Codependency: "Relationship Addiction"

Codependency: "Relationship Addiction"

"If it feels too good to be true, it probably is."

First of all, let's get something straight: Jesus designed us with a deep need for relationship, both with Him and with others (Hebrews 3:13; Philippians 2:1-5; Hebrews 10:24-25; Ephesians 4:2-3; Proverbs 18:24; Proverbs 17:17) . Our lives were never meant to be lived in a vacuum. Unfortunately, our emotional wounds can sometimes generate extreme and unhealthy manifestations of our interpersonal needs, warping a friendship or relationship into something far more than it should be.

Codependency is a toxic relational state where two people become so involved with one another that they provide excessive amounts of time, intimacy, and emotional support to each other. This creates a state of enmeshment, with few healthy boundaries between the two persons. 

For some, codependency is a natural manifestation of their inner emotional baggage. In Recovery of your Inner Child, Dr. Lucia Capacchione details the consequences of not fostering a deep sense of inner self-sustananece as we develop into adulthood. During childhood, if we do not form healthy relationships with our family and friends and are left with a deep inner cavity, codependency might be the avenue we use to try and fill what many call "the hole in their heart".

Perhaps the greatest challenge with codependency is that it is quick to settle in, and excruciatingly painful to break. At the beginning, it seems so harmless. In fact, it may draw the person into believing they are a more healthy and happier version of their usual self! It's like an adorable fairy tale, where you have someone who is so concerned for your wellbeing that you don't see how it could ever be wrong since it feels so good. This is why many will never know they struggle with codependent tendencies until they experience it for the first time.

By the time people start to question your relationship and you feel defensive or anxious (or both), it's probably too late.

I never knew about all of my bad relationship habits until they were opened up much like a "Pandora's Box" in one of my close friendships during my early college years. I was so happy, all the time! I found myself thanking God often for this friend, while neglecting to spend time with Him alone. As time went on, my little heart grew and grew, thriving under the constant attention and support I was receiving from this "long-lost best friend". My family and friends expressed concern, but I was stubborn and protective. I was so happy and satisfied, so my feelings trumped any logic or reason they tried to impart to me. Little did I know...I was quickly making a god out of a friend.

Unfortunately, the consequence of codependency over time is a sharp detachment from self and an obsessive over-attachment to someone else. This significantly inhibits self-growth, emotional stability, and even holiness. It will very quickly will become an idol over God and His central role as our first love. Though He wants us participating in intimate and intentional relationships with others, He will never settle for being second in our hearts (Exodus 20: 3-6).

Codependent relationships tend to fail when one person becomes overwhelmed or unsatisfied with the amount of intimacy and communication in the relationship, or meets someone else who better fills their relational needs. Sadly, this means that codependent relationships are never truly selfless and Godly:

Codependent relationships are where both parties are unconsciously using the other person to selfishly meet their own deep inner love needs.

There are two strong preventative measures to someone struggling with chronic codependent relationship tendencies: self-nurturing and a strong support network.

1. Self-Nurturing

Prior to this summer I found my worth and value in my relationship with (insert name of SUPERCLOSEBESTFRIEND here). However, after a few abandonments and unmet hopes and dreams, I finally began to understand that it was my responsibility to take care of myself emotionally, and that I had been expecting others to do it all along.

Self-nurturing will look different for everyone. For some it might be getting a regular massage or exercising daily. For me, it's escaping out into the woods near the house I grew up in. Quieting the world around me allows me to escape into my imagination for a little while and do whatever I need to in order to commune with God and with my inner child. Whatever my daily need might be: to laugh, dance, cry, or talk. All of these and more I can do in community with myself and with God. I find that the more time I spend with myself, the less I care about the attention or actions of others.

Self-nurturing stabilizes my mood, quiets my inner fears, and helps me to feel more grounded by connecting me to myself and to God.

2. Strong support network

Build strong relationships with healthy friends, and lots of them. If you struggle with codependency like me, cut yourself off from unhealthy relationships and pursue real connection with people who God has placed around you (even if they don't give you the "butterfly fuzzies" feeling that a codependent relationship does).

My friends over the years have served as a net that has caught me in the winds of codependent relationships, bad life decisions, and other unfortunate circumstances I've built around myself. They give healthy doses of love, encouragement, and exhortation. I don't come to depend on any one of them more than others because I know that their strength is not found in one, but in all of them. 

Anyone who knows me well knows I care more about my relationships than any other earthly thing. Because of this, I give and expect much in my connections with others. Were I to single one out as my only source of support and connection, that relationship could become codependent. Instead, I've found it is far more important to pour into all of them, and be intentional with multiple people who truly love you and want to build a friendship with you.

Healthy relationships for me have been about finding people who can handle my high intensity and need for connection. Instead of seeking out individuals who "feel" good and who might make me laugh, I find people who are compatible and strong enough to handle some of my insecurities and fears, rather than getting wrapped up in them with me.

Codependency is a sad and hurtful type of relationship because it always begins with such joy and ends with pain and hurt. I felt led to write this because I'm watching some friends of mine experience it right now, and I feel powerless to do anything. So I wrote this instead. Guys, don't get wrapped up in the lie of the "Fairytale Relationship". Nobody can singlehandedly make you happy. Not for long. If that were true, we wouldn't need God, and we wouldn't need the Church. At the end of the day, we're all just broken people living in a broken world, trying to figure out desires we often don't understand. My prayer is that none of us ever go before God apologizing for allowing another person to eclipse His unquenchable and incredible love for us.

If it feels too good to be true, it probably is.

-Robert "Tuck" Tucker

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