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Codependency....wife has insecurities


coastie28

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Good morning, I'm new here so greetings to everyone. Let me just start by saying that my wife and I are starting to exhibit some very strong codependency issues with one another I am 28, she's 24 and we've been married almost 3 years. It's hard to even know where to start....her parents were always extremely critical and harsh on her about her weight and pretty much everything else while she was growing up so she has some really huge insecurities. I love her more than anything in this universe and just want to see her happy and not living like this anymore, we have never left each other's side in almost three years and I mean that, we have always been together. She is very dependent on me for my opinions, to make decisions regarding finances and pretty much everything else that comes up in life. Basically I have screwed up in taking all of the thought out of life for her, she doesn't have to think about anything or worry because I have always been the one to do it and she is so incredibly smart that it's getting to be a burden on me. She is always thinking that I'm being critical and even a slight joke is misinterpreted into something negative about herself, her parents are to thank for that. She is starting to break free of their iron hold they had on her but still is really struggling each day with her self esteem, confidence and her self image. I am almost paranoid about making a joke, saying anything that could even be remotely misconstrued or giving an opinion and it's at the point that I am having to really watch each and everything little thing I say. That's enough stress in itself. Does anyone have similar issues like this that they are willing to share with me and maybe give me some insight? I know that everyone is going to say "therapy" and I would love nothing more than for her to go, I've had the patience of a saint with her for a very long time but I am starting to get into "crunch time" mode so we can move on with life and really live better. Any help would be greatly appreciated....

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To your credit, you certainly have a good insight into your situation. You are right both in that it is co-dependent, and that therapy is the most obvious next step.

 

It is co-dependent, because all the time you take all of the thought out of life for her, you enable her to run away, which crushes her self-esteem. She never achieves anything because she does not have the confidence to put herself in a position requiring it, and you can't bear to cause her the short-term discomfort of putting her in that position. The problem is that all the time this continues, her condition will only ever get worse and your frustration will only increase.

 

In that sense, you both need therapy; her to start to rebuild her self-esteem, and you to find ways to enable her to do so, to place some of the burden back on her and withstanding the short-term fallout that will inevitable follow. You didn't actually say why therapy was not an option, so I hope that it is; if she refuses, you at least can go, and your first test is to find a way to persuade her to go also, no matter how uncomfortable she feels.

 

She is living in her comfort zone, which is miniscule, and she hates herself for that more than anything else. You must stop helping her to stay there.

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Thank you for your reply, therapy is an option but she just doesn't see herself as having an issue, she thinks that the problems are on my end and that I'm the one that needs help. She seems plenty comfortable just letting me do everything but I know that what you said is true. When she does accomplish something it's a big deal and I try to show her that it's really great that she did that and encourage her to step out a little bit, it's taken me almost two months to get her to send out her application to go back to school. It just seems like she is not capable of doing anything unless I help her or unless she KNOWS that she will be able to do it, but there's every excuse in the book and she uses them and genuinely sees no way that she has a problem. If I try and explain things to her she lets me know that I have no idea what I'm talking about and that I'm not a therapist and there's no way to win that. Whenever I try and limit my involvement in things she states that if I cared I would help her or that I don't care if she fails, I do care deeply but I want her to do things on her own. Her parents really did a number on her but swear up and down that they were "pushing her to be better" by using negative re-enforcement, they completely deny and refuse to believe that what they did was basically emotional abuse and that they have damaged her. They just tell her that she is being ridiculous and they despise me for trying to show her that it was wrong of them to do. They think it works and they keep doing it. She was pregnant about a year ago and it wasn't on their time frame for her so they told her to get an abortion and said they want no part of it, we ended up having a stillborn at 5 months and inducing labor. She is pregnant again now and they have shown no interest and tell her that she's pregnant for attention. I limit all involvement with them to calls on holidays until they can treat her with more dignity and respect, when they call they ask if I'm around and if I am they keep it very very short and simple, if I'm not they really let her have it and reduce her to tears. This is how she has grown up and been living with the exception of the last 3 years she's been with me. I'm really stuck, what kind of therapist would be best suited and what would be the ice breaker when we start going?

