Doesn’t just hearing the word grate on your nerves? “Codependency” was one of the great buzz words of the 1980’s. Sometimes it seemed like everyone either was, used to be or feared being codependent. Like many psycho babble terms, this one lost all of it’s meaning on the way into common language.
I saw a personal ad once that was headlined, “I’LL BE drug abuse and so forth. The classic notion is that the addicted person is dependent on something like alcohol or cocaine, and the partner is equally affected by the problem, if in slightly different ways.IF YOU WANT ME TO BE.” Codependency used to be a technical term used by psychotherapists and addiction specialists. It referred to the lover or spouse of a person with an addiction -- alcoholism,
It’s often true -- patterns can be found among people who find themselves in relationships with alcoholics and others with similar problems. As our society became more familiar with recovery and twelve-step programs, the language of such programs was borrowed, often carelessly. Codependency can be pretty easy to spot -- at least to everyone other than the individuals involved. For example, a Codependent Guy may take on more responsibility than is fair in a relationship.
His partner is irresponsible in one way or another (money, career, etc.), so he compensates by becoming super responsible (working, taking care of the household, cutting back on his own expenses, etc.) “I have to be the grown-up around here!” is a typical complaint.
It doesn’t stop there, of course. The Codependent Guy often finds his partner to be someone he just can’t count on. He responds by becoming more controlling. “I guess I’ll just have to start balancing your checkbook if you are going to bounce checks all the time!” Rather than let the person with the problem bear the results of his action/inaction, Codependent Guy takes over. In the process, he often becomes, well, a bitch.
If things get worse, Codependent Guy may get so wrapped up in his partner’s problems that he let’s his own self go. He stops taking care of himself, because the other partner needs so much help.... Of course, the payoff for Codependent Guy is that he gets to look good to others (he’s the “responsible one” in their relationship), and he may ignore his own shortcomings or problems.
In fact, Codependent Guy sometimes loses his very sense of self. He finds himself defined in terms of his relationship, his job, how he takes care of others. If the relationship ends, he may find himself dazed and confused, uncertain of who he is anymore. His self-esteem tanks, and he feels like life’s ultimate victim -- a good person, well-intentioned, but neglected and abused by the very person or people he most wanted to help.
A word of caution here: some “dependency” can be a good thing. If we were totally independent and had no need for that partner or boyfriend, what would our relationships look like? Pretty cold and boring, if the existed at all!
Healthy relationships are characterized by both partners learning to lean on one another while neither party loses his identity.
John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org.
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