Dear Dr. Yael,
I am married to a man who totally depends on me. To be honest, in some ways I resent it, but in other ways, I feel worthless unless I give to him and make sacrifices to help him. Unfortunately my mood, happiness and identity are defined by him. He is a dominant personality, and he tries to control me. He has an addiction problem to alcohol that is not severe. It generally appears on Shabbos when he goes to the Kiddush clubs. I love my husband, but I know something in our relationship is unhealthy. We have young children, and I am trying to keep our family together. Unfortunately, my husband cannot seem to make money, and I work hard and, Baruch Hashem, am able to pay our bills and keep our family afloat. I would appreciate any ideas that you can give me to help me deal with this situation.
In your letter you give me minimal information. I want to give you ideas to explore. However, writing this column has limitations, so I will answer your question with questions to help you ascertain what is actually transpiring in your relationship.
Do you feel that your relationship is a circular situation in which your husband needs you and you in turn need to be needed? Are you “the giver” that feels worthless unless you are needed by and make sacrifices for your husband who is “the taker?” Are you taking on the task of fixing your husband’s issues instead of him fixing his own problems? Has your identity become entwined with your husband’s identity and are you losing a sense of who you are? This could be a possible enmeshment in your relationship.
It’s hard to know exactly what is going on here. Is your husband controlling you because everything else in his life is out of control? Does he feel the need to control you because he is insecure or feels badly about himself that he can’t take care of his family? Once you realize it’s not about you, but rather about his own insecurity and/or feeling out of control, it will be easier to break free of the controlling behavior and seek the help you need! Your husband’s drinking is likely also a clue that he is unhappy with himself and is trying to escape with alcohol.
You may be involved in a co-dependent marriage, but as noted earlier, it is very hard to tell what is going on from the little information you provided. You appear to be a hard worker, dependable, and an excellent caretaker. Do you have an unhealthy need to be needed? Do you feel validated by taking care of your husband and family alone? Are you losing all sense of yourself? Do you feel guilty when your husband is unhappy and wish you could do more? Do you feel responsible to solve your husband’s problems? Do you have difficulty communicating your feelings, wants, and needs? Do you come from a family where you felt lost and unable to control things as you were growing up? Do you have problems trusting your own thoughts and feelings?
Dr. Exelberg explains co-dependency as “a circular relationship in which one person needs the other person, who in turn needs to be needed. The co-dependent person, also known as ‘the giver’ feels worthless unless they are needed by and making sacrifices for the enabler otherwise known as ‘the taker’”
If you are simply reliant on someone else, it doesn’t mean that you are co-dependent. In a healthy relationship, each person can rely on the other for a variety of needs. Co-dependency is when one person gives significantly more than the other.
What are co-dependent traits?
1] Feeling responsible to solve others’ problems by cleaning up the mess that the other person creates. This often happens when one is married or a parent to a person with alcohol or drug or any addictions.
2] Offering advice even if it is not asked for.
3] Having poor communication regarding feelings, wants, or needs.
4] Expecting people to do as you say.
5] Chronic anger.
6] Feeling used and unappreciated.
7] Coming from a background of being abused.
8] Lack of trust in self or others.
9] Fearing rejection or fear of being unloved.
10] Feeling like a victim.
11] Taking everything that happens personally.
12] Lying to yourself and making excuses for another person’s bad behavior.
Whatever is going on is obviously very difficult. I’m not sure how much longer you can continue the way you are. Please seek professional help to deal with your challenges. May Hashem give you the strength to change the unhealthy marital dance that you are in into a beautiful and healthy marriage. Hatzlacha!