Professionals who are grappling with the ongoing alcohol and drug epidemic in the United States are finally beginning to focus on the root causes of these diseases. For example, it is known now that it requires an average of four people who are very near to the alcoholic/addict to “take up the slack” left by the addict’s diminution in functional capacity (see Al-Anon web site at http://www.al-anon.alateen.org). For lack of a better term, we will refer to these people as codependents for the remainder of this writing.
Codependency has been in the literature for decades, and has been explored from seemingly every possible angle as it is manifested in women. However, for many reasons it has been summarily ignored in men. Probably the archetype of the man presented to us in poetry, literature, history, and similar myths has been the primary force behind this neglect. For purposes of this writing, however, we will focus on codependency in men for the reader who might suspect that he or she either suffers from this disease or has a close relationship with a man who does.
We see three basic types of male codependency: the denial expert, the control addict, and the missing man.
The denial expert is the man who has simply perfected the most obvious characteristic of both the addict and the codependent, namely, denial. For example, if this man is the father of an alcoholic son, he may have perfected his stories explaining why his son has just been divorced by his third wife.
“It could have never worked with Robby and his first wife. Her mother always considered Robby her daughter’s social inferior, and she drove a wedge between the two of them from the word go. His second wife, Elizabeth, was just an overbearing bitch of a woman. Any man would drink if he had to live with her every day. And this mess with Tiffany, I mean, she spent him into the poor house!”
As a codependent man myself who has “sponsored” over 30 men during the past three decades, I have seen this kind of denial in men with alcoholic wives exhibited to the absurd. I have actually listened to more than one codependent husband who was justifying to me why he was continuing to pay the monthly credit card bills for his soon-to-be ex-wife while she lived luxuriously with another man in another state!
The second kind of codependent man is easy for me to describe because I was myself this type. I was always the codependent in charge. I was a control addict. As my now diseased alcoholic first wife deteriorated from alcoholism she had to leave progressively more “slack” for me to handle. I had to take more responsibility for running our home, paying our bills, making all of the adult decisions, and raising our children. Because her alcoholism eventually rendered her helpless, I had to do all of this while simultaneously financing the whole operation by excelling in my career performance.
I absolutely loved this role! Having been raised as a “hero child” with low functioning alcoholics up and down the block, it made perfect sense that I should control everything and everybody around me. Besides, I received huge pay-offs from everybody around me as well. The word from family members, neighbors, people at church and everywhere else in the community was something like this; “he is just a saint, but have you ever met his wife?” Incidentally, as our economy deteriorates and young people find it more and more difficult to find work, this phenomenon with the all-controlling father “with all of the money” supporting his alcoholic son or daughter is becoming more and more common.
The last type of codependent man is the most pitiful of all. He is the missing man. The missing man has so surrendered himself to the authority of his alcoholic loved-one and his or her need to escape continuously through mind-altering substances that he no longer exists! I once heard a therapist refer to this kind of codependent as what happens when a spider walks across a mirror. If the codependent man is only the image of his alcoholic wife, for example, then his wife is the spider and he is merely her image in the mirror. For this man, the name of the game is to continue functioning almost in a panic mode to keep his wife “happy.” He defines happiness as allowing her to drink her booze day and night with none of the nasty distractions that most adult women have to face. His greatest fear is that she will walk right over the edge of the mirror. If that happens she will experience pain and he will no longer exist! She literally defines him. He has no opinions and no preferences. Ask this man what his favorite color or food is and he will not know!
For an in depth discussion of these issues, see the new book recently released by the authors of this essay titled We Codependent Men, We Mute Coyotes.