The Mighty Logo

What Isolating With COVID Helped Me Realize About Codependency

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I used to think that being codependent meant being overly reliant upon someone else to do things for you. Having grown up a hyper-responsible, mature child who learned early on to not only take care of what she needed but was highly attuned to what others needed, I was certain that I was most definitely NOT codependent. In fact, even the idea of being codependent made me feel squeamish because frankly I don’t trust anyone to do things for me the way I trust myself. And I kind of arrogantly thought this was a great quality to have.

• What is PTSD?

The irony that I was revisiting the book “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie just as I finally tested positive for the first time for COVID-19 is not lost on me. My husband and I swiftly mobilized to isolate him away from me so that he wouldn’t get it. I thought, naively, that maybe I had some kind of superpowers over this clever virus and that my fool proof methods for keeping him away from me would be enough to protect him. COVID got the last laugh.

It took a full week, but my husband finally tested positive himself, prompting him to have to miss the entire first weekend of performances for a show he had been rehearsing for for over three months. It was a devastating blow and I couldn’t do a damn thing to fix any of it. I felt utterly helpless and useless and frankly…that was triggering my anxiety big time.

I wracked my brain for ways I could do something, anything, to ease my husband’s symptoms and understandable depression at having to miss his show. I wanted to soothe him, hug him, help him feel like he wasn’t alone. But the reality was, we were in isolation and both very much alone and there wasn’t a damn thing either of us could do about it.

It was around that time that I heard Glennon Doyle interview Jen Hatmaker on her podcast “We Can Do Hard Things.” In that episode Jen acknowledges how she always had a misperception of what codependency was. Her notion of it was similar to mine. Her resistance to defining herself as codependent equally as  vehement as mine. But then she realized the very real truth about codependency: it takes two to tango. Let me be clear, I’m not saying my husband is overly reliant on me to do everything for him. What I’m saying is that I am overly attached to this image of myself as a kind of savior who can make everyone safe, better, and protect them from bad things happening, which is utter nonsense.

I come by this savior complex honestly. It was a coping strategy for growing up a parentified child who couldn’t rely on their parent to protect them. Being able to run crisis control was a superpower that enabled my very survival and served me well for years. But here, in this moment, COVID taught me a powerful lesson. It forced me to take a very close look at my codependent tendencies and humbled me. I could no more control anything that was happening or fix any of it than I could stop the spread of COVID.

For three weeks my husband and I isolated away from one another, only communicating via text and an occasional phone call. We both spent a lot of time just ruminating in our own thoughts recognizing how much we truly appreciated one another. It was a healthy dose of “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” But for me, it was also a kick in the pants to stop allowing old coping strategies to hijack my sense of identity or make me feel like I’m incompetent or failing as a partner because I’m not doing enough fixing.

It has been a couple of weeks since we have both recovered. My husband got to do the rest of the run of his show, we have moved back in together, and we are slowly returning to some semblance of normalcy. But I have been extremely mindful of my hyper-response to any perceived issues where my instinct to mobilize into overreacting get triggered. I’m trying to be better at working with my husband to co-solve problems rather than taking control. I’m trying to allow both of us to feel discomfort in face of challenges that neither of us can actually do anything to fix. It’s hard to reverse a lifetime of codependency, but if I can say that there’s anything positive I got out of COVID (aside from that darn positive test result) it has been this awakening to my codependent tendencies.

Originally published: August 2, 2022
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home