SOURCE: Leslie Vernick
I am a “co-dependent”.
I just realized this about a year ago and with God’s love and help, I am learning to think about myself and others differently, in the context of God’s love and my purpose in Him. I have read material from various sources, some with very helpful information, and I keep reading about people meeting my needs. This is the mindset I grew up with, but it left me empty for years. When I read the Bible and listen to the Spirit, the message I hear is that God will meet my needs. He works through people to meet my physical needs, but if I continue to look to people to meet my emotional or spiritual needs, I will be on a life-long search with no satisfaction. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.
Let me lay the foundation.
God created human beings to live in dependence to him (not people).
When the Lord instructed Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit, he wanted them to completely rely on him for all things good. Sadly, they chose to go outside the boundaries God established. They rejected the God ordained limits of their humanness and believed the lie that they could be as god (Genesis 3:5). As a consequence of their disobedience, we all have the same bent. We strive to be god instead of worshipping and depending on the one true God. We deny our position as dependent creatures and we also put our dependence on people or things instead of wholly on God.
It’s true. God intended us to have relationship with people, and all healthy relationships have some degree of interdependence. However, the only person who should be totally dependent on someone else to meet all of his or her needs is an infant. Once an individual starts to mature, he or she becomes less and less dependent on one person (mom or dad) for her entire well-being and learns to assume some responsibility for herself. She also grows to trust that God uses variety of people to meet some of her needs, including a spouse, but accepts that a husband or one person will never meet all of her needs or wants.
That said, there are two types of unhealthy dependence that will cause a marriage (or any other adult relationship) to become destructive.
The first kind of dependency is where I NEED you to love me in order for me to be okay. This person puts another individual in God’s place as his or her foundational source for love and acceptance. They seek a love object to fill them up, to complete them, to rescue them or make them happy. They feel empty inside with no strong core of who they are. Therefore, they come to a relationship starving; looking for someone to nourish them like a baby seeks a mother or a tic seeks a dog.
Elise came to counseling feeling suicidal after a breakup initiated by her boyfriend. She sobbed, “What did I do wrong? Why couldn’t he love me?” No amount of rational talk about personality differences, him not being the right one, or God’s will could soothe Elise’s broken heart. His rejection of her defined her. She said, “What’s wrong with me? I feel so unworthy, I want to die.”
This kind of thinking is dangerous and destructive. Even if Elise found a man to love her, what mere mortal could fully fill her empty love tank? And when he fails (as he will), what happens to her or to him?
In the movie “Jerry McGuire,” women in the audience collectively swooned when Tom Cruise told Rene Zellweger, “I love you. You complete me.” It’s a nice line for a Hollywood movie, but don’t fall for it. The truth is, if we need someone to complete us, we won’t make a good marriage partner or a good friend. No other human being can complete us if we are not whole ourselves. Only God completes us.
It is quite seductive when a man whispers in our ear, “I love how you love me.” Or, “I need you to complete me.” But stop for a minute and listen to the words. The emphasis is on the word me. It’s a selfish love because it’s self-focused and toxic to the person who is being loved. It’s not I love you, but rather I love you loving me.
Ava was married to a man whose love started to suffocate her. She said, “I can’t breathe. My husband sticks to me like a barnacle. I’m exhausted trying to meet his constant demands for reassurance, attention, and sex. There is no room in this relationship for me to be me or for him to love me. I exist to take care of him.”
Oswald Chambers writes,
“If we love a human being and do not love God, we demand of him every perfection and every rectitude, and when we do not get it, we become cruel and vindictive; we are demanding of a human being that which he or she cannot give. There is only one Being who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. Why our Lord is apparently so severe regarding every human relationship is because he knows that every human relationship not based on loyalty to Himself will end in disaster.”
That’s why I’m very wary about relationship books where the main emphasis is how to meet one another’s needs. It sets up unrealistic expectations that a human being can or should fulfill another’s needs. If they don’t, or can’t, the person is left empty. God may indeed use a spouse or parent or friend to meet some of our needs, but there is no human being that will ever be able to meet all of our needs or wants.
When we put another person in God’s place, it is idolatry and it will always leave us feeling empty.