The Christian and Codependence
Does Christianity promote codependence?
After all, the Bible says to forgive offenders “seventy times seven times” . . . and doesn’t Jesus say, “turn the other cheek”?
Seems like codependent training to me!
Before we go too far, maybe I had better step back and be more clear about the term “codependence”.
The idea of codependence has been around for a long time now – long enough for most everyone to have their own perception of its meaning. For instance, during my husband’s addiction years I defined codependence as a refusal to acknowledge a loved one’s addiction while covering up and fixing the addict’s problems. My superficial interpretation protected me from the dreaded diagnosis.
I understood one potential aspect of codependent behavior, but fell significantly short of the whole picture.
If you have interest in a thorough discussion, you can check it out here.
Denial and fixing (or rescuing), as mentioned above, are common reactions. My own response (also common) developed from a belief that my own needs and feelings were not as important as others.
Christians may indeed fall more easily into this trap when faced with a beloved addict. I know my own beliefs about forgiveness and putting the welfare of others first certainly played a role in my unhealthy early responses to Caleb’s addiction.
Balance and Forgiveness
But I came to understand codependency as a perversion of the precepts I followed. Typical of our Enemy, to take truth and distort it just enough to create a weapon!
The truth is: Forgiveness cancels a debt. It does not create or maintain a victim.
I forgive someone for hurting me and I protect myself from abuse. These are not mutually exclusive! Jesus’ instruction to “turn the other cheek” contrasts the Law’s requirement for retribution. It is not relationship advice!
When dealing with an addict, I do not repay them for their offenses. But I hold them accountable for the consequences of their actions (or inactions).
Hurts pile up quickly living with and/or loving an addict. Forgiveness is critical and letting go of payback is necessary. But the fall into codependence is not characterized by forgiveness or release of revenge. Codependence is born of stubborn self-interest and fueled by fear.
I know it sound harsh, but I have heard the same story countless times (as well as my own.)
We love the addict. He/she used to be so wonderful and successful. We know he/she can be that person again, stop hurting us, and give us what we want/need. We hang on and “help” and lecture and manage the chaos, not because we truly want what is best for the addict (although we want that too), but because we feel we need something from them and are fearful of losing the person or relationship.
We don’t really forgive – we keep careful track of offenses. We don’t let go of revenge – they owe us big time!
Balance and Love
As a result, we tenaciously attempt to change things we can’t control (the addict), unwilling to undertake the difficult task of truly loving by setting boundaries.
Love does not accept unacceptable behavior.
Love cannot demand or bring out good behavior, but it can walk away from unacceptable behavior – for the ultimate benefit of the abuser. Love allows the addict to bear the consequences of his/her behavior, because it is truly best for the addict (Proverbs talks extensively about personal responsibility for choices.)
Mike Wells used to tell a story – which I do not recommend – but it makes a great point. Talking with the wife of an abuser, Mike counseled her, the next time her husband raised his fist she should give him a big hug and say, “I love you”. The woman returned after a week with glowing reports . . . her husband fled the house, visibly shaken. At every attempt to return she immediately reminded him of her love – and he would run away again. She was thrilled. Mike then instructed her to pack up all her husband’s things, put them on the porch, and change all the locks. Mike explained to the shocked woman – a loving wife does not allow her husband to sin against her. The exercise of the previous week served the sole purpose of adjusting her motive from fear/punishment to love.
Again, I think that first week a bit extreme just to make a point and could have been dangerous (glad it worked out for her.) But, it does illustrate my point in rather dramatic fashion.
My Codependence Wrap Up
Sometimes I think the story of Caleb and my reconciliation gives others struggling with addiction and codependence a false hope for their own dysfunctional relationships.
I was committed to Caleb and our marriage, but I also had to give up my hopes and dreams for our marriage when I kicked him out of our house. I had no assurances he would ever seek recovery. I had to come to terms with the more likely outcome of death on the streets – not an easy thing for my compassionate heart. And when I failed to kick him out a second time when it was necessary, God mercifully put him in jail.
To my amazement, during our “recovery” I had almost as much apologizing to do as Caleb did . . .because I had often allowed selfishness and fear to thwart true (aka “tough”) love.
Battling codependence requires a deeper understanding of Biblical teaching about love. We can’t accept superficial, sentimental ideas which lack the muscle to withstand unthinkable circumstances.
My codependence story is not over (too bad – I wish it were.) As my husband continues to struggle with physical and mental illness, to the point I am now his “caregiver”, I am engaged in a careful balancing act – watching and guarding against unhealthy tendencies cleverly masquerading as compassion and love.