Peter Gabriel sang the song “Love To Be Loved” on his 1992 album Us. Do these lyrics sound like you?
So, you know how people are
When it’s all gone much too far
The way their minds are made
Still, there’s something you should know
That I could not let show
That fear of letting go
And in this moment, I need to be needed
With this darkness all around me, I like to be liked
In this emptiness and fear, I want to be wanted
‘Cause I love to be loved
I love to be loved [x2]
Yes, I love to be loved
Sure, the message probably sounds familiar to most of us…after all, who doesn’t want to be loved?
But does your need to be loved go beyond typical relationship love to a need for your partner to be sick so that you are needed, too?
In the past, the term “codependent” was associated with partners of alcoholics. These days, the mental health field recognizes that partners and family members can become codependent around any type of illness. The key is that the codependent lets another person’s behaviors affect them, and the codependent spends a lot of time and energy trying to control that other person’s behaviors.
Like most people who get tangled up another person’s problems, people who are codependent usually start off with good intentions. For example, if your partner is depressed, you may be the one who calls their boss to make excuses for why they can’t come to work, does the chores around the house so your partner stay in bed and sleep, and takes on extra responsibilities so it looks from the outside as if everything is normal. For the codependent partner, this is okay. You don’t mind doing these things, even if it causes extra stress on you.
Some partners who are codependent look like caretakers to the casual observer. They may indeed be caring for their partner, but become obsessive in their actions. No one else is allowed to step in, and if the ill partner starts to improve, the codependent partner might become upset. Being a caretaker is an identity for the codependent partner, and they often don’t know what role they have in the relationship if the ill partner recovers. Since their whole life revolves around their partner’s illness, they both feel like a martyr and fear having nothing to do and no purpose in life if their partner gets better.
People who are codependent spend so much time caring for their partner that they often neglect their own needs. Depression is common, as is isolation, and a feeling that their partner will not survive without their assistance.
What can you do if you think you are codependent?
Getting professional help is the best strategy for breaking codependent behaviors. Trying to change your behaviors on your own will be challenging because of their complex psychological nature. A professional therapist can help you identify ways to help your ill partner that will be helpful and healthy for both of you.