Living in a codependent marriage? How to get through it
Codependency in marriage
If you’re in a codependent marriage, you are not alone.
Can you stop being codependent? Yes. But you may need personal, social, or psychological support along the way.
Frances Simone knows about the dynamics of codependency and dealing with alcoholism from her real-life experience with her husband. In fact, this Professor Emeritus of Marshall University’s South Charleston has been there. She has authored her memoir: “Dark Wine Waters: My Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows” to open up about the journey through addiction. We had the opportunity to ask Dr. Simone about her relationship with her husband, her son, the book, and the lessons she’s learned along the way. Here’s what she had to say… Your questions and comments are welcomed in the section at the end.
ADDICTION BLOG: First of all, thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Dr. Simone. For those in codependent relationships, especially with addicts and alcoholics, the line between healthy support and harmful enabling can be a fine one. When did this become clear for you?
FRANCES SIMONE: I guess I’m a slow learner because it took me many years to distinguish between the two. It wasn’t until after my husband died and I learned that my son also suffered from the disease of addiction that I recognized that I needed help to deal with the challenges of loving an addict.
ADDICTION BLOG: What is the difference between helping your spouse and being co-dependent?
FRANCES SIMONE: There’s a very fine line between the two. For example, when I finally recognized that my husband had a disease and encouraged him to seek treatment in a calm, non-judgmental way, I helped. But when I nagged, judged, berated, gave him the silent treatment, or didn’t follow through on my threats, I enabled.
Co-dependency is all about control. It’s about, “Buddy, listen up because I know what’s best for you.” It’s about playing God. I read somewhere that addiction craves enabling, like plants need water.
ADDICTION BLOG: What was it like to be in a co-dependent relationship? What encouraged you to keep working on the relationship?
FRANCES SIMONE: I loved my husband, Terry, very much. He was charming, sweet, funny and talented. A loving and supportive husband, a gifted attorney who advocated for the poor, and a great step-parent to my son, Matt. He was never mean or nasty. Never verbally or physically abusive. Always a Southern gentleman.
When drunk, he simply disappeared. Once I asked why he continued when it caused such heartache. He responded, “Oblivion. I like the oblivion.” Also, having been divorced once, I didn’t want to experience that heartbreak again.
Finally, up until the last, I truly believed that my husband was capable of and committed to recovery. That belief was part of my denial.
ADDICTION BLOG: From today’s point of view, what would you have done differently in your relationship with your husband? What do you wish you had known then?
FRANCES SIMONE: I wish that I had embraced recovery much sooner so that I could have benefited from the experience, strength, and hope of others in my situation. I wish that I had had the “tools” to deal with the many challenges facing loved ones.
ADDICTION BLOG: Soon after getting out of rehab, your husband relapsed. What was that like for you? And what should women going through something similar remember?
FRANCES SIMONE: Relapse is part of the disease. I didn’t want to believe that it could happen to my husband. After Terry returned from a 28 day treatment experience, I expected a second honeymoon. Clear sailing from then on. Once again I was in denial.
ADDICTION BLOG: While researching for the interview I learned that your son was also in addiction recovery. What was your approach in regards of detaching and setting boundaries?
FRANCES SIMONE: Mothers are programmed to nurture and protect. It’s part of our DNA. So letting go and setting boundaries was especially difficult. Many times substance abuse is compounded by mental health issues. This complicates the boundary/detachment situation even more. While setting firm boundaries is important, I believe the boundaries should be somewhat flexible, especially if loved ones are grandparents to young children or mental health issues are involved.
My bottom line was firm: I told my son that if he used drugs he could not remain in my home. I remember driving him to a homeless shelter, giving him $20, and having the locks changed. I sobbed as I drove away. But even during the worst times, I told my son that I loved him and would be there for him if he decided to seek recovery. Thankfully, he did and has been in recovery for two years.
ADDICTION BLOG: When writing your memoir, I suppose you had to re-live all the joys and sorrows. Did writing this book help as a part of the recovery process?
FRANCES SIMONE: Research asserts that the act of writing (especially expressive or personal experience writing) leads to strong physical and mental health.
I have always kept journals. Recording my thoughts, feelings, reactions, etc. in my journals helped me navigate through the joys and sorrows of my marriage. While revisiting my journal entries I recalled happy and sad times. Sometimes I cried, sometimes I laughed, sometimes I grieved on the page.
Also, writing is an act of discovery. I discovered a lot about myself as my story unfolded. Much of what of it wasn’t pretty. But I was able to forgive myself, my husband and my son. So, yes, completing my memoir was a big part of my recovery process. Writing helped me heal.
ADDICTION BLOG: You went through a twelve-step program recovery for families. What aspects of the 12-step program did you find most helpful?
FRANCES SIMONE: Early on I was introduced to the “3 Cs”: I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.
The “Cs” became my mantra and my life preserver. After several years of attending meetings and reading program literature, I was ready to work the steps and guided through the process by two wise and compassionate sponsors. Many aspects of the program have been helpful: the meetings, slogans, steps, literature, and service. And whenever I sink into the “poor me” and “self-pity” hole, I compose a gratitude list. Having these recovery tools at my disposal has been invaluable.
ADDICTION BLOG: What is your advice for those who are currently in a co-dependent relationship with their loved one?
FRANCES SIMONE: Addiction is a family disease. Loved ones need knowledge and support to navigate through its mine fields. Find a recovery program to help you handle these challenges. It need not be a 12-step program. Different types of programs are available. Seek out the one(s) that will work best for you and stick with it.
Also gather information from books and articles and access online resources (websites, blogs, etc.) When you know better, you do better.
ADDICTION BLOG: Finally, is there anything you’d like to add?
FRANCES SIMONE: Working a 12-step program hasn’t been easy. It takes a lot of courage, commitment, and self-discipline. Just like writing a book. Thank you for this opportunity to share.
Photo credit: Ralph Unden