How I Broke the Cycle of Codependency
Codependency is a huge buzzword nowadays. Everywhere you turn there are people preaching about overcoming codependency.
I agree that codependency isn’t healthy; I also understand why it is so easy to fall into that cycle, and why it is so difficult to overcome.
For many, codependency was normal for us growing up. If you had a parent or adult in your life that you took care of (as opposed to the other way around), you learned your happiness and safety were dependent on the other person’s happiness. There were no boundaries and your feelings were ignored or not even verbalized. You learned your well-being and safety was completely contingent on the well-being of someone else. When that person was happy, you felt loved and needed. By default, if the adult was upset, sick (mentally or physically), or unavailable to you, you felt worthless and unsafe.
I grew up having the belief system that it was my job to make my mother happy. I listened to her marital and life problems, tried to cheer her up, and felt good about myself when I felt she needed me. When she had nothing to do with me, I felt like a complete failure as a daughter and as a person. I tried to do everything possible to get her love and approval. As a result, I made myself completely available to her. I was so available that I spent two hours of my honeymoon trying to calm her down due to her recent breakup. Her feelings were always prioritized over mine, and I felt it was my job to make sure she was OK.
She relied on me to comfort her and be there for her, and I relied on her positive opinion of me to feel valued and loved. We were the definition of codependency.
Based on a belief system engrained into many of us, as adults we believe that our partner’s well-being and happiness is our responsibility. After all, that is all we know and were taught from a young age. It was only natural that my codependent relationship with my mother translated into a codependent relationship with my spouse.
When my husband started heavily drinking and then taking pills, I felt like it was my job to make him sober. I believed it was up to me to figure out how to make him stop. When my efforts failed, I felt like a complete failure. Taking care of my husband and making him get clean was my responsibility, and I believed I was a terrible wife unless he stopped.
My value as a person was completely defined by the well-being of those I loved. I thought it was my role as a wife and mother to completely devote myself and my happiness to them. This way of thinking made it so that other people were responsible for my own feelings of security and safety. When the roller coaster of addiction took me for a ride, my feelings of self-worth plummeted or soared with it. It became my obsession to save my husband, which in turn, would save myself.
At a certain point I reached my own rock bottom. I saw how vicious the emotional cycle was of trying to make him better/save him. I realized that focusing all my efforts on him was a distraction so I didn’t have to heal my own wounds and trauma. If I was focusing on someone/something that was out of my control, I didn’t have to fix what I had control over — myself.
I finally realized that my happiness was my responsibility, and I learned a lot about codependency. It was both terrifying and empowering to know that my happiness was my job, just as others are responsible for their own well-being and happiness. The book by Melody Beattie was extremely helpful and enlightening.
It was up to my husband to get clean, and I couldn’t make him do that. I could support him and love him, but I could not fix him. I needed to start taking care of myself and my own well-being.
I also established clear boundaries with my daughter. I instilled in her that her job is to learn from her mistakes and take responsibility for her actions, as opposed to feeling responsible for others. My daughter knows that the decisions my husband and I make are our responsibility. It is our job to take care of her, not the other way around.
Another thing I reinforced is that it is imperative and healthy to feel and share your feelings with those you love and trust. I frequently remind her that I can give suggestions on what she can do to feel better, but ultimately, she controls how she feels. I am open with her about my feelings and model tools that I use to feel better, but I don’t tell her about my adult problems.
When my daughter tries to get involved and tell me and my husband what to do (she can be quite nosey sometimes), I remind her that she has control over her actions and not others. I explain that she should focus on being the best version of herself, as it is also each of our individual responsibility to do so.
What I now strive for is interdependency. I have learned how empowering it is to not allow others to make me feel whole and valued. I can be vulnerable and supportive with my husband, but ultimately, I control and am responsible for how I feel. I value my relationships, but I also value myself separately from my role as a wife and a mother.
The biggest hurdle for me was giving myself the space I needed to feel whatever I was feeling. I felt I had to justify my feelings to my husband in order for my feelings to be valid. It is a work-in-progress to accept that my feelings are valid regardless of what he or anyone else thinks.
It took a lot of trial and error for me to apply my interdependence into all aspects of my marriage. I remind myself everyday to focus on myself and give myself the love and care that I craved so desperately from others.
I have learned the importance of each of us being responsible for our own growth, while supporting and encouraging each other. Sure, there are things I wish my husband would do differently, but it is not my job to change him or to fix him. He is not a project or a little boy, and he deserves to be treated as a man who can make his own choices. I have set clear boundaries of what I cannot accept. My husband is aware of my boundaries, and my choices are to accept and love him as he is or walk away if any issue is a dealbreaker.
I am the happiest I have been in a long time because I am now the source of my well-being. I am not a princess waiting to be rescued, and I am not a martyr trying to save everyone to the detriment of myself. Instead, I am focused on working on myself, and looking inward for love and compassion. That, in turn, allows me to be the best wife, mother and person I can be.
A version of this article was previously published on Surviving Mom Blog
Photo by Rhand McCoy on Unsplash