Dilemmas of Codependent Men

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The dilemmas of codependent men aren’t talked about. Unlike women, few men discuss their relationship problems with friends and family. Instead, they internalize their pain.

Many are in denial, suffer in silence, have an addiction and/or become numb to their needs and feelings. They shun attention and try to do the right thing and be good sons, husbands, and fathers, focusing instead on making a living and meeting the needs of their wives and children. These codependent men sacrifice themselves and believe that their needs, including the need for time away from their wives, are selfish.

Societal and cultural values have shamed men as weak for expressing feelings or needs.

This reinforces codependent traits of control, suppression of feelings, and denial of needs. Often they turn to addiction in order to cope.

Dysfunctional Childhood

The societal norm for male suppression of feelings is compounded and distorted if you grew up in a dysfunctional family where it wasn’t safe to express feelings and needs. It’s easier not to acknowledge feelings that are criticized or needs that are denied or shamed. Your needs were also ignored if you took on age-inappropriate responsibilities because of an out of control, irresponsible, or immature parent. If there was abuse or addiction present, you probably grew up in an atmosphere of chaos, conflict, strict rules, or unpredictability. Self-control helped you survive, but controlling yourself or others leads to problems later in intimate relationships.

Feeling Trapped and Fearing Abandonment

Despite the prevalence of codependent women, I see many codependent men in my private practice. There’s a dance that codependent couples do, and it takes two who know the steps. If you think your wife is codependent, there’s a good chance you are, too. Often codependent men are attracted to women who are needy, demanding, jealous, or critical. Men become dependent on their wives’ approval, and then feel trapped by their manipulation, demands, or expectations. Some are involved with women who are abusive, or never satisfied or appreciative. They’re unable to set boundaries and fear emotional retaliation and/or rejection, including withholding of sex.

Their wives may be very emotional, providing a sense of aliveness to the relationship and compensating for the numbness many codependent men feel inside. In the beginning, a man can feel powerful, helping a needy girlfriend or wife and giving her attention or gifts. He conforms to her expectations, while being assured that she won’t abandon him, but eventually discovers that it’s never enough to satisfy her. Sometimes, these women have mental health issues, are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or are financially desperate.

Some men end up becoming workaholics to justify alone time, but their needs for nurturing, respect, freedom, and appreciation, just to name a few, go unmet. Fear of rejection and abandonment are powerful motivators for codependency, usually because of early emotional abandonment by a parent. Consequently, the men never leave – physically – but withdraw to the safety of a self-made emotional prison. After a while, they feel trapped, controlled, and resentful. They may use drugs or addictive behavior to manage anxiety and depression, while some look outside the marriage for validation. See “Secrets and Lies.” However, it’s not their wives that are the cause of their problem, it’s their codependency.

Intimacy

Frequently, a woman brings her partner into therapy wanting more intimacy and to get him to be more open and share his feelings. Often, it’s revealed that he’s fully capable of communicating his feelings, but instead of being assertive and setting healthy boundaries that make it safe for him to do so, he reacts to criticism and demands by fighting back, emotionally withdrawing, or endlessly placating her with explanations and apologies that don’t suffice.

Codependent couples are reactive because they each lack autonomy and are emotionally dependent upon each other. Problems of closeness and separateness are typical. Couples may keep a safe distance or take turns pushing one another away to avoid the emotional intensity of becoming too close. Intimacy escalates anxiety of being hurt by criticism or rejection or being suffocated and losing themselves and their autonomy. Yet, despite unhappiness or frustration, they don’t leave and draw each other in after a conflict or separation, so as not to be abandoned.

Abused Men

Some men are verbally and even physically abused by their wives and girlfriends and don’t know how to handle it. Often, they’re afraid that authorities won’t believe that their wives are violent and feel humiliated and ashamed that they can’t deal with it themselves. Sometimes, their wives threaten to lie, or do so, and accuse their partners of violence. These men keep their secret and suffer silently. They can learn to value themselves and change the relationship dynamics by healing their codependency and setting boundaries.

Codependency and Addiction

Men who are addicts are also codependent. Their lives revolve around their addiction – whether it’s a drug (including alcohol), sex, gambling, food, or work – which they use to modulate their mood and self-esteem. They try to control their addiction and people around them in order to maintain the addiction. Meanwhile, they are controlled by it. Abstinence or sobriety allows them to work on the underlying issues of codependency. Recovery includes regaining autonomy and self-esteem, and the ability to manage their thinking, emotions, and life problems.

