Codependent?

This toxic relationship dynamic can undermine a healthy connection
By Donna Martelli
Donna Martelli
Donna Martelli
Formerly a professional dancer with the Harkness Ballet of New York, has written three books, course manuals, book summaries, blogs, articles, and devotionals. Donna writes out of her own varied life experiences, including those of dancer, instructor, file clerk, business owner, real estate salesperson, wife, and mother. Her goal in writing is to bless and help people reach their full potential in this life. She lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, is married with five children and twelve grandchildren. She is the author of “When God Says Drop It” and “Why the Dance."
October 6, 2021 Updated: October 6, 2021

Codependency was a popular topic of discussion not so many years ago, and although out of the spotlight today, it hasn’t gone anywhere.

Codependency refers to an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner. And while spoken of infrequently today, it’s still here. It’s a sneaky and deceptive quirk that can affect marriages and any relationships in which we humans find ourselves.

Codependency works behind the scenes and often goes unnoticed as the source of a relationship malfunction. If not stopped in its tracks, it can destroy a relationship. Fortunately, it can’t exist within a healthy relationship. It runs counter to the healthy interdependence two mature people create with each other. And if we want healthy relationships, we owe it to ourselves to understand how codependency works and how to remove ourselves far from it.

A Hard Lesson

Marriage and all other relationships are renewed when you stop being a codependent person. I didn’t accomplish this feat until my husband stopped berating me, and I stopped letting him—because marriage is a two-way street.

Everyone said it was a “match made in heaven,” and indeed it seemed to be. I was an innocent 19-year-old maiden when I first laid eyes on him: a dashing young European gentleman standing across the room from me. His name was Brian, and I loved him at first sight. I know he loved me too. We immediately began a storybook romance, and we were married six months later. I settled in to live happily ever after with him, a perfect husband, an ideal life—naturally complete with a white picket fence and 2.5 kids.

Soon after we married, Brian’s deep-seated anger began to erupt. Seething with wrath, he lined up a series of demands for me, most of which were insignificant. What had just happened? What had I done to make him mad at me?

When I failed to meet his demands like he thought I should, he exploded in a fit of rage. Even worse, when I did fulfill his requirements, he forgot he had even demanded them of me. I later learned that his anger was rooted in the unforgiven experiences of childhood, namely his dad treating him with the same anger that he was pouring on me.

He told me that I never wanted to do the things he liked to do, and when I tried to learn about them, he sabotaged my efforts.

He said he liked nothing about the things that were dear to me. Consequently, I buried or severely camouflaged my God-given gifts and talents so that I could sit on my rear with him while he watched TV. Did this make him happy? No, he didn’t even notice.

The things he demanded were so ridiculous that I hesitate to mention them, but so that you get the picture:

  • I had to wear my waist-length hair down with no barrettes or scrunchies, even in the heat of summer, while he loved ponytails and braids on other women.
  • If the expression on my face wasn’t what he thought it should be, he would criticize me and say I didn’t care or didn’t believe whatever he had said.
  • He would tell me what I was thinking and then be angry at what he thought I thought.

Enough about him; now about me: How could I react to that? How did I react? I did the only thing that I thought would help, the only thing I knew to do.

I tried to meet every demand, and I changed myself from the inside out, including my appearance and God-given personality, so that I might give him what he wanted. Surely that would make him happy, I thought. It didn’t. Instead, I was dying a slow death because of what I was doing to myself.

Ours had become the classic codependent relationship. I was addicted to Brian and psychologically dependent on him in an unhealthy way. He had become addicted to self-destructive behavior because of his unresolved anger and inability to forgive his father. I reinvented myself to be who he expressed he wanted me to be.

We were both about to crash and burn if something didn’t change. Brian somehow had to forgive his father. He had to face what his anger was doing first of all to him, then to me, and ultimately to every relationship in his life. He had no close male friendships, and if one started to develop, he demolished it by finding all sorts of things wrong with the other person. I had to learn to stop responding to Brian’s sarcasm and meanness in a way that was toxic to me. Although I sincerely wanted to help him be happy and peaceful, my reactions to his destructive behavior, far from helping him, were instead enabling him to keep it up.

Was this match made in heaven? I am blessed to say, “Yes, it was!” Once we got past the sickness of codependency, our marriage blossomed into something fresh and new, even better than in the beginning!

Please, take my story to heart and let it help you and, if necessary, change you. You are too precious to squelch or ignore the fantastic gifts that you possess. Don’t feed into a codependent relationship, build a true and open connection. Forgive and be forgiven. We are all flawed individuals, and we mess up regularly. However, that deep-rooted anger and hurt from childhood must be forgiven. Our own anxieties and insecurities need to also be resolved. If we need counseling or any help, it’s available for us. You must be your true self and live your life to the fullest.

Formerly a professional dancer with the Harkness Ballet of New York, has written three books, course manuals, book summaries, blogs, articles, and devotionals. Donna writes out of her own varied life experiences, including those of dancer, instructor, file clerk, business owner, real estate salesperson, wife, and mother. Her goal in writing is to bless and help people reach their full potential in this life. She lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, is married with five children and twelve grandchildren. She is the author of “When God Says Drop It” and “Why the Dance."