Is It Closeness … or Codependence?

When we were in our twenties, Joyce and I were criticized for being too close. Some people even quoted Kahlil Gibran from The Prophet, “…and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.” They accused us of smothering one another. Early in our marriage, one of Joyce’s friends angrily proclaimed, “It’s like you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. One day, Barry may die and you’ll be lost!”

Yet all these years later, we are closer than ever, and thankful about it! We are convinced we have done the right thing. Yes, one of us probably will die before the other and, we admit, whoever survives will most certainly grieve deeply. We even sometimes feel this as our greatest vulnerability. When I envision the possibility of me surviving Joyce, the feeling I get is one of a lost little boy alone on this earth without my best friend. I know I would be able to function. I even trust I would be able to feel Joyce’s soul near me and our relationship would continue. Yet the pain would be profound because not even one egg was in a different basket.

Are there other downsides to such closeness? Perhaps. Some years ago, at breakfast during one of our annual Hawaii couples retreats, Joyce broke tooth number thirteen. One of the participants at the retreat happened to be a dentist, who examined her and determined it could wait to be fixed when we got home. At lunch the same day, only hours later, I broke tooth number … you guessed it … thirteen! The same dentist examined me and, in a hushed and reverent whisper, said, “Barry, I’ve heard about soulmates, but you guys are taking this way too far. Really … toothmates??”

This past March, Joyce had arthroscopic surgery for a torn medial meniscus in her left knee. One week after her surgery, the inside of my right knee started hurting. The pain continued to worsen so I got my first MRI. The results? A badly torn medial meniscus! I will be undergoing the first surgery of my life, and the same surgery as Joyce, in a few weeks. Joyce’s left knee, her feminine side. My right knee, my masculine side. The orthopedic surgeon who operated on Joyce will also operate on me. A brilliant surgeon, but a man of very few words who neither of us have ever seen talk about anything but medicine, he looked at me with a strange, inquisitive smile and said, “I’ve been a surgeon for twenty years, but this is a first for me!”

Is it possible for Joyce and me to be so deeply in tune with one another without having to share our afflictions? I hope so. But, for me, it is really a small price to pay for the depth of our connection. We both feel the rewards far outweigh the problems. Our closeness is a source of abundant love. One look into each other’s eyes and we often know what the other is thinking. Our happiest times are the times we spend together just the two of us. Our highest ideal of a vacation involves just the two of us, even though we once of year will typically spend about a week apart as a retreat to further deepen our love and closeness.

Most couples will typically spend at least one vacation a year with other couples. Once, on a Rogue River trip in southern Oregon, every group of rafters we encountered seemed to be a group of couples. They were often laughing and playing together, having quite the party vacation. We started wondering if there was something wrong with us. Were we antisocial? We realized we have very many friends all over the world, individuals and couples we love dearly. Would we want to share five days on the Rogue River with them? The answer was no. Does that mean we love them less than we could? Again, no. We acknowledge that we have long ago chosen to cultivate a special connection. If a friend doesn’t respect our need and desire to be alone together, than they are not so close a friend. Our true friends not only understand our closeness, but they rejoice in it.

Closeness and codependence are two different things. Although you might be tempted to think that breaking the same tooth on the same day, or having surgery for the exact same problem within three months of each other, qualifies as codependent, we beg to differ. We feel it’s because of our deep attunement, an alignment of our souls from forty-nine years of loving one another.

Closeness because of codependence is a whole other matter. It is not primarily love that is the glue of togetherness. It is, rather, the fear of being alone. Codependence can be a powerful emotional connection, but true closeness involves a heart connection. The codependent person says I have to be with you. The lover says I want to be with you because it makes me a better person. The codependent person says I need to be with you to be happy. The lover says I need to be with you not only to be happy but also to make this world a better place and to fulfill a higher plan.

Joyce and I are committed to using our closeness as a tool for divine service. We know our three children and one grandson have benefited from this. If people recognize the love in our closeness, and feel inspired by it, then we feel we are fulfilling our divine destiny here on earth. One time, as we were leaving an airplane after a long flight, a flight attendant took us aside and said, “I want you to know how much you both have inspired me. More than honeymooners who gush over one another, the two of you have a closeness that seems to bless everyone on this plane. I hope someday I can have this kind of closeness with a beloved.”

We hugged her and asked for this to come true for her. We said, “Just by recognizing this deep love in us, you are right now drawing a very special beloved into your life.”

We left that plane smiling ear to ear.

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