After the series I recently wrote dealing with codependency in friendship, a few people presented a very natural follow up question: If codependency isn’t ok in friendships, then should it be ok in marriage?
Remember, I’m defining codependency as tying your emotional sense of well-being to another person. To say it another way, it is giving more weight and importance to a person than to God. Assuming this definition, then codependency is NEVER ok. Even in marriage.
Unfortunately, codependency in marriage is an assumed reality for many. The truth is, most of us struggle to believe God is enough for us, so we are continually looking to people to make us feel ok. Because of this, a marriage can become a place where we finally feel like being codependent is acceptable. We hope, like the movies have portrayed, that we can bank on this person to fill the deepest parts of our longings and be the one on whom our general sense of wellbeing rests.
“When we are completely immersed in a society of people who consider a particular idolatrous attachment normal, it becomes almost impossible to discern it for what it is.” –Tim Keller
The culture around us is like a current, gently pushing us along according to its philosophies. Unless we are regularly clinging to the Truth and taking our thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Cor 10:5), we will mindlessly drift along with this worldly current. This is why Paul encourages us to “see to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Col 2:8)
There is a new trend that seems harmless on the surface, but it is anything but safe: the romanticizing of friendships. Though you may not have noticed this shift, it is very present. Just do a quick search of “best friends” or “BFF” on pinterest or google and here are a few things you will find:
“Friendiversary: anniversaries aren’t just for lovers anymore.”
“20 Best Friend Date Ideas.”
If you’re just jumping into this conversation, I hope you will go back and read the first 4 parts of this series for some context. I’ve been talking about the problem of codependent friendships which are rooted in idolatry and casting a vision for the purpose of Biblical friendship.
STEPS TOWARD FREEDOM
If it is evident that you have been idolizing a person in your life and have become emotionally dependent on them, here are some basic steps you can take to move toward freedom. Please keep in mind that the degree of which these steps are needed is based on how deeply entrenched you are in relational idolatry. For the one who calls her accountability partner too often before talking to God, some simple confession and repentance to another friend may be sufficient. For the one who yearns for spring break to be over so she can cuddle up with her roommate in bed again, these steps are far more important.
It’s also important to remember that different situations call for different things. This is where the wisdom and guidance of others is crucial. For example, even though emotional dependencies can form between two spouses, no form of separation is ever good in a marriage. An emotional dependency on a guy should be treated differently than an emotional dependency on a girl.
1. Be Honest and Repent
Be honest with yourself. Though it is painful to stare our sin in the eye, we can never make it go away by ignoring it. If we refuse to face the reality of our sin, we will only enlarge the consequences and prolong the pain.
Now that we’ve seen what an unhealthy friendship looks like, let’s talk about healthy friendships. To do that, we must start with the purpose of friendship, biblically.
FRIENDSHIP FOR JESUS
“O, who but the Christian feels such pleasures as are connected with friendship for our dear Lord Jesus Christ?” Samuel Pearce
Friendship FOR Jesus. What a sweet thing indeed. As we discuss Biblical Christian friendship, let us remember that like all other things, it is meant to point us to Christ. Unlike the ingrown friendship model of the world, friendship for Jesus looks outside itself to find its purpose. As John Piper has advocated, it is good that we “have a cluster of comrades in the faith with the mutual agreement that you will continually point each other to Jesus Christ for hope and strength.”
By no means exhaustive, below are four specific purposes that friends should serve in our lives.
1. FRIENDS HELP US FULLY ENJOY GOD
“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” Eph 5:18-19
Things are best enjoyed in community. Your favorite movie is good when you watch it alone. It’s even better with friends. A great meal is enjoyable. But even more satisfying when you share it with friends. God Himself is a perfect triune community: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, as those made in His image, we thrive in community. It is hardwired into us to share our joys with others. The best experiences in life are the ones we try to drag our friends into: “You have to see this movie!” “You have to come with me to this restaurant.”
In the last post, we looked into what the Bible has to say about idolatry. Idolatry is the root of every codependent relationship; it is what’s happening under the surface. Let’s now look at what goes on above the surface.
