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Codependent Wife

Dear Gerda:

I thought I had a great husband. He has always given me everything, done errands for me, cooked for me, and taken me everywhere. All of sudden he’s telling me to get more “independent” and doesn’t want to do the things he’s always done. What’s his problem?

I am concerned why he stopped doing for you suddenly; normally it is a gradual process.

In his defense he is probably exhausted from doing, without the reciprocal reward of someone doing things for him. What do you do for him? It would appear that your dependency on him is no longer meeting the needs that it once met. It appears that your husband has spent a great deal of time pleasing you while possibly losing focus of his own feelings, thoughts, and desires. Now they have come into clear view.

It is ironic that you did not question what is happening to the two of you, but rather what is wrong with him. It is not to say that he is without blame. Extensive bodies of work on codependency have shown that codependent people are usually fearful of being abandoned, ignored, or shamed, so they become keepers of others and reap the rewards of being needed, powerful, and in control.

Something must have happened that boosted your husband’s self esteem and his awareness that he is deserving of love at a different level. It could also be that he is experiencing depression with symptoms of anhedonia, causing him to lose interest in activities which once gave him pleasure. Increased self-esteem could be allowing him to learn to set healthy boundaries, which are helping him to set limits. If he has failed to say how he would like to be treated, which appears to be the case, it leaves you wondering what is wrong with him.

You may still have a great husband who is helping you to develop self-reliance and insight into the reciprocal nature of caring. Honoring yourself by doing more will likely become the springboard from which you will dive into doing for others. I would suggest that you do some introspection into your early life and look at the events and people that shaped it. Where they excessively dependent on things or people outside of themselves? Did they constantly try to please others? Did they allow other people to dominate or abuse them?

Increased self-esteem is the cornerstone from which to start your own journey from codependency. Rediscovering yourself will increase your self-knowledge, strengths, beliefs, and values. Your newfound love for self will expand, allowing you to love others in the same manner you would expect to be loved. In effect, it will allow you to look more outward than inward; to see and care about the needs of others and not just your own. Self-help books on codependency can help you increase your awareness. Seeking the help of a counselor may also be of value to you.

Husband’s Codependency Disturbs Children  

Dear Gerda:

I have been married for 25 years. My wife doesn’t drive or work. She needs my help with a lot of things, so I don’t travel or do much. My children are upset about this and have told me that I need to live my life. They don’t seem to understand that I love her. Why are they angry at me about it?

Your children are wise. They must feel saddened watching you over-focus on their mother, while neglecting your own needs, and perhaps theirs. They may even be being perceptive, looking ahead at their future life with their mother should any unforeseen event become you. Your wife is dependent on you and it appears that you are enjoying the benefits of her tremendous need of your help. This pattern of behavior produces a distorted love affair that has serious consequences for both of you.

First, your wife has not been allowed or encouraged to attain her full adult potential, which would result in self-reliance. As you mentioned, she needs you for a lot of things. She is immobile without you providing transportation. Lack of transportation inhibits social independence for her and possible for her children. Independent mobility could have improved the amount and the quality of your relationship as a couple, allowing you more time for relaxation together and for sharing experiences.

Codependency is a serious illness that causes a decline in several spheres of our lives. In most cases treatment is required to understand it and grow through it. To understand the root cause of your codependency you may need to look back at your family of origin, including how they communicated and responded to each other needs.  Many people struggle with symptoms of codependency at some point in life. The difference in your life is the duration and its affect on your family. You made reference to your children not recognizing your undying love for your wife. No doubt you love your wife, but when you lose sight of your own desires, thoughts, and feelings while focused on pleasing or helping others, then love takes second place. We can’t truly love anyone if we do not love ourselves. The illness in codependency becomes evident when we take more responsibility for other peoples thoughts, needs, and feelings than our own emotions and actions.

You may need to be the one who takes the lead in this healing process. The thought of change could be terrifying for your wife. Twenty-five years of dependent conditioning requires patience, willingness, commitment, and time to change. There are many resources available that can guide you on how to change from exhibiting codependent behaviors to developing a healthy, productive, reciprocal relationship. Self-help books may provide some insight; individual or codependent group therapy may also be useful to you. 

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