SOURCE: Excerpted from Jeff VanVonderen – Families Where Grace is in Place
On a recent talk show, I heard a man who had the dream of becoming a professional athlete in a certain sport. He spent up to eight hours a day, six days a week, playing that sport. He had no job. He had no real marriage. His relationship with his kids was nonexistent. The family was in danger of losing the house and all of their possessions. Audience members accused him of lacking respect for his family. He was appalled. He just liked to play his sport.
Members of the audience also accused him of preferring to play rather than work. He admitted it. He just wanted to play. As far as he was concerned, if he could just play six days a week without having to listen to the gripes of his family, life would be just fine.
This scenario recalled for me a book I’d read entitled The Peter Pan Syndrome.1 It was written to help women who thought they had married a man, when really they had married a “Pan.” You will recall that Peter Pan and the lost boys lived in Never Never Land, where no one ever had to grow up. They just played all day long, going from one incredible adventure to another. The gentleman on the show was very much like a lost boy.
As incredibly out of touch as this man was, my attention was drawn to his wife.
While she hated his lifestyle, she funded it. She believed him when he said he respected her, even though all of his actions communicated blatant disrespect. Where he fell short, she took up the slack. Why was she willing to waste her entire life playing “Wendy” to the “Peter Pan” in her husband? She was obviously the smartest, most capable of the two. Yet she lived as if she had no life without him.
Because she was a codependent—that is, stuck in a controlling, rescuing relationship that was wearing her out. And the model she provided for her kids, about how to have an adult relationship, was every bit as dysfunctional as that of her husband.
As I said earlier, codependency is another word for relationship dependency. At its very core, it is a spiritual idolatry. Remember, idolatry occurs when one person turns to anything or anyone besides God in order to gain life, security, and value. In a codependent relationship, God is not the source. Pat Springle, Senior Vice-President of Rapha Hospital Treatment Centers, defines codependency as “a compulsion to control and rescue people by fixing their problems.” The codependent needs the loved one to be “fixed” in order to feel good about themselves or as an attempt to have their own unmet needs satisfied.
It is never your job or mine to protect our loved ones from bad news. We can, instead, support them as they learn to cope with the tough challenges of life. We do not have to sacrifice our own needs, feelings, or values as we try to help others with theirs. We can take care of ourselves and be resources to our loved ones as they learn to be responsible for their own needs.
You don’t have to live in ways that are codependent. If you are not able to stop, get help. Living this way will enable those around you to stay sick or irresponsible.