Our society today celebrates independence. We salute those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and move beyond the hindrances of their youth. We applaud brave single moms who selflessly and tirelessly hold down two jobs to make ends meet. We commend those who make something of themselves….by themselves…..for themselves.
And while all of this does indeed deserve an ovation, I pause tonight on the eve of my 15th wedding anniversary to make a case for codependency. The negative connotation of “needing someone else” is new to recent generations. Lets just clearly state that Im not talking about turning a blind eye or enabling a drug or alcohol addiction kind of codependency – but I am talking about needing eachother in a way that is perhaps antiquated in our day and age. I look at my grandparents who lived 70+ happy years together and reflect on the beauty of their interdependence and the hard seasons they weathered that would have been easy to walk out on. Theirs has been the kind of marriage modeled that I hope mine will one day be.
So Im just over here, coming out that I am unapologetically codependent!
(And venturing to say, I believe, that this is an important point of a healthy marriage)
If we were better off on our own, independent, untethered, living a me-centered existence doing everything the right way (our way), we should have stayed that way! Marriage isn’t meant to make us better versions of ourselves – its meant to change us! We are under a false impression if we believe that two individuals can each live independently of each and never loose any of their identity and have a thriving marriage. A marriage that is going to work is a marriage that sacrifices. It means altering who we are and how we do things and over the course of days and years and decades, hopefully, we will not be the same people that we were when stood hand-in-hand in the blessed naivety of wedded bliss with our toes in the sand and committed our lives to eachother.
Codependency gets a bad rap in modern psychology. WebMD says “If you find yourself making lots of sacrifices for your partner’s happiness but don’t get much in return, you might be in a codependent relationship” And that seems to be sufficient evidence to give your marriage the boot. Im giving more than him, so this marriage thing isn’t fair and isn’t working out. Is this not a pretty lenient basis to condemn a relationship? What happy marriages do we know today that have stood the test of time that have not seen seasons of sacrificing for the other at the cost of their own happiness? The internet (which is the gospel truth, right?) has a plethora of self assessment tools to help identify codependent relationship and recommends getting the heck out, fast!
Do you expend your energy in meeting your partner’s needs?
Are you the one that is constantly making sacrifices in your relationship?
Do you put your own needs secondary to accommodating others?
Im going out on a limb here stating boldly that I believe all of the questions above should be answered to the affirmative! My marriage isn’t going to work if I hold a “tit for tat” approach that demands the scores be even. Vowing your life to someone in marriage doesn’t come with a clause stating “for better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part ———— or until you aren’t holding up your end of the bargain”.
God doesn’t ask us to change exclusively for the petty happiness or comfort of someone else. Thats belittling to the beautiful creations God has made us and its being a people pleaser with a motivation of gaining approval. Thats not the kind of change God requires. But, He does ask us to lay down our lives and He models an example of selfless, sacrificial love to the umpteenth degree of what I will ever be asked to do in my marriage! How can that example not profoundly debunk my justification and unwillingness to change?!
Please hear me when I add a parenthesis here that I am not making light of abusive or dangerous relationships in which you need professional help. Im simply pondering an epidemic in society today in which so many feel exempt from marriage vows because their own needs are not being met and because they feel justified in getting out when their investment has not yielded a satisfactory return!
As the years and life-seasons ebb and flow with babies and and moves and circumstances that are ever changing and uprooting us, we find our affection for one another has multiplied with the stripping away of so many other relational crutches. Living the majority of our married life far removed from our closest friends and family has forged a dependency that I think is uniquely related to our transient lifestyle. We’ve become students of each other. We’ve learned to care about the things each other care about. We share life on the deepest levels and depend on each other and value the opinions of the other.
Susan Sarandon said it best in the 2004 flick Shall We Dance:
”We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”
Tomorrow we celebrate 15 years. 15 years of depending on eachother. 15 years of being a witness to eachothers lives. 15 years of building a single life together out of two very different people. 15 years of first and foremost needing the Lord, and secondly, needing each other. Ive lost a little bit of myself in this marriage. Ive changed for him. Ive sacrificed. But Ive gained infinitely more! And when (God willing), we find ourselves celebrating our 70th anniversary someday, I hope Im a little less like Mandy and a little more like Christ.