Grief: Love or Codependency?

Heavy winds today reminded me of a walk I took thirty-five years ago. (Weird, huh? Hadn’t thought about that day in a very long time.) It was a lovely spring evening, or rather, it would have been if it weren’t for the winds. But I was too restless to stay inside. This was about six months after I met the man I would spend the next few decades with, and like a homing pigeon, I headed for his store even though I knew he wouldn’t be there. I wanted to feel connected to him, even if in such a minor way.

When you fall in love, such bits of silliness are expected and excused. Apparently, they are understandable in the context of new love. But when you spend a lifetime with someone, and you still have that connection, people start looking askance, thinking that perhaps you’re codependent. And when he dies, leaving you feeling as if half of you died, too, then the pointing figures become more . . . pointed.

A few days ago I posted my latest chapter of the collaborative novel Rubicon Ranch that I’m writing with eight other authors. In my chapter, I wrote:

Tears welled up in her eyes as she remembered her husband when they first met. His hazel eyes had blazed with golden lights as he smiled at her, and young fool that she’d been, she’d been dazzled. They had a great life, or so it had seemed. She’d felt safe with him as they traveled the world over. And free. What need had she of a house, a car, kids when she had him?

Well, now she had nothing but debts. And doubts. Had Alexander ever loved her as she loved him?

Today I had a bizarre little exchange with a total stranger. He wrote: “This excerpt suggests your ‘young’ lady may benefit from CODA; this is like AA for Co-dependency; a peer support group[P2P] that provides support for individuals struggling to devise[and adhere to] a recovery plan[WRAP].”

I responded: “Maybe she simply loved her husband. Not all people who are deeply connected to another human being have codependency issues. Her surviving her spouse’s suspicious death confuses the matter, makes her wonder what was real. Perfectly normal behavior under the circumstances. Grief skews one’s perceptions.”

His response: “Kinda my point! How do we define for ourselves what is real love, or a symptom of dependency? …define for ourselves who is grieving; who is stuck in this codependency conundrum?”

There is no codependency conundrum here. Just because two human beings are depending on each other for love and support, it does not make them a therapist’s subject. And even if only one of the parties is in love, as might be the case in my story’s scenario, it still doesn’t make the one who loves codependent. Unrequited love is still love.

It’s very simple. Love means wanting what is best for the other. You help each other grow. You never expect the other to fix your individual problems, though you often take each other’s advice. You don’t cling, demand, or base your relationship on unrealistic expectations. Together you provided a safe environment where each can be yourself. And you support each other any way you can. No matter how connected you feel or how bereft you are when your mate dies, if the relationship helped make you grow, made you a better person, it is not codependency no matter how it appears to outsiders.

Admittedly, this exchange was about a character in a book, but I’ve had similar conversations with people about my grief, as if grieving for a life mate/soul mate is somehow . . . sick. As if it makes me un-well-adjusted. The truth is, I am very well adjusted, so much so that I’ve been willing to make my grief public in an effort to spread the word that it is okay to grieve.

And it is okay. Don’t let anyone blow off your grief.

25 Responses to “Grief: Love or Codependency?”

  1. Mary Friedel-Hunt Says:

    I would say that those who call a deep and enduring love co-dependency have never had a deep and enduring love….and I feel sorry for them.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I was appalled the first time someone accused me of being codependent because I was having such a hard time dealing with his death. (This was around nine months, I think.) There is a huge difference between interdepencency and the stupidly termed codependency. Maybe we’re all supposed to be totally independent of one another? Well, I now have total independence, and so far I’ve found no joy in that.

    • Red Says:

      That sounds remarkably, painfully, trenchantly full of genuine common sense. I agree one hundred percent!

  2. Holly Bonville Says:

    I have the same thoughts as Mary. Jake and I were good together, but we weren’t dependent upon each other. I’m no co-dependent, I just miss the other half of what we had become together. My best friend, the one I could depend upon who was always there no matter what, and I did the same for him. I can’t ever imagine having that with someone else.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I miss that — being able to depend on having someone there no matter what. Like you, I can’t imagine ever having that again.

    • Alma Alexander Says:

      for twenty years I wrote every word I imagined, set down on screen, on paper, with the knowledge that there would be someone – my best friend, my companion, my first reader and my first EDITOR – who would see those words first, before they were fit to be seen by anyone else, before he could make them BETTER. He is gone. If I am going to continue writing I will have to learn how to write all over again. Alone.

