Who Is Responsible?

As I’ve said a number of times, we are responsible for our own actions and words. We are not responsible for the words and actions of others. If someone does something that upsets us, we can tell them. “When you do (or say) that, I feel angry.” Not “When you do (or say that), you make me angry.”

No one can make you feel anything.

Nor can you make someone else feel something. We each choose to feel what we feel. If we say something hurtful to someone, we are 100% responsible for our words. If they decide to blast us with angry rejection, they are 100% responsible for their words. We can make choices about how we will react to other people. And other people can make choices about how they react to us. And the one making the choice is responsible for the choice made.

There is someone I love very much in my extended family who has made choices throughout the years to react in anger and retaliation to family members. After an angry tirade of abusive words, this person always says, “I wouldn’t have had to say those things if you hadn’t……..” Many people who are the victims of abuse hear those words often. The message is, “Your choices are totally to blame for my behavior.” That is 100% wrong!

The codependent patterns in my life developed early in childhood and for years my reaction to this person was to placate and and excuse behavior. I blamed myself for triggering the episodes. I learned early in life that whatever happened to me was completely my fault and if I were just a better person, if I just said and did the right things, I wouldn’t have to endure the tirades.

As I began this journey of healing, I realized that no matter what I had done or said, I did not deserve to be treated with verbal abuse. I had assumed responsibility for another person’s behavior and had been held responsible by my family for fixing the problem. As a result, I had carried that responsibility into my marriage, into ministry, and all other areas of my life. If something went wrong, I thought it was because I had not performed the way I should have. And it was my job to fix it.

A little over three years ago that person in my family attacked me verbally again. This time I did not take responsibility for that reaction. I did not try to fix it. There were consequences, as there always are when we begin to stand up for ourselves. That person determined to end our relationship and has not spoken to me since. My family turned to me to fix it. There was the usual implication that I had helped cause it. This time I stood my ground. I was willing to talk with that person and work things out, but I would not just ignore the behavior and pretend everything was okay as I had in the past. There are consequences to abusing people and that person has never had to face them.

As a family we had always ignored behavior so that person would be comfortable. This time was different.I have contacted that person once since then to express my love while at the same time standing firm that the decision to renew relationship must be accompanied by a willingness to address issues. So far, I have received no response. It is sad, but it is the reality of the situation. I cannot make that person change. I am not responsible for that person’s change. I am responsible for my own changes. I pray that some day that person will choose to get healthy and to deal with issues. Until then, I will continue to love, but I refuse to be abused.

Do you feel responsible for everything negative that happens in your life? Do you blame yourself when things go wrong? Be honest with yourself today. Look at the last issue you faced in your marriage. Take responsibility for what you said or did. No one “made” you do or say those things. You are responsible for yourself, for your decisions and your choices, and for your actions and reactions.

Now release responsibility for everything else. How your spouse responds is not your responsibility. How your children respond is not your responsibility. How anyone in your life responds or reacts is not your responsibility. When our spouse is not listening to the Lord or following His directions in life, his or her reactions will many times be ungodly. If you are reacting to your spouse’s reactions, you will enter into a vortex that begins to suck the very life out of you. Dysfunctional behavior only reflects dysfunction. Do not use it as your barometer for normality.

I have said it before and will say it again and again. Keep your eyes on Jesus and ask Him what you should say and do. He is not dysfunctional nor is He reactionary. You can trust what He tells you. It will keep you solid and strong when the storm swirls around you. Like Peter walking on the water, you can only be swallowed up by circumstances when you take your eyes off Jesus. Love, Marilyn

And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” Matthew 8:24-27

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.”  Proverbs 18:21

The Triangle

I want to make it very clear that I am no expert in the area of codependency.  I am learning as I go and if you are on the same journey, we can learn together. There are many resources available and many support groups that may help you. I joined one at one time, but just about everyone was divorced and that seemed to be the theme of their recovery. I knew that was not the support group for me. You must make similar decisions about what will or will not help you on your journey.

Recently I learned about the Karpman Drama Triangle. See if you see yourself in this one. The first corner of the triangle is Rescuer. We see someone’s need and we feel we must take care of it. We step in and take the responsibility off someone else. They may or may not have asked for help, but we determined they need it and so we attempt to rescue them from their situation.

Rescuing is doing something for someone that they could do themselves.

It is not just helping, it is doing something out of guilt or a need to avoid conflict. We may do it because we think the other person can’t do it well enough or to suit our standards. We may do it because we think the other person won’t do it. Whatever our reason, we step in and rescue the other person from having to do it.

After a while we move to the second point of the triangle, Persecutor. The person we are doing things for just doesn’t seem to appreciate our sacrifice. He or she isn’t grateful. In fact, that person may even criticize us for what we have done. We feel we have given so much, done so much, and this is the thanks we get. They may even come to expect our rescue, even demand it. Now we are no longer volunteering our help, it is expected and we have no choice in the matter.

