Thought For The Day:
“When you feel compelled to put others first at the expense of yourself, you are denying your own reality and your own identity.”
David Stafford

Question For The Day:
Are you in a codependent relationship?

This post is the result of my first official request for content! A fellow social worker and very cool person that I used to work with asked me to share a lesson that I frequently teach to my clients on codependency. This is a pretty common problem amongst people with personality disorders and addiction issues. Yet typically, when I first suggest to someone that they are demonstrating codependent behaviors or might be in a codependent relationship, they will usually give me the screwface. Even if they have turned their backs on everyone in their life except their mate, have signed their entire paycheck away to their partner (who once again promises to have it back in full by the 3rd) or have lost yet another job because they are too busy trying to get their spouse out of another “accidental” jam, they almost always have no clue what I’m talking about when I ask them to consider whether or not there might be a problem. Codependency is just as destructive and life sucking as any addiction. It’s just that instead of drugs or alcohol, it’s another person that becomes the fix. You are no longer comfortable in your own skin unless there is another person there to give you the euphoric high of “love,” passion and validation that your are incapable of giving yourself.

The best example of a codependent relationship that I can think of takes me back to a chaotic scene in 2000 in front of a South Florida jailhouse. It was there that Bobby Brown triumphantly exited jail after his umpteenth probation violation and a skinny, maniacally excited Whitney could hardly wait to jump his bones and wrap her arms and legs around him in a manner that would make Roger from ‘What’s Happening’ say “Whitney, I can’t breathe!” It was like the two of them had been starved for each other and as soon as they were able, they couldn’t wait to melt back into each other and once again become one big ball of blood, sweat and tears. Bobby and Whitney, though powerhouse talents on their own, were nothing but poison to each other as a couple. This is essentially what codependency looks like and they are probably the most classic example. In general, if two people are in a codependent situation there are virtually no boundaries in sight. If one person is sick, the other is on the verge of death. If one person is having a bad day, the other sees no reason to live. If one has an addiction, generally both will be compulsive in one way or another even if the drug of choice is different. There is not enough self value and self love to accommodate both people so the couple will try to make do and share the little bit that they can muster between them and then take turns using it. The illustration I like to use is one of two half-filled cups.

When a cup is full, it basically means there is no lack in it. It has a full supply of all that it needs. If you are truly blessed, then as the Bible says, your cup runs over, meaning that you have excess and plenty to give to others without touching what you have inside for yourself. I think ideally, the best type of relationship is when two full cups that are running over with blessings, come together. Not only do both people have all that they need for themselves, there is plenty of overflow to bless children, family and their community. Neither person has to go without so that the other person can be filled. Such is not the case for the codependent pair. A codependent relationship can be illustrated by imagining two half-filled cups trying to come together. Neither person had enough of what they needed to begin with, so when they meet their other half-filled cup, they are looking at what the other person has in their cup and believe that if they could just access it, then they can be full. Typically, both people will attempt to pour their halves into the other person but the result is that one person will be full while the other person is empty. The temporarily full person will of course feel guilty because their beloved sits empty and miserable while they benefit from all they have borrowed from them, so they will do everything they can to rectify the injustice, by pouring everything they have back into the empty partner. Now, the person who is now full once again feels loved and validated, but the the person who is now empty once again feels like love has sucked them dry. And so it goes. The constant pouring continues for the duration of the relationship that is marked by manipulation, guilt, bitterness, anger, emptiness, loneliness, and energy sucking drama. The limited water supply is being constantly poured from one vessel to the other, never fully satisfying either for long.

Another metaphor that could make it clearer is this. Imagine if you were hosting a dinner party for four but you realize there was only enough wine for one person to have a full serving. Everyone attending is coming off of a long hard day and really felt they needed that glass of wine to relax and enjoy your meal. What might happen? You might say, well heck, it’s my party so I’ll enjoy the wine. Yet it won’t be long before your guests are giving you the side eye and making you feel guilty for having so much while they have so little. You would probably then feel obligated to share even though you really don’t want to. You would probably try to split your one glass of wine as evenly as possible with everyone. This may seem like the best solution until everyone drinks their very small serving and realizes they are still not satisfied. You will likely wish you had just kept your glass of wine, because even though you tried to do the right thing and share, it wasn’t worth it because no one is happy. In the end, everyone will be resentful, frustrated, and unsatisfied and it might be a long, tense dinner. As the host you should have been sure that there was enough wine to offer everyone while still ensuring there was enough for you to enjoy. Better yet, it would be awesome to have the type of guests who would be so grateful for the invitation, that they would bring their own offering of wine as a gift to you as their host. Now, if you apply this metaphor to life, you would start by making sure you don’t invite anyone into relationship with you until you are sure you have enough to offer someone else without sacrificing what you want and need for yourself. Yet, it’s even better to choose someone who is so grateful to be in relationship with someone with so much to offer, that they wouldn’t dare come without bearing their own gifts to share. If both people have enough for themselves but still have enough overflow to offer extra, what a relationship we could have. A good time could be had by all!

One only has to look at the tragic end of not only Bobby and Whitney’s marriage, but their individual lives to see how far down codependency can take you. Without proper boundaries and an insistence on protecting the contents you have in your own cup, you will eventually come up empty. I believe that it’s lines like Jerry Maguire’s “you complete me” that have so many women twisted and believing that two halves make a whole in a healthy relationship. Two half-full people are two people that can never be full without draining each other’s supply. Another person can’t fill you up without sacrificing some of who they are. It’s simply not fair to require someone else to have less so that you can have more. Only two full cups make a whole relationship. If you recognize that your cup is empty or only half-full, you are not in a position to pursue a relationship because doing so will not benefit anyone involved. Take some time to practice self-love and self-nurture. Find ways to celebrate yourself and look to God for the living water that truly satisfies. If you don’t, you will live with a thirst that no other person will ever be able to quench. Hold on to what you have in your cup because when it comes to codependent relationships, the thirst is real.

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