough that he hides behind his independence. If he does lower his defences and allow for a degree of dependence he may quickly shut up again as this dependence could make him feel weak and vulnerable. If this happens you need to let it go, allow him to be a bit distant after an intimate moment so that he can see that there are no negative consequences to him letting his guard down.
The worst thing you could possibly do is pester him in his moment of aloofness. Leave him to work things out and in time it will no longer be necessary. He will learn that its ‘safe’ to have dependent moments and that he can trust you when he is vulnerable.
The truth is that we depend on one another to truly be who God made us to be. Without anyone to inspire us, to need us and to bring out the best in us, most of who we really are will never come into the light. Our true self is only fully formed in relationship. God made us relational, He made us to need each other which is why He told us not be independent of each other. Your independent husband doesn’t yet understand this, he things that in order to be the man he is meant to be he needs to be able to take care of himself and be free from needing anyone else. Sadly, he will never fully be himself this way; only in his relationships can he truly be free to be completely himself. Ironically, we are only complete and whole when we are in an interdependent relationship. We were not made to be independent.
Find out more about Being a Wife here.
Find out more about Being a Wife here.