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I think I have much of the same issues as your wife Although less severe. And I am only now realizing it is due to my parents and the way they treated me. I'm not sure what to tell you since I haven't yet solved my issues completely. Time I guess. My confidence gets better as I accomplish things myself and learn that what they made me believe - that I could never accomplish things myself - was false. My father just recently told me that I could never buy the 'right' car by myself and he bought me one instead. Then he used the money he gave me (the car) as a tool to keep controlling and manipulating me. I always am scared to do things (even simple things) on my own because I fear I cannot do them the 'right' way. As I grow older I realize his 'right' ways of doing things were not so 'right' for me. For me it is time, and understanding and support my boyfriend provides that is healing me. It is such a burden to be unable to live life because you always fear you can't live it the 'right' way.

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Yes, parents are largely responsible for this in most cases. There are two things that a parent can do which leads to this. One is to constantly undermine the confidence of the child by excessive negative feedback, which in the case of coastie28's wife sounds like is it exactly what happened. Children will believe their parents, especially if the message is consistent, and start to think that they really can't do anything right, and that they shouldn't try. The other thing parents can do, often inadvertently, is overprotect children, so that they have little experience with failure, and come to fear it as a fear of the unknown. This leads to them as adults living well within their comfort zone, because they simply dare not try something new in case it doesn't work. They don't realise that failure isn't usually total disaster, and worth the risk, because they have little experience with it. It sounds as though that is more the case for hike14, with some of the first one also thrown in for good measure.

 

I can tell you from both a personal and professional perspective that the only way out of the comfort zone is tough step by tough step. You get a little bit more used to falling down and picking yourself up again, and the energy you get from each success fuels the next adventure, so it becomes easier over time, but I don't think there is ever a moment where everything clicks and you become like everyone else (in your perception; in reality other people also find it hard to varying degrees).

 

To coastie28: your wife certainly does have a problem, even if she doesn't see it herself, because her behaviour is abnormal and destructive to the relationship, and the fulfills my definition of a problem. The "if you care you would help me" line is emotional manipulation to coerce you into doing something that she feels she can't do herself. You definitely should get her to a therapist; that much is clear. What type of therapist? Most importantly, one that she's comfortable with and will be honest with. Aside from that, it should be a counsellor (could be a psychologist, but doesn't need to be, and not a psychiatrist; this isn't a medical problem), ideally practicing some sort of person-centred counselling such as cognitive behavioural therapy or rational emotive therapy, but that's not a strict requirement by any means.

 

The question is how to get her to go and see one, and for this we have a bit of a stick and carrot situation. For the carrot, think of something that you know she would really like to do (or even ask her), but can't do on her own or at all at present because she doesn't know how to do it and she's too afraid to try. Really get her to think about it, dream about it, her ideal scenario, and tell her that therapy may enable to do this. The stick, and this is where your own co-dependency comes in, is to distress her by withdrawing some of the things that she needs you to do for her. Essentially, you will be forcing her to leave her comfort zone. This is not going to go down well with her, so prepared for things to get difficult for a while, but it is necessary. On that note, though, I should finally attach a serious health warning. Going down this route will put a strain on your relationship, to the point that it may not survive. Obviously I hope it will, and will be stronger for it, but when she is faced with the choice of leaving her comfort zone or leaving you, that's a very real choice for her, and the answer isn't as clearcut as you might hope. Her lack of other options will help you here, and if you survive the initial difficulty, your relationship will undoubtedly be better for it, but I would be amiss if I didn't say things will get worse before they get better. I do hope you do it, though, for both your sakes.

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She doesn't need to believe she has a problem to go to counseling. She just needs to accept that you believe there's a problem, and that it's important to you that she does this with you.

 

I'm not saying you should give her an ultimatum. "Honey, I know you think things are OK, but they're not OK for me. It's important to me that we get some counseling together. If you won't, I'll go alone, but I'd much rather that we did this as a couple."

 

If she says no, do go yourself anyway. At the very least, a counselor can help you adjust your own behavior to be less codependent, and help you deal with the stress you're feeling.

 

Good luck!

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She is getting better about it, I just have to really push her to do anything. Since we've been together she has done things that take her out of the comfort zone such as a military school she had to complete which entailed taking a certain test more than a few times to pass ( but she still passed). She was starting to step out a little but has fallen into the trap of just recluding back into a safe place where life is simply spelled out for her, and honestly it is. My number one fear and this is apparently common in my situation is that counseling will reveal that we are just not cut out for this anymore, she will want someone who baby's her all the way along and I will want someone that has been through as much as I have and can act independantely of me yet still completely function in a relationship. Is this a downward spiral way of thinking?

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I don't think a (decent) counselor would encourage her in any way to go and be with someone who allows her to remain in her comfort zone. On the other hand, if counselling does reveal a fundamental incompatibility, wouldn't you rather know now, than have another 40 years of this?

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