That is when we start letting that person know how we feel about the whole thing. We remind them how many times we have had to do this thing. We explain how hard it is for us or how much pain it causes us. We remind them of how much trouble they cause and what chaos they have created. Or we reprimand them for not doing the things we expect them to do. “Somebody has to do it and why is it always me!”

Of course, most people don’t respond well to this type of treatment and so they respond negatively to us. Before long we move to the third corner of the triangle, Victim. “Why am I always the one who gives and gives and gets nothing in return?” We bemoan the fact that we are the “good” spouse, the loving one, the selfless one and we are getting nothing out of this relationship. We get angry. We pout. We cry.

Then, because we are Christians, we determine our behavior is ungodly.  We beat ourselves up for being so selfish. What is wrong with me? Why aren’t I more loving and kind? After a few rounds of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” we become convinced that there must be something terribly wrong with us for complaining in the first place. Now we are ready to once again move to the Rescue corner and begin the drama again.

I have walked out this drama triangle hundreds of times in my life, but recently I discovered I am learning on this journey. I had agreed to help someone set up a new computer. I determined it was not something they could do for themselves, and I also determined I was willing to help. What I failed to recognize, though is that an old pattern was in play.

After a couple hours of setting everything up and installing everything that needed to be installed, the person I was helping told me it was not what they wanted. The old tapes began to play in my head. “Nothing I ever do is good enough. After all the time and effort I have spent here…” But, praise the Lord, I am learning. I caught myself mid thought.

I was able to respond, not in anger and persecution, but in love. “If this doesn’t work for you, I can set your old computer up again. You make the decision. It is your computer.” The person tried to put the decision back on me, but I held my ground. Finally they decided to have me set up the old one again. I was able to leave their home in peace because their decision did not reflect on how I felt about myself. I was not there to rescue them and what they decided to do with the computer was simply what they wanted done, not a reflection on my efforts.

That evening I was spending some time with the Lord, thanking Him for this new healing in my life. During that time the Lord showed me something I had forgotten to tell that person about their new computer. I called them and shared what the Lord had showed me. “That’s all I wanted. I didn’t know the computer could do that. I really want it.”

In the past I would have been well into Victim by the time I reached home that day. Instead my heart was open to hear what the Lord wanted to tell me. I was not responsible for the other person’s reaction or decision. Their acceptance or rejection of the computer did not reflect on my worth or the validity of my act of kindness in helping them.They are now loving their new computer and I am loving my new freedom!

You are responsible for your words and your actions.

You are not responsible for someone else’s words or actions. You are not responsible for how someone else reacts. That’s why you need to ask the Lord what He wants you to say and do. Then obey Him and don’t worry about the effect that has on your spouse. You can tie yourself in knots taking your cues and determining your worth from someone else, especially someone who is not in a healthy place right now.

One last thought… If you are in a situation where you are in physical danger if you do not act or respond the way someone else wants you to, seek help now! Do not believe that it is your fault or that it would not happen if you just said or did the right things. You are in the worst kind of codependent relationship when an abuser is determining your worth for you. No one deserves to be treated that way. That is not love and staying in that situation is not a way of showing love to your spouse. Get help and get healthy. Then you can stand for your marriage strong in the Lord, not weakly dependent on a sick person. Love, Marilyn

“Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” 1 Peter 4:9-10

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7

Do You Recognize These Patterns?

As I began walking through this journey, I began to realize that since I was a small child, I have felt responsible for the well-being of my family members. I have always been the family “rescuer” – the one everybody counted on to smooth over conflicts and restore peace. I learned early in life how to rescue others.

When I chose a career, it was nursing. I thrived taking care of others. In my marriage I became responsible for just about everything. I worked full-time, I took care of the children, I cooked, I cleaned, and still managed to learn to do calligraphy, stained glass, and sewing. I made all our kid’s clothes for many years. I returned to school in the middle of all that to get a Master’s degree. I was superwoman. There was nothing I wouldn’t tackle and nothing I didn’t feel responsible to take care of.

I was shocked when Michael chose to leave me for another woman. I was sure I had not done enough. Immediately I personally became responsible for the healing and restoration of our marriage. I am so grateful God ministered to me and brought me to a place of realizing I was helpless to do it. My heart was transformed during that time and I began walking with the Lord in a very deep and special way.

I am thankful for every one of those days and all that God did in my life. My heart had been broken by the words my husband spoke to me when he left. My self-worth depended on how he felt about me. I believed that I was worthless. For so long I had allowed him to determine how I felt about myself. Thank God that He walked me through to healing in that area and showed me that I am priceless to Him. He gave His very life for me, bought me with a price. My husband’s words no longer determined my worth.

