Its Day 2 of driving across the United States. We somehow thought it was a good idea to pack everything we own, including our dog, into a U-haul to move from Washington state to Ohio. Those 40 hours spent in the truck gave us ample opportunity for endless thoughts and imaginings. It created space for a little daydreaming and reflecting. Here is one of many thoughts:
It is hour 16 of driving, and it has been raining or snowing for the entirety of that time. I am riding shot gun as my husband is as determined as the rain to drive the whole trip. My dog is wedged between us on the floor, and I notice he keeps inching closer to me with every bump and turn. His wet nose is resting against my foot, and I’m both disturbed and comforted by the warmth of his breath. I could move my foot, but its being used to stake my claim on the floor space in front of my chair. He’s a sneaky dog…I just know he’ll take over the second I move my foot.
Our truck sounds like a whirlpool- I can hear”shhhhrrrrrr” from the rain outside while also hearing “t-t-t-t-t” from the shaking of our U-haul. It creates a rhythm almost comforting despite the cramped space and long hours. As I stare out the window, I am distracted by the racing rain drops. They are moving at what seems like warp speed, across the glass, blurring out any chance of seeing the Montana landscape. (not that there was much to see at that point). Two raindrops in particular catch my eye. They are racing side by side. Each doing there own thing and going so fast. I feel anticipation, like a dog right before their owner walks in the door, as I wonder who will get to the edge first. They are pushing each other as one inches forward and then another. They are dancing, waltzing upon the glass. My child heart aches in wonder.
It was so slight as the truck rounded a curve, but I felt the wind shift and the two drops collided. These two independent, racing drops of water collided into one fat, perfectly round drop. “No!” I thought to myself. All their fun was over: their dance, their independence. They had collided into this big, wobbling orb, smack in the middle of my window. I continued watching as the once lively drops were now burdened and trapped by one another. They no longer moved quickly and wildly, but instead trudged along the window pane. The joy they had exuded separately was diminished to weariness as they were now intertwined. The drop strolled along until the edge of the window where it disappeared.
I felt grieved by what had happened. I felt a loss because I enjoyed the dancing rain drops, and I did not want to see them go and look so trapped. Because I was in a truck, driving endlessly, I started thinking about the raindrops and how they reminded me of people I see all the time. I watch thriving, mature adults live in codependent, burdensome relationships. I watch them lose what they need, who they are, and what they want, when they deserve to be living in health and freedom. People trying to dance, not realizing they are tied to the other person, unable to move.
I imagine, when we hear the word co-dependent, we all go “Not me!” I know I have said that before, and yet I found myself doing the things found in books and articles on codependence. I have also observed that many people think codependence can only occur in romantic or familial relationships, and yet I have witnessed people struggling with it at work, with friends, children, at church, and with people in authority positions. Codependence doesn’t discriminate. People may only be vulnerable to codependence* in one area of their life or all areas.
Okay…so if codependence is common and people are affected by it more than they realize, how can we know if we are vulnerable to codependence? Great question! Some ideas: read a book on it, ask people who know us well, see a therapist and explore relationships in our lives. Taken from both personal and others experiences, I created a set of questions below that may get the ball rolling. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be vulnerable to codependence in a relationship.
- Do I often not say what I am really thinking or feeling for fear of upsetting others?
- When someone is upset with me, am I unable to function in that tension? Am I a mess until it is resolved?
- Do I make it my responsibility to keep my boss happy or stress free: I don’t go to them with what I need, I don’t actually say what I mean for fear of upsetting them.
- When I experience hurt feelings from someone, do I expect them to come to me to fix it, even though I am the one who is upset?
- Do I get upset or feel controlled if someone asks for what they need from me?
- When my partner and I are in disagreement, I feel that we must think the same or come into agreement in order for there to be peace and harmony?
- Do I ignore what I need or not ask for what I need because I am afraid of how someone will respond?
- Do I dislike my close friends having other friends or other opinions. I feel threatened by that.
- Do I feel threatened if someone does something in a different way than I would do it? Example: raising children, recovery, wedding, budget, etc
- If someone comes to me with their hurt feelings (from me), do I often feel attacked by them?
- Do I say “sorry” even when I didn’t do anything wrong?
- Do I try to maneuver my spouse, friend, partner, etc into what I think is best for them, even when I have nothing to do with it?
- If someone does not like a certain behavior or personality trait, do I try to alter it for them, even though it is not wrong? ( loud talking, reserved demeanor, laughing, crying, etc)
- Do I continue to hang around or remain in relationship with people who compromise my physical or emotional safety?
If you answered yes to one or several questions, you may be vulnerable to codependence in a relationship. It may help to read that book** or reach out to that therapist you heard about. However, I am not your therapist or living your life, so you may not be vulnerable at all. I hope regardless, this post gets you thinking and raises awareness in your life or in the lives of those you love.
*I do petition people to not label yourself or others as codependent. I like the phrase “vulnerable to codependence” or “struggling with codependent relationships.”, the other way can be very judgmental or stigmatizing.
** Book ideas: “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie. “Facing Codependence” by Pia Mellody, “The New Codependency” by Melody Beattie.