I want to begin by saying, I dearly love my husband. We have been married nearly 27½ years and though we have experienced bumps in the road that’s been our life together, we have both grown and matured. We have a loving home together with our son.
In the book, “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” by Karyl McBride, Ph.D., there is a chapter entitled “Romantic Fallout” and within that chapter, a subsection titled the “Codependent Relationship”.
“Overachievers often, unconsciously, find men who need to be taken care of. They are attracted to the “What I can do for you” dynamic. The daughter lets her well-learned skills of taking care of Mom and all her needs make her into a caretaker for life. When she partners with a man whom she can take care of in some way, she feels in a familiar, emotionally safe situation. A man who is dependent on her won’t abandon her. In return for taking care of him, she hopes that he will in turn fill her void and emptiness. Of course, this never works, and what happens instead is: The more demanding, dependent, or immature the man is, the more he reminds her of her mother, who was extremely needy and had “entitlement” demands. She eventually feels resentment and anger and becomes overwhelmed. She runs around trying mightily to meet his needs in hopes of a return pass of the ball, but it never quite happens that way. She gets tired.
The adult daughter does not really trust the dependent partner or his capacity for intimacy, because she knows, at some level, that she chose him because he is not capable of vulnerability or emotional intimacy. She has thwarted her need for validation and her hope for authentic, loving connection. He cannot love her for who she is, and thus she is constantly frustrated and sad. She seeks love but cannot find it until she completes her recovery.
I use a basketball analogy in therapy to give a visual image of this couple. Imagine a basketball floor with a basket at each end and bleachers on the side of the floor. The codependent, usually high-achieving woman is running back and forth mkaing all the baskets on both sides, while the partner is sitting in the bleachers watching and hoping she will win the game for them both. After a while, the woman gets exhausted, feels frustrated and resentful, and wants to stop. The partner in the bleachers might be content that someone else is doing all the work for him, but his self-esteem is getting no validation or elevation, as he is not doing his part for himself or his partner.”
The author goes on to say, later in this section:
“Who wants to admit that they are a dependent soul? Doesn’t it sound better to say, “I am a caretaker”, than to say, “I want someone to take care of me”?”
Codependents “somehow have to see themselves as more powerful than they are to override the pain.”
This whole section of the book really resonated for me. It’s about me!
I met my husband when he was 16, I was 19. He was the first boy that ever seriously took an interest in me and he had a very sympathetic home life. Like me, he had taken care of his grandfather, he’d even opted to live with his Aunt and his Grandparents.
He’d shared stories with me from his childhood, feeling like he was the ‘black sheep’ of his family. His mother and father had divorced and his father wanted very little to do with him, his mother worked and clearly had a close relationship with his older sister who had been, to a degree, abusive to him. He recalled times when she’d physically disciplined him, when she was supposed to be babysitting him but instead had her boyfriend over smoking pot together in front of him.
His father was an alcoholic (alcohol would eventually take his life), both his mother and his sister were focused on having and keeping a man in their lives so he opted to live with his Grandparents, feeling very much ‘in the way’. He was struggling in school and had turned to his pastor as a ‘fatherly’ role model.
I had been ‘trained’ to be independent, something my mother realized was a mistake and adjusted her ‘parenting’ choices with my sister, not allowing her to be as involved in budgeting, cooking, or having responsibilities, in an effort to keep her at home, so that someone would be available to ‘care for’ her as she aged.
My husband and I dated for 7 months before he and I decided we wanted to live together (with my two roommates). His mother packed all his clothes in his dresser and brought it and him to my apartment and dropped him off, telling me it wouldn’t even be 2 months and I’d be sending him home.
This was when the ‘caretaker’ in me kicked into hyper drive. My friends and I helped him with his school work, supported him after he had surgery, helped him get his GED and actually score high enough to achieve his High School Diploma. He didn’t know how to budget, hadn’t really had any responsibility for himself, hadn’t had many chores or expectations placed upon him while living at home. He had just, more or less, been existing there.
When we were first married, he had had no work experience, so he had a very difficult time finding work. I worked full time and on more than one occasion worked a part time job as well. I handled the finances, did all the household chores, cooked the meals and did all the yard work. I ran all the errands and did all the shopping. This lasted for approximately 7 years, until my Father got him hired at the factory where he worked. He began bringing home a full time paycheck, but I continued to handle all the responsibility for the house and yard.
When I became disabled and we adopted our special needs son, my husband got his first real taste of responsibility and was overwhelmed. As a result of him feeling overwhelmed, I went back to work without a physician’s release and within 3.3 years, I had 5 additional diagnosis with the prognosis of losing the use of my legs. My disability had progressed, my health deteriorated and I was again, unable to work.
Having always been the person providing care to others, it was profoundly difficult for me to ever ask for help, it made me feel ‘less than’ who I believed myself to be, but then add to that becoming disabled and no longer being able to just plow ahead, taking care of everything and being in control, something I never had when I was growing up, being abused, I felt I had lost myself.
My husband had become accustomed to me just ‘doing’ everything. When I became disabled, he told me he didn’t want to make me feel like I was ‘helpless’ so he never offered to help me, even when I was struggling. This really made me confront my fear of needing help, of not being able to ‘do it all’ for everyone else. I had to admit that I needed help, not only admit it, but ASK for help.
The problem I face now is that my husband became so comfortable with me being the ‘human doing’ (as Karyl McBride refers to it), taking care of everything, that he ‘tunes out’. Even when I do ask for help, I seldom get a response. In a way, my need to take care of everything has sabotaged me, now that I’m no longer able to take care of everything. When things don’t get done, I beat myself up for not being the person I once was, for being someone who is ‘needy’, when in reality, I’m no more needy than the next person, in fact I do a lot considering the challenges I live with.
I most definitely, throughout my adult life, have made choices that have allowed me to carry on the role of caretaker. I still try to be the caretaker for friends, family and neighbors in need. I still struggle with taking care of myself, doing what I’m able rather than what I think I should or need to be doing.
I think this section of the book may possibly be the most powerful thing I’ve read to date. It truly illustrates how my childhood role within my family and the influence of my Mother’s sickness has carried on throughout my lifetime and affected me as an adult.