  3. Mary Friedel-Hunt Says:

    I have worked with people we label co-dependent (though I hate the label). They do exist and they look very different that deep and enduring love. It seems that it is ok to be dependent on the dairy to produce good milk, the post office to deliver our mail but somehow it is wrong to depend on the love of our lives. Bill and I always thought of ourselves as interdependent among other things. I will grieve his death as long as I live and if someone wants to call that co-dependent…so be it. I hope those someones find deep and enduring love someday.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m learning that it’s not just that people can’t find such a deep love, but many can’t sustain that sort of relationship for whatever reason. No wonder they have to give it questionable labels.

  4. griefhealing Says:

    What a wonderful world it would be if we all could just dispense with the labels . . . ♥

  5. Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT Says:

    Grieving the loss of someone you love is natural, not codependent, and healthy relationships are built upon interdependency. We’re dependent a human beings. I explain all o this and the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships in Codependency for Dummies.

  6. Joy Collins Says:

    Spare me the armchair psychiatrists! What hogwash. I agree with everyone else here. Obviously that person never had a deep interdependent love with a soul mate. John and I allowed each other our own space. We did things together and we did things apart. He had his interests and I had mine and we had interests together. But just because the best part of my day – and life – was time spent with him doesn’t make me codependent. John was my best friend, my counsel, my helpmate, my buddy, the person who knew me better than anyone ever did or will. The person who could just say my name and my heart would be so happy. The person I enjoyed doing things for because it made me feel so good to see him smile and know I did that for him. Is that co-dependence? No, that is love, pure, unadulterated love. A love worth grieving for the rest of my life.

  7. Cathy "Elaine Garverick" Gingrich Says:

    Hi Pat,
    I was wondering, what does codependency mean anyway? Is it always used to denote something negative and unhealthy. Addict and enabler? My daughter and her husband are visiting me for a few days. They’ve been married 16 years, most of them happily spent.
    Mary is in charge of waking up first, making the coffee, and gently pulling her husband back to some semblance of consciousness. Yes, she enables Jon (who can not seem to get out of bed without her help). Mary provides the solid foundation of love and consistency on which their marriage is based.
    Jon supports her need and desire to help others, to bear the joys and terrors of co-parenting her son, and her artistic nature which leaps from photography, to painting, to jewelry-making.
    They are happy together, though codependent, and, together, stronger individuals than they could be apart. I rest my case. Cathy

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You make a good case, Cathy. Labels are ridicuous, especially labels that end up in the public domain, where most people haven’t a clue what they mean. It should be obvious — any sort of connection between people that fosters growth and better living is healthy, and any connection that fosters destructive behaviour is unhealthy.

  8. James Browning Says:

    Sometimes love is wanting the best for a person’s self. Codependents often give the least love to themself. Thanks for making me think! james

  9. Eva Raguso Says:

    My problem is not with my husband but with our teen daughter. She is the third of four daughters. When does loving a child become obsessive? I covered for her and lied for her just so no one would ever get angry at her. I fooled myself into thinking this is love.. For the past year she has been living in a therapeutic residence because of her behaviors. Her behaviors include failing school, huffing, cutting, running away, stealing, constant lying and unsafe sex. I cry day and night for what is loss and for my allowing it to manifest. She wants nothing to do with us because we are not allowing her to run amuck. I feel totally responsible because my husband warned me and I just kept telling him that he did not understand her. I know there’s no turning back but the question I ask myself daily is, “Will I ever smile again?”

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Oh, Eva. I am so sorry. We do the best we know how to do and hope things turn out right. Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t turn out right, or at least not right away. I bet there will come a day when you don’t feel so much like crying. Be kind to yourself.

  10. going to goa blog Says:

    hi pat, great post! i am grieving the loss of my soulmate now.our blog chronicled the amazing journey we took to india to fulfill his end-of-life dream and i put my own needs on hold for a year to help facilitate that. it was the greatest experience of my life to date as well as the most daunting. codependent? that may be true but it’s not the only truth…great romance, mythic love stories, the stuff of inspiration can spring from hearts that are not so black & white in labeling everything. let your heart be open. give as much as you can without being a doormat and you’ll reap huge rewards spiritually.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      How wonderful that you helped him fulfill his end of life dream. Doesn’t sound co-dependent at all, but very strong and courageous and loving. I hope memories of that trip bring you peace.

  11. Red Says:

    The place where this stupid label stretches to the breaking point is when you realize that a person can feel a deep and wrenching grief over the loss of a pet. Now if you think you can develop a codependent relationship with a pet (particularly a cat, who tells you with every flick of her tail that she will never, ever need you), then you have lost all contact with reality. I think people who are deeply into codependency theory would be perfectly happy to turn into Meursault from “The Stranger.”

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