Humanity as a Partnership

Here are two more articles about Assertiveness in the Collaborative Relationship… from my book, Marriage Minutes, available at

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Marriage Minute # 28 Humanity is a Partnership

Someone commented to me that they had never heard me talk about co-dependency. They supposed that I didn’t really believe in it. That is not exactly true, because I have recommended Melody Beattie’s book, Codependency No More, many times. Also, I recognize the original meaning of the term as used by people in chemical dependency treatment. The term referred to the people in the life of the alcoholic or drug user who would lie, and excuse, and cover up for them when the usage would otherwise get them in trouble. It has come to mean anyone who puts aside the development of their own life and identity for the sake of keeping a relationship; a relationship that grows ever more one-sided. One of the humorous lines about co-dependency is the one about the co-dependent person who was on a falling elevator- and someone else’s life passed in front of their eyes. It is sort of like being the personal assistant for someone else’s personality.
But, my friend was right about my not using the term, and here is why I don’t. First, from the academic side, I don’t find the term defined very well in the literature. It doesn’t have a good basis in research. Since it can mean too many things I hesitate to talk about it with people. Second, since it can mean so many things, it is too easily placed as a label on almost everything. It is the answer that doesn’t answer anything.
But, here is the main reason. I fear that our popular culture with its popular psychology has done “Too Good” a job at treating this supposed disorder. The sacrifice has been replaced with selfishness. Here’s what I mean.
A person asks their spouse’s opinion, but their spouse refuses to give it, fearing that giving this information will keep their spouse from making their own decision. “But I am only asking for your thoughts as input.”, this person says. Then they hear, “You’re just being co-dependent.” What have we done with our ability to pass ideas back and forth?
Someone says, “Can you help me with this?” They hear something like, “No, I am learning not to be co-dependent.” This is further justified by a remark like, “It is time I looked out for myself.” Why do we have to be doing one or the other? Why not care for others and for ourselves, as well? Why not develop the social skill of being able to say either “yes” or “no” when appropriate, without having to be entrenched in self-protection.
Another person becomes a chronically angry spouse, using rage to gain illegitimate power and control. When their spouse doesn’t take on the same rage, this rational spouse is accused of being co-dependent. Then, if a wise friend tells the raging person that their rage isn’t getting them anywhere, and that they should stop the tantrum, the rage-aholic defends themselves by saying that they don’t want to be co-dependent.
In our self-centered age, kindness and caring for others have been relegated to the categories of “low self-image” and co-dependency. Personally, I want a humanity that is not what author Joyce Milton calls, “a one-man show.” While there is a sense of dependency to be avoided in life, there is also a sense of selfishness that may be even more dangerous.

Marriage Minute # 29 Taking Care of Myself

Ever hear someone in a marriage speak those famous words, “It’s time I took care of myself for a change. . . ”, and wonder what they meant? I have heard it from several clients over the years and when I ask what they mean, I have heard several different answers. This goes to show that you have to ask or you may never know what they mean. Now, before I talk about what they may mean by these words I have to ask another question. Why do we suppose that marriage means that we have to choose one way or another? How do we get to the point of lopsided marriages? Do we start out being lopsided when we believe some of the cultural myths of our day? These cultural myths start us out unbalanced when they say things like, “You have to really take care of your husband/wife and make them happy.” The myths are furthered by such words as, “take care of the male ego”, or “women are funny like that.” These myths reflect the reluctance in our culture to treat ourselves, and others, as individuals. These myths provide ways to avoid the good work of learning about who we really are.
Have you ever read about the top ten intimacy needs? David Ferguson, a great theorist in this field, has said that in his research there are ten needs that keep showing up. And, they show up in all people, male or female. Here is his list. These needs are: Acceptance, Security, Appreciation, Encouragement, Respect, Affection, Attention, Approval, Comfort, and Support. All people have most of these needs They will rank them differently from person to person, but they are the same needs. We won’t know unless we ask, and understand.
When a newly married couple starts out with an understanding of each other’s needs and has the commitment and skills to work toward fulfilling them, the lopsided relationship is avoided. (Of course, balance requires regular maintenance throughout the marriage.) Most marriages start without this preparation and find that adjustments must be made later. It is within this kind of marriage that we most often hear the words regarding “taking care of myself.” But, marriage doesn’t have to be lopsided.
Sometimes when a person says they need to take care of themselves, they are learning that their marriage has been lopsided, and are starting to express their own needs. Some people panic when they hear this because they believe that now someone else is going to be neglected. Some people fear that the family is going to suffer at the hands of a “new sheriff in town.” If the power is going to shift, everyone grabs for a more secure hold. The truth is that none of this power struggle has to happen. When “expression” is valued, and “understanding” is sought, then a loving family can learn a great lesson. With skill and commitment they can see that each person has the right to their legitimate needs, as well as the obligation to the needs of others. They can say, “I will reveal my needs and expect others to respect them, and I will understand your needs and will respect them.” This does not mean we can meet all expectations, especially those that go beyond reason. This does mean I care about me, I care about you, and I care about us.
The bride is not selfish, and neither is the groom, when they want to be in the wedding pictures. In like manner, the wife is not selfish, neither is the husband when they both want to be in the marriage picture.

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