©Darlene Lancer, MFT 2012

 

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Brian
Brian
4 years ago

I am a middle aged man who has 12 years of sobriety from alcohol and drugs. I have recently had some emotional stress due to some active alcoholics in my life. A friend in the program suggested that I may have an unhealthy need of being a caretaker. This made me consider that maybe I have some codependency issues. This has led me to look at other aspects of my life, my wife who has severe anxiety issues, my workaholic father who was absent from my childhood, and my incessant need to be present for my two son’s life. I… Read more »

Tom
Tom
6 years ago

I have been married for 36 years and have lived this life the entire time. I know by heart everything that you have written. I have been through a number of therapist over the years and medications to at least survive. I was a victim of violent abuse when I was a kid and I turned around and married someone with the traits of my abuser. No matter what I have always been the one with the problem. Now my daughter treats me like my wife does. I am beginning to feel like I am going down for the third… Read more »

Dericka
Dericka
8 months ago

Hello, My name is Dericka and I have Been married for almost 10 years. My husband and I got married at 20 and I gave birth to our 1st child a month later I am waking up to how codependent I am and the sad part is that my mother is the exact same way. My dad grew up dirt poor and was very narcissistic my whole life. He literally was mad at my children for not speaking to him one day and they are very young children. My husband is not abusive, sometimes he’s a little mean but here… Read more »

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
8 months ago
Reply to  Dericka

Yes, you definitely can. If you’re not being abused, it’s a real growth opportunity.

Ursula
Ursula
1 year ago

I recently started a relationship with a divorced man, sweet, nice, a real pleaser, who got back together with ex-wife while we were together. He claims he tried but couldn’t stay single, that she is his safe harbor while he goes around cheating. He has very low self-esteem, feels undeserving, constantly wants to ‘get drunk’… fits your description of codependent perfectly. We continue to see each other – I tell myself I’m enjoying the unique brand of sweetness, connection and tenderness he brings to my life – and I’m kinda hoping his reconciliation won’t work out and he will be… Read more »

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
Reply to  Ursula

Be careful what you wish for. You’ll end up with a dependent addict who can’t be trusted. Examine your codependency and why you would want that. Do the exercises in my books and get some therapy.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago

My partner believes that I’m needy and codependent although from reading your excellent articles and posts I don’t see it clearly. It’s true that I love her a lot, though I’m also clear that if necessary I’m good on my own, would be sad for a while then I’d pick myself up and get on with all my incredible projects. My partner has inspired me *so much* with her feminine qualities (love, emotion, passion, excitement) and that has given me a lot. I’ve never before experienced that magic of the loving feminine with my masculine energy, and I would –… Read more »

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
Reply to  Matt

Needy is in the eyes of the beholder! I have no way of knowing without understanding more about the relationship dynamics. Being able to be alone is not determinant, however, since many codependents do better on their own until in a relationship. Often neediness is the result of not being direct. Practice learning to be assertive.

Rebeca
Rebeca
1 year ago

Hi Darlen, my boyfriend says that he feels attracted to me but I can’t understand because I am quite dominant and he doesn’t even assert himself, and I am very aware when I am kind of nasty to him and I feel horrible but it is as if he induced me that energy to abuse him! I don’t think he is the kind of guy I would choose if I hadn’t been needy when I met him although we have the same values and interests. Shall I stay or shall I go? Do we have any hope? I don’t think… Read more »

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
Reply to  Rebeca

Only you can make that decision. However, you can resolve to act in ways that build your self-esteem and not disgrace yourself. And you can not react or play into his weaknesses. Detach from them. When you act more powerful or critical, you reinforce his shame and weakness. Do the opposite.

Brian
Brian
4 years ago

I am a middle aged man who has 12 years of sobriety from alcohol and drugs. I have recently had some emotional stress due to some active alcoholics in my life. A friend in the program suggested that I may have an unhealthy need of being a caretaker. This made me consider that maybe I have some codependency issues. This has led me to look at other aspects of my life, my wife who has severe anxiety issues, my workaholic father who was absent from my childhood, and my incessant need to be present for my two son’s life. I… Read more »

David
David
5 years ago

My ex wife is Co-d and I’m the narcissistic one. Not proud of it Why are we N’s solely portrayed as some sort of cruel boggey-man after years together? Seems like a universal portrayment in what i have read. It’s not fully true. The concept that N sucks the life out of someone he loves on purpose or that the Co-d doesn’t often jump from victim to victimizer is not true. But with the Co-d in the declared space of childhood victim, the N never gets to call them out or you are “attacking them” My Co-d never once apologized… Read more »

todd
todd
5 years ago

Hi there Darlene,tell how do i know if im the narcissist,or the codependent?Ive just been hit with a whammy from my new girlfriend,that i my be codepentent,if this is the case,does that mean she the narcissit?I am realy confused on this subject.

Darlene Lancer, MFT
5 years ago
Reply to  todd

Both and neither may be true. Codependents attract one another, so if your girlfriends thinks you are, she likely is, if you’ve been together for any length of time. Also, narcissists are codependent, though not all codependents are narcissists. Sometimes – less rare – narcissist pair-up. Look at my blog on the symptoms of codependency and read the checklists in Codependency for Dummies. There also is a quiz in Dealing with a Narcissist. Ask your girlfriend what she wants rather than labeling you, which is criticism, depending on her motive and tone.

