Codependency-Free Holidays (Rule Two)

I learned two very, very important life lessons in my first marriage.

The first is that when you’re in the path of a tornado and the voice in your head tells you to get out of the car, do not–under any circumstances– ignore it to listen to dude in the backseat when he yells that you have to keep driving to get under the bridge that’s nearly a mile away.

The second is that when you’re playing basketball and you want the guy under the net to take a shot and win the game, do not pass the ball to him and say, “Do whatever you want with it,” because when the buzzer sounds and he’s perfecting his dribble, you’re going to be pissed off.

We lived because I listened to my intuition in that tornado and I am sane today, at least in large part, because he told me the latter is what it was like to live with me. We didn’t know about codependency then, and we hadn’t yet been to that one therapy appointment. We both knew he was going off the deep end but had vastly different opinions about the cause.

Finally, there was this one moment… a divine kiss of inspiration, where he had the gift of the basketball metaphor to explain that I don’t ask for what I need and it made it impossible for him to be a good partner to me.

The undeniable truth of it took my breath away.

Welcome to the world of codependency. Describing it, as I’ve said before, is like nailing Jell-O to the wall. I’ve written much about it and long before me, there was a thriving industry offering explanations and support to those who wish to be free from these patterns. My interest, for now at least, is to make it so codependent behaviors don’t have to suck the life out of this holiday season.

During Thanksgiving week, I wrote about how we can enjoy a Codependency-Free holiday season (Cody-Free for fun) by employing Rule One: Protect yourself from mean people. And in honor of the aforementioned dude, I offer you the following additional guideline.

Rule Two: Ask for what you need.Rule Two: Ask for what you need.

If you want to decorate the tree, tell the people you live with that you want help decorating the tree. If they are unavailable to help, then decide if you want it bad enough to recruit a friend to help you, or to do it alone. If you don’t, for the love of all things glittery, do not hold your decision against everyone else.

Just don’t do it. Just admit that you don’t have the time or energy or patience, and don’t decorate the tree. And if the idea of not doing it is absolutely unbearable, then say no to something else and honor yourself.

Our needs are our responsibility.

Forgive me, if that’s old news to you but I promise that when everybody gets it, I will quit saying it. And until then, it’s important enough to repeat. Ask for what you need.

This might mean staying home instead of attending the third holiday event this week. It might mean buying green beans from the Chinese buffet on the way to your mother-in-law’s house, dumping them into a fancy baking dish, and reheating them before the big, serious family dinner because you dropped the ball on buying fresh ones before the stores closed Christmas Eve (a gift from my second marriage).

It might mean taking a nap.

What would the holidays be like if you spoke of your needs, simply and directly, and the people around you could just respond, simply and directly, with the truth about whether they can meet that need or not? What would it be like it everybody quit trying to be everything for everyone and you got to put yourself first on the list? What would happen if you didn’t do what you didn’t want to do?

It sounds like a Cody-Free holiday to me.


Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson5 years ago


Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

KS Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Gloria Morotti
Gloria Morotti6 years ago

Good advice.

Cherish Adye

Thanks, Christy. As a veteran psycho-therapist of 18 years, like you, I teach this stuff every day. Today, after returning from the doc's office and having him tell me to cancel the next three day's clients, this is exactly what I needed to hear.
So, thank you, sister, and a very happy holiday to you :)

Jane H.
Jane H6 years ago

Amen and thank you!!

Doyle Osburn
Doyle Osburn6 years ago

I guess if you are pulling your fair share that would be a perfect program. Sometimes people need a reminder that it's okay if you don't do everything for them and exclude everything and everyone to meet their needs....and yes it is okay if they don't come to a family event. It might even be better if they don't...thank you

Valeria G.
Valeria Grundy6 years ago

(cont'd...where did the character counter go?)

This was not fair to anyone, and went completely against my core belief in self-honestly above all else.

It's been hard, especially since I still live with them and will for the forseeable future, but things are starting to get better, and I feel better about myself for being able to say "No, you can do that for yourself."

Valeria G.
Valeria Grundy6 years ago

"What would it be like it everybody quit trying to be everything for everyone and you got to put yourself first on the list?"

This was my big challenge this fall. Realizing that constantly giving everything I had to save other people from themselves a) wasn't my responsibility, and b) didn't actually save them from anything, was huge for me. Finally realizing that my family's stuff (one of them is a borderline hoarder, the other is just very messy and I live with them), their decisions, and the consequences of their decisions, were not my responsibility was a complete paradigm shift for me. I'm not responsible for any of that, I'm just responsible for making sure that their bad choices affect my life as little as possible.

Part of this was accepting that they are adults and they have the tools and ability inside them to take care of themselves. They don't need me to keep them on track, and if they go off track, it's because they made a choice to do so, not because I didn't save them from themselves. Enabling laziness and irresponsibility (even by nagging about things that need to be done), doesn't help any of us.

I also needed to realize that part of why I was behaving that way was my own need to feel needed. I was selfishly infantilizing them so that I could say to myself "See? They need me; it would all collapse into disaster without me." At the same time, I was resenting them for being so needing and taking everything I had to give and more. This was not fa

Jessie Dijkstra
Jessie D6 years ago

thanks. will share.