This sin of idolizing a friend is often called “emotional dependency” or “codependency” in the counseling world. D’Ann Davis from Living Hope ministries describes it this way:
“Most typically, those who struggle with emotional dependency are looking for a super intense, one-on-one relationship with a best friend who will meet all of their needs and will make other relationships unnecessary. A struggler typically loves to fuel all of her need and longing to connect into one person who can be her all-in-all (essentially her idol, or god, little “g”). She will be very entrenched in relational idolatry, whether or not she realizes it. She does not want to waste all of those precious seconds developing a friendship slowly over years; she wants intimacy, NOW, so she exchanges it for intensity.”
Emotional dependency is simply this: when your emotional sense of well-being is dependent on another person. We understand that Biblically this is idolatry, giving more weight and value to a person than to God. By continually looking to a friend to give you the security that only God can give, an emotional dependency forms. This can happen in any relationship: parent-child, husband-wife, boyfriend-girlfriend, or two friends.
Emotional dependencies are harmful when they go one way. But when 2 people are mutually dependent on each other, it is worse. If you idolize a friend, but they don’t reciprocate your feelings, you are usually forced to deal with your insecurities and misplaced hope. When your friend reciprocates those intense feelings of neediness, the emotional dependency often goes unchecked (e.g. “if my friend who loves Jesus thinks this is fine, then it must be fine”). Unfortunately, to the world, a mutually codependent friendship is often just called “best friends.”
THE FIRST LIE
Since the serpent first opened his mouth in the garden, he’s been trying to convince us that God is not enough for us: “You’re missing out. God’s holding out on you.” (Gen 3:1-6) And since then, the temptation to look to God’s creation instead of God Himself for satisfaction is a common, daily struggle, manifesting in myriads of ways. God speaks to this when He addresses the Israelites in Jeremiah 2:12-13:
“Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, 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.”
Anything we look to for satisfaction other than God is an idol. A leaky, broken cistern. This is a shocking and grievous thing to God that we would forsake Him for something lesser.
The subtlest forms of idolatry happen when we put good things above God. Marriage is a good thing. But when we need it more than God, it is an idol. Children are good things, but when we need them more than God, they are idols. Friends are good things, but when we need them more than God, they are idols.
Sarah and Kelsey are best friends. A year ago, Kelsey walked into Sarah’s dorm room to borrow a textbook from her roommate and noticed Sarah watching her favorite movie. Forty minutes later, after discussing plots lines and rehearsing favorite scenes from the movie, they became fast friends. Slowly, over time, they did everything together—Bible study, accountability partners, and finally, the Facebook profile picture with the label “Besties” made it official.
Sarah and Kelsey began to see their other friends less and less. The ease at which friendship came to them was convenient and fun. They began talking every day, sharing deep emotions and feelings, even praying for one another. Eventually, a day didn’t feel complete until Sarah had talked to Kelsey. When Kelsey had a hard day, she immediately texted Sarah for consolation. She knew Sarah would pray for her anyway. It was hard for them to imagine what life was like before they were best friends.
As the school year came to a close, Sarah and Kelsey made the obvious decision to be roommates the following year. This would save them a lot of texts and phone calls for sure! And how much fun it would be to live together! Though they had a 2-bedroom apartment, they found they were often up late talking or watching movies. So the decision was made to just share a room. Sarah had a queen bed in her room, so Kelsey just slept with her there. They often fell asleep talking. Conversation was as innocent as what professor to take for calculus or where to eat lunch the next day.
Slowly, falling asleep talking became falling asleep holding hands. Holding hands became cuddling. And the moment when Sarah first kissed Kelsey’s forehead goodnight, a flood of feelings were unleashed with such magnitude that neither one saw it coming. They couldn’t stop themselves, and soon sexual encounters became commonplace. While both still discussed their crushes and their desires to marry one day, being together just felt so right. Kelsey began to wonder if she was a lesbian. What did that mean for her as a Christian? What did this mean for her future? How could so much change through just 1 year of friendship?