In my last post, I defined co-dependency. The key ingredient in it is that the supposed “victim” gets something out of the spouse’s bad behavior. Today I want to look at it from a different angle.

Above all, a marriage is meant to be a friendship. It cannot be a one-way street. If one person is indulging in something harmful and the other person either tries patiently to get the spouse to change, or allows the indulgence because of some reasonable reason (such as illness), I came to the conclusion that this does not constitute co-dependency. However, there is a catch. If the life of the couple centers around the person who is being indulged and the other person’s life has no quality and his or her needs are not being met, then there is cause for concern and cause to want to investigate further.

Let’s take the case of Sally and Al that I brought up in the last post. She is not co-dependent as she is getting nothing out of Al’s drinking binges on weekends. She hates it and has been unsuccessfully trying to get him to change. She doesn’t want to leave the marriage because she loves him. She does not appear to be enabling him yet she is not putting strong enough obstacles in his way either. Her needs for love, attention, care, and friendship in the marriage are not met.

It is at this point that a person whose needs are not being met must take a second look at how she is dealing with the problem. She has tried nagging and of course, Al ignores that. The fact that she is sad is falling on deaf ears. But he is a good provider, an excellent father, and when he’s sober, a loving husband. Sally must consider alternative ways to get Al’s attention. Here are things she has not tried:

1. Make an appointment for marriage counseling.

2. Get family together to do an intervention.

3. Take him herself in the car to an AA meeting.

4. Start going to AlAnon.

5. Tell him she wants to talk to him and not to brush her off because she will take that as a sign that he is no longer interested in the marriage.

If all else fails, she could see a divorce attorney. I don’t recommend divorce and I certainly don’t recommend playing games, but many people have found that when they received papers in the mail, their spouses “woke up.” One suggestion is to see the attorney, not to give a non-refundable retainer and start proceedings, but rather for a letter of intent.

In other words, see an attorney who does mediation and ask whether he or she would write a letter saying, “Dear Mr. Alkie, Your wife has come to my office today for advice on beginning legal proceedings for divorce. Before I take that step, I am informing you that she also would prefer avoiding the divorce if possible. She requests that you and she attempt to mediate your concerns first.”

It is important to understand the difference between being codependent and being stuck. Sally is stuck but not co-dependent. Perhaps these suggestions can get her out of the mess.

Any family attorneys want to weigh in on this?

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