Maybe you are not looking for tips for codependency recovery, but maybe you should. As early as engagement, and into the honeymoon and beyond, almost all married couples go down a road toward some degree of codependency.
The popular (yet technically imprecise) use of the term, codependency, describes this co-created dynamic: Since we are each joyful in this other person, since we get good feelings from them, we become dependent on getting those feelings.
It appears to be all good at first, but the reality is that you begin to leach off of the other in your life, and you are not really there for them when they are not putting out the good feelings you want. In fact, you crash, at least a bit, when they need you to buoy them up. Effectively, there is an actual loss of agency on your part — when you thought you were developing empathy and shared emotions, you’ve actually been operating out of your own need.
The process of re-developing that muscle, that agency, is, in literature, often called “differentiation” and the result is “autonomy” as opposed to dependency.
Tools for Codependency Recovery
Here are a couple of effective tools for codependency recovery by differentiating and getting to autonomy in a relationship:
1. Make a ListLabel, crystalize in your thinking, put into words the things that make you autonomous as a believer. What are your Core Values as a believer? That is, what are those bedrock features that don’t change and endure despite circumstances, and despite what anyone may think of you? Why are you always okay, despite what anyone might think of you, and even despite your genuine failures, including moral ones?
Getting those firmly in hand you begin to live your life “before the LORD,” which is an older way of saying, “playing to an audience of One.”
This is the upshot of Habakkuk’s experience:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.” – Habakkuk 3:17-19
This is autonomy — he is okay no matter what happens. This is the man and the book from which we get the rallying cry of the Reformation, “The righteous shall live by faith,” which appears in the New Testament three times. I say that because it shows that it is integral to the Christian life.
It is also the upshot of Job’s experience and the mainstay of our heroes throughout Hebrews 11 — a main feature of Christ you are to receive (see Hebrews 12:2).
Here are a couple of resources that may get you started:
Defined by Alex Kendrick
Who I Am In Christ by Neil Anderson
2. Journaling in the Moment
Become savvy to your fears that arise when engaging another. For a week or two, in all of your personal encounters, notice any fearful emotions, any hiding, any defensiveness, any pandering or neediness. Right after the encounter, jot down:
- What did I feel?
Was it sad, fearful, tense, defensive?
How intense was it?
Where did I feel it physically in my body? Pain in my chest, queasy in my stomach, tightness behind my neck, pain in my forehead?
All emotions do have a physical feeling in the body, but we usually are not aware of them. Labeling them, naming them, makes you aware. Awareness is a choice — when these feelings cease to be vague and unnamed feelings that ambush you, it puts you in charge.
- What was the trigger?
Jot down a short note on what they said or did.
Early on, you will begin to notice a pattern and you will see the trigger first and predict the emotion that is coming down the pipe. Again, awareness is choice and you will cease to be emotionally hijacked by that trigger.
- What is the false belief? What is a better belief?
Figure out, perhaps in chatting with a friend, what the false belief is — that is, there is something untrue that threatens you, that is making such a small trigger produce such a huge emotional effect.
Are you believing that your well-being depends on that other person’s closeness to you and you are afraid to lose that? Do you think your worth depends on their valuation of you? Now is a great time to bring your list into the discussion. What are the truths that explode that false belief?
Eventually, you can begin bringing your list into the moment, and those triggers become prompters to own more of the strength and assurance that the Gospel gives you. In that strength, you can be genuinely there for your partner instead of pandering for the feelings you have become addicted to.
Greater Connection, Not Less
Differentiating and becoming autonomous doesn’t make you cold. The ideal is to be fully autonomous and fully in contact: you begin having more mutually shared experiences instead of constantly needing validation. You find that you have resources for your partner and offer genuine empathy — you connect with them in their downtimes instead of crashing with them.
Instead of leaching off of your mate’s emotional coddling, instead of being a slave to it, you become “there” for them. Imagine hugging your partner but not leaning on them. Imagine being in full contact with them in hugging them, but standing on your own two feet so that if they fall, you are still standing, and you are in fact holding them up.
When you are standing on your own two feet emotionally when you have your own source of strength, then if he/she falls, you are still standing and able to hold them up.
Time for Change: Christian Counseling for Codependency Recovery
If you are aware of this loss of agency relationally, this tendency to try to squeeze good feelings out of the other, then you actually are like almost all couples. Most couples are codependent and if one crashes, they both crash. If you would like some coaching or Christian counseling for codependency recovery, give us a call and set up an initial assessment of your emotional/relational situation.
“Happy Lady”, Courtesy of Avi Richards, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Journaling”, Courtesy of Ana Tavares, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Journaling”, Courtesy of Hannah Olinger, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “A Hand Up”, Courtesy of Austin Kehmeier, Unsplash.com, CC0 License