Here I will talk about codependency, what it is, what it looks like, and why it hurts marriage.
Now, I wouldn’t go as far to say that all runaway husbands are codependent, but the patterns of behavior that many follow seem to align with a particular maladaptive way they have of connecting to people. For the sake of time, I will talk about only what relates to codependency, but that is not the full extent of the issues these men have. For the full list of traits I’ve compiled, see HERE.
Codependency, in short, is when someone is extremely dependent on others for their own self-esteem, validation, worth, and identity. It is not just someone who likes to please others, it is someone who needs to please others- because this is the only way to feel good about themselves. This is not altruism, which is a selfless act of helping another. Helping others, and getting approval from it, is a necessary part of maintaining their own self-importance. They cannot feel whole without this constant stream of approval in their lives, because there is a core hurt within them that feels inadequate, worthless, invalid, and lost.
Vikki Stark even described this in her book:
“His powerful attachment to me was of a parasitic nature. He needed me […] not as a beloved separate individual but as a nurturer who existed in his life to provide him with an identity and fill his emptiness.”-Vikki Stark, Runaway Husbands, p. 26
Because of this sickness, their acts of helpfulness, attentiveness, loyalty, concern, compassion, agreement, etc, are all given with the hopes of receiving positive feedback that will make them feel important and deserving of love. The way they connect to others will always serve a secondary purpose of soothing their chronic empty feelings, until they heal their core wounds and become whole.
This wound will follow all of their relationships, wherever they run, whoever they love, no matter how much time has past, no matter how happy they seem, until they heal from this codependency and find their worth within themselves.
Codependency can take on many forms, and isn’t just about chronic people-pleasing. Many toxic behaviors are linked to codependency, including but not limited to:
- Not knowing, minimizing or denying how they feel and what their needs are- both to themselves and others
- A pattern of “splitting”, a black and white mental shortcut where things are “all good” or “all bad” including themselves
- Believing their dedication to other’s approval makes them selfless
- Confusing obedient, people-pleasing behaviors as genuine acts of love
- Has trouble admitting wrongdoings, because to do so means they are all-bad, unworthy and unlovable
- Excessively shaming themselves after admitting to a wrongdoing (to do so validates that they are still good and provokes a sympathy response from others)
- Or the reverse: minimizing and denying their faults/wrongdoings
- “Projecting,” or, denying the flaws they have within themselves, but will point them out in others (to deny ownership of those flaws because the flaws belong to someone else)
- Lying, big or small, in order to be perceived as good, or avoid being perceived as bad
- Difficulty telling people “no” or setting boundaries
- Chronic resentment from feeling used, unseen or unappreciated
- Not speaking up for themselves, or communicating their feelings or needs in indirect, passive aggressive, or avoidant ways.
- Relying on other people to reflect to them that they are good, in order to feel good about themselves
- And a series of other various behaviors that serve to make themselves feel better, worthy, lovable or important.
This list may sound like a multitude of different psychological disorders. This is because many disorders, such as Narcissistic, Borderline, Histrionic personality disorder, inherently contain features of codependency. Whats more riveting is that both abusers and victims of abuse can display these traits, and can be passed down as a learned behavior through generations, making codependency a very difficult thing to categorize, with lots of differing views.
Having codependency does not define someone as good or bad, but it is undoubtedly a self damaging and unhealthy way of living.
So how does this play out in a marriage?
Well, at least one partner is not getting their needs met, does not have boundaries to say “no”, and most likely holds seething, silent resentment and self pity. This is not to say that the non-codependent spouse holds no blame in marital conflicts. However, someone with unhealed codependency issues could be with the least-flawed person in the world, and they still wouldn’t be getting their needs met, voice heard, and feelings on the table. This is because they bear the sole responsibility for their own thoughts, behaviors, and path of healing. You can’t love this out of them.
Often, runway husbands are not focused on healing this part in themselves- they may not even know they have a problem- pushing the blame for their unhappiness onto others before discarding them from their lives. On the outside this can seem unexpected, confusing and cruel. But from his mind, he has tried to impress, go out of his way, be seen as perfect and it still wasn’t enough for him to feel flawless.
If loved ones know of his flaws, even if they accept and love him for his flaws, it is a less desirable feeling than being around someone who doesn’t see those flaws at all.
If wanting to be seen as perfect is his desire, he may escape to others who do not see those flaws. This can be with friendships, family, even affair partners. Affair partners tend to be someone who does not challenge him to grow, is of lesser social status, younger, less aware, less responsible, enabling of the flaws, or someone too new to his life to see the flaws. It’s important to note that it was never about how he feels about the other woman. It is about how the other woman makes him feel about himself. It is a destructive act on ego. And if they’ve reached this point, they will have yet another flaw to hide, blame-shift, minimize, twist and deny: their infidelity.
It was never about how he feels about the other woman. It is about how the other woman makes him feel about himself.
Not all runaway husbands will have affairs, although many do before they leave their wives. Some will leave after gaining strong support from friends and/or family that has helped him blame his unhappiness on the marriage. They vent to others about their unhappiness instead of directly speaking to their spouse, because they are still emotionally benefiting by maintaining their false image with their spouse.
This gaping hole in communication lets others into the marriage, and leaves the wife out of the loop entirely. The husband may feel pressured to lie or exaggerate to others, about how awful his marriage is, to gain an explanation for his chronic feelings of misery. This leads to feelings of guilt, yet another feeling he must avoid, thus accelerating the process of detachment from the marriage. He may also lie and tell others that he’s told you all of this, and that you’ve done nothing to change, even if he’s never uttered a word about being unhappy. This validates that he is not the problem, that you are the problem, that he has nothing more to say to you, and that the only solution is to leave. This is reinforced over and over in his mind until he is disconnected enough to leave, preferably with minimal confrontation, in an attempt to leave the bitterness, unhappiness and resentful feelings behind. When he left, he was trying to escape his own feelings, the marriage was just collateral damage.
When he left, he was trying to escape his own feelings, the marriage was just collateral damage.
In a way, this works, at least temporarily. He gets a fleeting feeling of freedom and release from the burden of resentment, shame and guilt he carried and unfairly blamed onto his spouse. But the cycle of him needing other’s approval, having no boundaries, and feeling unhappy will eventually build up with his next lover. And since he’s already abandoned once, it is now a more realistic option for him to do again.
Will he ever be happy?
Well, if you consider someone who is utterly detached from their needs, sense of self, and morals, to be capable of a fulfilling life. then sure. Otherwise, it is likely that he will be constantly fleeing from his core hurts, indulging in escapism, whatever form it takes. Someone who spent their whole life denying their problems, lying, avoiding, and running, will always be on the run, and the problems will only get bigger and scarier with every step.
In order for him to heal, he will need to take ownership of his core hurts, seek approval from within, and eventually face the reality of the destruction his actions have brought to his marriage, children and anyone else he’s hurt along the way.
More from Husbands who Abandon:
- A List of Traits
- Does He Feel Guilt?
- Exploring Reconciliation
- His Story
- Intro to the Runaway Husband
- Letter to Abandoned Wives
- Mama's Boy
- Marriage Therapy
- The Meddler in Your Marriage
- Understanding the Runaway Husband
- Why There is Always an "Other Woman"
- Why You Didn't See the Signs