But the rescuing continued even after our marriage was restored. We began a ministry together and I transferred my need to rescue to other marriages. I took on responsibility for the health of the ministry. I allowed the words of others to determine how well I was doing as a minister. I blamed myself if something went wrong. I carried a great weight on my shoulders for many years.

Then, through a series of events, God began to deal with these issues in my life. I began to let go and let God. I actually began to enjoy myself! Ministry became an adventure with the Lord and I no longer had to trust myself to be right all the time. I had made mistakes – first in my marriage and then in ministry – but those mistakes did not determine the life or death of what God had created. That set me free.

Are you a rescuer? Do you feel that you have to fix things – your marriage, your children, your work, or your ministry?

Do you resent having to walk in all that responsibility? Do you feel others don’t pull their weight? Do you feel unappreciated? Do you resent seeing others blessed when you feel they haven’t done enough to deserve it? Are you tired of being “the good spouse”? Do you wish you could have some fun and not care about the consequences?

Do you wonder how long you have to suffer? Do you resent God for not doing more when you have done so much? Do you feel responsible for everyone to have a good attitude about your spouse? Do you think it’s your fault that your spouse ________________? (You fill in the blank: drinks, runs around, left you, wants someone else….) Do you just want to find someone that will take care of you for a change?

If you recognize yourself in any of these patterns, then let’s continue on this journey together. God wants to heal your marriage, but that means letting go of what you hold so tightly as your own. It means honestly looking at what you are responsible for and what you are not. It means realizing that not everything depends on what you say or do. It means coming to a place of knowing who you truly are, not what others have told you that you are. Love, Marilyn

“This is the day the LORD has made;We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

In Covenant But not Codependent

Please forgive my prolonged absence, but I have been on a journey of my own. For some time I have been intrigued by the evidence of codependency in my own life as well as in the life of many others I have watched stand for a marriage. Many times during my life I began studying the topic, but soon abandoned the study because so many materials on codependency recommend divorce. Again and again, though, I saw the same characteristics in my life and I wanted to be free.

This past year through some things I walked through in my family of origin, I realized it was time to tackle these issues in my life. I was determined that there is a way to be in covenant and yet not be codependent. Our marriage is healthy, but there are characteristics in my own life that I want to see changed. So my journey began.

You may recognize yourself in these patterns and characteristics of codependency. I know I saw many things that were part of my life when I was standing and have remained part of my life all these years later. I think it is particularly important for those of us who are taking a covenant stand to recognize what motivates our stand. Otherwise, as one of our readers noted, it can feel like a stand is destroying you.

I firmly believe that the Lord wants us to remain faithful to our covenant vows in marriage, but I also firmly believe He wants us to be healthy and whole when we do that. If we are drawing our worth or taking our cues from our spouse, his or her actions and reactions are going to determine how we feel and act. That is codependency.

Since I began my own journey of healing, I have started seeing many around me who also remain in these unhealthy patterns long after their marriages have been restored. I have also started to realize that many people in ministry are very codependent and are gaining their self-worth from being able to rescue others. I am going to devote a number of blogs to this topic because I believe it is essential that we all walk through standing and marriage restoration in health.

When we marry, God makes us one (Genesis 2:24). That oneness is a supernatural transformation accomplished solely and totally by God. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about the Body of Christ. He reminds us that there are many parts, but only one body. So it is with marriage. We are one in Christ, but we are two people with individual gifts, personalities, and talents.

God miraculously creates oneness out of the two diverse, unique people He created. We do not give up how God made us to “blend” with our spouse. We do not have to force unity by becoming less of what God created us to be.

If we have become codependent in our life, though, when we marry we work hard to be what our spouse wants us to be. We can take on responsibility for his or her emotions, reactions, successes, failures, or general well-being. People with codependent characteristics usually seek out and marry people who are dealing with some dysfunction in their lives.

Although none of this is usually a conscious decision, the codependent person becomes responsible for the success of the relationship. Many times they put up with intolerable circumstances just to keep the marriage together. When a spouse decides to leave, the codependent spouse may take on full responsibility for the healing of the relationship.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe God wants to heal every marriage. The key is who is responsible for the healing. If you believe it is God’s responsibility to heal, you will be able to rest in Him and trust Him to do what He needs to do within each of you. If you believe it is your responsibility, then you will tie yourself in knots and consistently rate your “success” by what you have done or said.

Breaking free from codependency is a wonderfully freeing and healing step. If you are constantly feeling guilty that you have not done enough, if you blame yourself that you couldn’t keep your marriage together, if you feel you aren’t worthy enough to be loved fully and completely by your spouse, then you may want to stay tuned for the next steps in the journey. Love, Marilyn

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding…” Proverbs 3:5

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the Lord” Jeremiah 15:7