Lyn
Lyn
5 years ago

Can workaholism fall into the category of addiction? I always felt like my ex put his ambition above everything else. He refused to discuss his feelings, eventually I came to the conclusion that he must not have any. I loved him but was extremely lonely in our marriage. He often seemed to develop unhealthy attachments to female coworkers. He finally left after living a double life for many years.

Jimmy
Jimmy
6 years ago

I can totally relate to feelings of not being allowed to express an opinion. I grew up watching my dad talking politics, and if anyone disagreed with him, even friends, he would get mad. Now as an adult my siblings and I agree on almost everything, but the places we differ on, even if it’s a subject I have personal experience with, I can’t have a normal conversation with them if it is about something we don’t agree on or they go ballistic! I’m learning now to just avoid and defuse the situation, but it would be nice to know… Read more »

Tom
Tom
6 years ago

I have been married for 36 years and have lived this life the entire time. I know by heart everything that you have written. I have been through a number of therapist over the years and medications to at least survive. I was a victim of violent abuse when I was a kid and I turned around and married someone with the traits of my abuser. No matter what I have always been the one with the problem. Now my daughter treats me like my wife does. I am beginning to feel like I am going down for the third… Read more »

Darlene Lancer, MFT
6 years ago
Reply to  Tom

It´s important for both you and your daughter that you get into counseling to heal your past, build your self-esteem and learn to set boundaries. You can start by doing the exercises in my books, including “Conquering Shame and Codependency” and “How to Speak Your Mind.” When you change, it changes the marriage and-or you gain strengths you didn´t know you had.

Tom
Tom
6 years ago

I am seeing both a psychiatrist and therapist. My daughter flat out refuses to go. She has all sorts of invalid reasons for not going. I had a heart to heart with my spouse about the co-dependency and my inability to say no. We discussed it and I finally asked her what she would do when I say no to her. It definitely made her think. I can’t live in the past but I do think about instances that took place before we were married. Based on those there are many times that I wish that I would have lost… Read more »

Darlene Lancer, MFT
6 years ago
Reply to  Tom

Thanks for your follow-up email. In time, therapy should make a difference. Be sure to your counselor is experienced in doing trauma-work. It will take some time before you realize the power you hold with your wife and children – Not just asking, but taking positions with consequences. You may find my books helpful. Meetings are a great supplement, as well.

Cindy S
5 years ago

My husband and I have been together for 6 years and married for 4 years. He is an alcoholic in recovery and we are both codependents. Our main struggle is with intimacy and sex. I am a very passionate person and sincerely want that closeness with him again. He often tells me that he is just too tired, or that something more important is happening that requires his attention. There is always an excuse as to why he wont be intimate with me physically or emotionally. Please help. Thank you

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
5 years ago
Reply to  Cindy S

Inhibited sexual desire is a symptoms of an intimacy issue. Addicts in recovery have that problem generally and are used to functioning with a drug, not sober. I’m not sure how long he’s sober, but if more than a few years, it may be time to suggest marital counseling to improve your communication and intimacy. See Chapters 6-7 of Conquering Shame and Codependency, and my blog “Dance of Intimacy.” In the past alcohol has obstructed intimacy (even if you had sex). Living on the ‘natch brings up all. sorts of issues previously hidden.

oc
oc
5 years ago

Hi there. I’ve been reading and reading about codependency for a couple years now (Beattie’s book and others,) spent a year getting brutally honest and self-searching in weekly therapy sessions, and I am still having a hard time fully grasping what NOT being codependent looks like. Doesn’t codependency imply abuse? It seems to me that in situations of codependency the codependent person is being mistreated and regardless of conflict or boundaries, the only real resolution to the issue is to LEAVE. What about the abuser? Are they not culpable for their behavior? Isn’t the modern codependency movement an example of… Read more »

Jane
Jane
5 years ago

Can my husband have a maternal codependency toward his parents?I only ask because over the years we have been married he obsessively seeks approval of them.His parents have repeatedly hurt him while growing up, tried numerous times to destroy his marriage with lies, stole money from him, belittled him-even as an adult. They abused any neglected physically and emotionally. He even relies on them for jobs. Won’t engage in life on his own w/o them. But he wants me with him for almost everything he does. If he does the dishes I have to be there, if he cooks a… Read more »

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
5 years ago
Reply to  Jane

He is very dependent on them. Codependence often starts with abuse, as explained in Conquering Shame and Codependency. You both are codependent and you’re enabling his behavior. You can do the exercises in my books and go to CoDA meetings and start to untangle yourself.

David
David
5 years ago

My ex wife is Co-d and I’m the narcissistic one. Not proud of it Why are we N’s solely portrayed as some sort of cruel boggey-man after years together? Seems like a universal portrayment in what i have read. It’s not fully true. The concept that N sucks the life out of someone he loves on purpose or that the Co-d doesn’t often jump from victim to victimizer is not true. But with the Co-d in the declared space of childhood victim, the N never gets to call them out or you are “attacking them” My Co-d never once apologized… Read more »

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
5 years ago
Reply to  David

True narcissism is a very small minority, and narcissists are codependent, too. You might like to read my article on treating narcissism

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