When God gave us His Ten Commandments, He began with these words, “You shall have no other gods before me” (). He knew that if we would make our relationship with Him our top priority, He would bless our lives, and, through our other relationships, we would be a blessing to others. The primary problem with codependency is that it violates the heart of God’s first commandment. In a codependent relationship, you allow someone else to take the place that God alone should have in your heart.… You allow another person to be your “god.” If you have a misplaced dependency, you will have neither peace with God nor the peace of God. But if you put the Lord first, living each day dependent on Him, you will have God’s peace, even when others are not peaceful toward you. This is one reason God says to us,
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
Imagine that you have been handpicked by God to impact all the people around you. You have been chosen to be the liberator throughout the land … chosen to have the respect of all the people … chosen as the highest judge over the entire nation. God has even spelled out the specifics you must do in order to protect your power and safeguard your strength. Soon, the awesome stories of your success spread like wildfire. Then … in walks Delilah!
You know you are not to reveal the secret of your strength, because God has said, “Don’t tell.” Yet you feel torn. You want to please God, but you also want to please Delilah, who has asked you to disclose the source of your strength. You try to resist, but the more you do, the more she cries and begs, prods and pleads. Now you find yourself in the Delilah Dilemma. As you try to take care of her feelings, you cave in to her manipulation. Finally, you confide that your strength is in your obedience to God in never, ever cutting your hair. Big mistake—a big mistake that leads to unimagined misery! Delilah tells the enemy Philistines, and they cut your hair and take you captive.
However, your biggest mistake is not what you said, but what you did—you let Delilah be your “god” instead of letting God be your God. (See Judges chapters 13–16.)
If Samson had not been so dependent on pleasing Delilah—if he had not been a “codependent people-pleaser”—he would not have lost his strength, his status, or his sight … nor would he have lost his spiritual insight. Ultimately, his dependency led to his disobedience, which in turn led to his downfall. In truth, Samson’s pride caused his own downfall, for he prioritized the words of Delilah over the words of God.
“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.”
12 Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.
• A dependency is a reliance on something or someone else for support or existence.
• A dependency can be either negative or positive, such as being dependent on cocaine versus being dependent on Christ.
• A dependency can be an addiction to any object, behavior, or person that represents an underlying attempt to get emotional needs met.
You Can Be Dependent on …
• A chemical addiction to drugs (alcohol, tobacco, cocaine)
• A sexual addiction to erotic items (pornography—magazines, videos—sex toys)
• An addiction to behaviors that appear to be bad, those that are not widely socially acceptable and can be harmful (inappropriate sex, gambling, excessive spending, compulsive eating)
• An addiction to behaviors that appear to be good, those that are widely socially acceptable but may be equally harmful (perfectionism, workaholism, caregiving)
• A “love” addiction in which you feel that your identity is in another person (A weak “love addict” is emotionally dependent on someone “strong.”)
• A “savior” addiction in which you feel that your identity is in your ability to meet the needs of another person (A strong “savior” needs to be needed by someone “weak.”)
Because addictions provide a momentary “high,” good feelings are associated with them. However, the Book of Proverbs gives this poignant warning.…
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”
12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
Question: “What is wrong with people depending on people?”
Answer: We should have a healthy “interdependence” on others in the sense that we should value and enjoy each other, love and learn from each other, but we should not be totally dependent on each other. Essentially, this kind of relationship involves a healthy, mutual give-and-take, where neither person looks to the other to meet each and every need. However, many people have a misplaced dependency on others. These kinds of relationships are not healthy, for God intends for us to live in total dependence on Him.
Over and over, the Bible portrays how godly people learn to have a strong dependence on the Lord rather than a weak dependence on each other. The apostle Paul said we should …
“… not rely on ourselves but on God.” ()
9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
Though the word codependency may be fairly new, the concept is age-old. We can certainly see how supposedly strong Samson violates his values by giving in to seemingly dependent Delilah. But this compromise of codependency was not his first. During the time of his seven-day wedding feast, Samson gave a riddle as a wager to the Philistines (the godless people of his new wife). His wife cried the entire time, “You hate me! You don’t really love me.… You haven’t told me the answer” (). On the final day of the feast, Samson was worn down and told his wife.… Then, in turn, she told the Philistines. As a result, violence and bloodshed ran rampant … only because strong Samson didn’t act with the strength of his convictions. Instead, he became weak-willed, following the persistent pleading of his weak wife. Samson needed to …
“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
• Today, a codependent is anyone who is dependent on another person to the point of being controlled or manipulated by that person.
• The word codependent was first used in the 1970s to describe a family member living with an alcoholic. The prefix co- means “with” or “one associated with the action of another.”
• Codependency became the word that describes the dysfunctional behavior of family members seeking to adapt to the destructive behavior of the alcoholic.
• Codependency is a relationship addiction. Just as the alcoholic is dependent on alcohol, the codependent is dependent on being needed by the alcoholic … or on being needed by someone who is dependent.
