Codependent No More … Yet Wanting Back In

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I was very close with a couple for 12 years. I considered them family. Sadly, the husband drank to excess daily. He then became verbally abusive to his wife and dismissed his family’s concerns. So the wife asked me to intervene. I wrote him a letter about how his drinking was affecting his relationships. He acknowledged it but continued to drink. I withdrew; I couldn’t tolerate the abuse of his wife. This was a few years ago. I still send them emails. The wife replies; the husband doesn’t. But I miss their friendship greatly. Is there a way to resurrect it?


Not a pretty picture, but a pretty common one: Family and close friends catering to an alcoholic every way but productively. Here, the wife casts around for heroes to save her. And though I’m sure you meant well, Marc, you were just grandiose enough to take the bait, as if Superman could add a superpower: able to crack addictions with a single first-class stamp. This is how codependence thrives, not recovery.

Check out Al-Anon, a worldwide group for the family and friends of alcoholics. I once heard a member boil it down like so: “I didn’t cause my mother’s drinking problem; I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.” But by focusing on our own behavior and feelings — instead of the alcoholic’s, for a change — we may find a healthy path forward.

Just walking into an Al-Anon meeting helps break down the secrecy and shame that so often surround addiction. You are not alone. Invite the wife to go with you. Rewriting your tired-out roles in this family drama is the only way I know to resurrect the friendship. You may not change the alcoholic, but you can certainly improve the way you deal with him.

Baby Shower Boycott

Two months ago, my pregnant boss invited her entire team (of seven women) to a baby shower at her home. We were all excited to be included and R.S.V.P.’d yes. The week of the event, our company had major layoffs that we didn’t expect. Four of the seven women, including me, were called into our boss’s office and fired. Come shower day, none of the women attended. Should we have given notice that we weren’t attending, mere days after getting the boot? And why did our boss invite us, knowing that layoffs were on the horizon?


Perhaps your boss is a latter-day Marie Antoinette: Let them eat (pastel-frosted) cake. But it seems more likely that she didn’t know specifically about the layoffs when she invited you. I have been in your boss’s shoes, and I fought valiantly for employees — to absolutely no effect. Ultimately, I was given cost and head-count reductions and told to execute them. Your boss may not have been able to save you.

Still, you lost your job. What could be more natural than feeling hurt and angry? And who better to project those feelings onto than a boss? I get why you blew off her party. (I bet she does, too.) But it seems silly and shortsighted for the three women who still work for her not to have attended — or to have said: “I feel shaken up by the layoffs. I’m sorry, but I’m not up for a party tonight.” Why alienate someone who didn’t fire you?

Invite, Don’t Gripe

I have been living overseas for most of my adult life. But recently I moved a couple of hours from my family to reconnect with them and support my aging parents. They’re not used to my being around, so I go out of my way to visit them. But it’s always on my initiative and my dime. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on train tickets, car rentals and hotel rooms over the last year, but they haven’t come my way to visit even once. Should I say something?


If the alternative is tabulating incidental travel expenses, sure, say something. But don’t be a scold. You don’t mention ever actually inviting them to visit you. Start there: “I’d love to show you where I live. Would you come for a weekend? We could take in [insert local attraction].” If there’s a glimmer of interest, try to lock down specific dates. Sometimes we need to help people give us what we want.

Are Fantasies Cheating?

I have been going out with a great guy for about nine months. This is my first major relationship. Sometimes when we are making out (or more), I fantasize about someone else — a movie star or someone I saw on campus. I would never cheat on my boyfriend in real life, but does my fantasizing make me a cheater?


No, it makes you human. Everyone fantasizes, even former President (and possible saint) Jimmy Carter, who told Playboy magazine, probably too candidly for the ’70s, that he had committed adultery in his heart. Folks who claim that they have never fantasized romantically about people other than their long-term partners are either lying or seriously repressed.