• The “enabler” is a codependent person who enables the alcoholic (or other dependent person) to continue with the addiction without drawing and maintaining boundaries. Codependency involves being too dependent on someone or something that cannot meet your needs. Codependency can be compared to the sin of depending on false gods that are powerless to help or depending on a broken water well that won’t hold water. It simply won’t work!
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Question: “How can I know whether I’m an enabler?”
Answer: You are an enabler if you perpetuate another’s destructive behavior by protecting that person from painful consequences that could actually serve as a motivation for change.
— The enabling parent allows the teenager’s drug habit to continue with no repercussions, even to the detriment of other family members.
— The enabling wife calls her husband’s boss to say that he has the flu when in fact he has a hangover.
Ask yourself, How many lies have I told to protect the reputation of the one with the destructive habit? The Bible has strong words to say about those who protect the guilty.…
“Whoever says to the guilty, ‘You are innocent’—peoples will curse him and nations denounce him.” ()
24 Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations,
In a codependent relationship, one person is seen as weak and the other as strong. The weak one appears totally dependent on the strong one. But the one who appears strong is actually weak because of the excessive need to be needed by the weak one. In fact, the strong one needs for the weak one to stay weak, which in turn keeps the strong one feeling strong.
The ultimate solution—God’s solution—for both of these weak persons is not to try to draw strength from each other, but rather to derive their strength from God. The Bible says,
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”
29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
• A wife is excessively helpless around her husband … and the husband needs his wife to stay helpless.
• A husband is excessively needy in how he relates to his wife … and the wife needs him to stay needy.
• A student is excessively tied to a teacher … and the teacher needs the student to stay tied.
• A child is excessively pampered by the parent … and the parent needs the child to stay in need of pampering.
• A parent is excessively protected by the child … and the child needs the parent to stay in need of protection.
• An employee is excessively entangled with an employer … and the employer needs the employee to stay entangled.
• A friend is excessively fixated on another friend … and that person needs the friend to stay fixated.
• A counselee is excessively clinging to a counselor … and the counselor needs the counselee to continue clinging.
• A disciple is excessively dependent on a discipler … and the discipler needs the disciple to stay dependent.
• A victim is excessively vulnerable to a victimizer … and the victimizer needs the victim to stay vulnerable.
• A layperson is excessively leaning on a spiritual leader … and the leader needs the layperson to continue leaning.
When we have a misplaced dependency, we have a misplaced trust. We are excessively trusting in the relationship to provide more than God intended. The Psalms describe a misplaced trust.…
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
Question: “When I was a struggling addict, my wife held our home together. Now that I have truly changed, why is she continually upset and threatening divorce?”
Answer: You changed the dynamic! After an alcoholic becomes healthy and whole, the strong codependent mate is no longer needed in the same way. The new dynamic changes the balance in the relationship. The strong one, who no longer feels needed in the same way, could choose to divorce and remarry another needy mate in order to feel needed again. Obviously, divorce is not the solution. For both of you to become emotionally balanced and spiritually healthy is the solution. Just as every alcoholic needs to overcome alcoholism, every codependent needs to overcome codependency. The Bible says,
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” ()
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Question: “In the parent-child relationship, what is the difference between bonding and enmeshment?”
— Healthy bonding occurs when parents are connected with their children by being God’s instruments to meet their basic physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. With healthy bonding, nurturing flows naturally from parent to child, leaving the child emotionally fulfilled and whole.
— Unhealthy enmeshment occurs when parents need an excessive connection with their children in order to get their own emotional needs met. With enmeshment, nurturing flows unnaturally from child to parent, leaving the child emotionally drained and empty.
“Children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.” ()
14 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.
• God wants you to depend on Him—to totally rely on Him, not on people or things or self-effort.
“My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.” ()
7 On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
• God wants you to depend on Him—to believe that He will meet all of your needs. You can safely reveal your hurts, your fears, and your needs to God. He will be your Need-Meeter.
“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” ()
11 And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
• God wants you to depend on Him—to trust in Him to take care of your loved ones.
“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” ()
8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah
• God wants you to depend on Him—to rely on Christ, whose life in you will enable you to overcome any destructive dependency.
“The one [Christ] who is in you is greater than the one [Satan] who is in the world.” ()
4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
Question: “What is the difference between a codependent marriage and a healthy marriage?”
— An Unhealthy, Codependent Marriage
» The weak spouse has a deep-seated need for security and continually looks to the strong spouse to meet all needs. This means that the weak one stays weak.
» The supposedly strong spouse has a deep-seated need for significance and tries to meet all the needs of the weaker partner in order to make that mate dependent on the relationship.
— A Healthy, Interdependent Marriage
» Each emphasizes the other’s strengths and encourages the other partner to overcome personal weaknesses.
» Each encourages the other to be dependent on the Lord, while being responsive to the legitimate needs of the other.
“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” ()
4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Codependency: Balancing an Unbalanced Relationship (pp. 1–6). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.