I've not led an easy life. After the long-term bullshit my sociopath, narcissistic ex put me through I went to therapy. It was there I learned I had become codependent. He had broken me down in every way imaginable over a course of several years before finally trying to kill me himself twice and trying to force me to kill myself once. Yep, I was one of those abused women who had a very difficult time getting out. I didn't even realize what was going on until things got serious to be honest! I also picked up some very unhealthy coping and survival mechanisms.
I worked on myself quite a bit and my loving Punjabi man helped me tremendously. He didn't try to rescue me. What he did was listen to me when I needed to talk. He treated me like a normal person and he didn't put up with any of my drama. He helped me heal and grow into a much more healthy person.
Now that he's here, I'm learning that healing from codependency is a life-long work in progress. I love my husband, please don't doubt that, but right now we are going through some difficult times. His culture shock has turned him into something I am having a lot of difficulty adjusting to. It's also brought to light some aspects of joint family living and Indian attitudes that I could not come to terms with.
I expected there to be some shock to his system. I expected him to misbehave and act somewhat differently. I didn't expect him to be a completely different person.
The first thing to cause us problems was food. He would sit in the house all day long waiting for me to get home from a 14-16 hour workday and then spend a couple hours in the kitchen cooking for him. I did not feel capable. This caused a rift in the relationship. He couldn't understand why I wouldn't cook for him and would let him starve. I wasn't letting him starve at all. There was tons of food in the house, including some I bought special just for him that he could microwave. Of course, I had taught him how to use the microwave but I'm not complaining about that at all. Every microwave is different and that was something that would have had to been done for just about anyone.
Hubby's culture shock set in very early - within 3 weeks of his arrival. Suddenly he wasn't being served 3-4 meals a day and no one was dropping everything they were doing to go cook some special meal for him the way his mother did. If/when he cooked for himself - which was rare in the beginning - he was expected to throw his own trash away, put his dishes in the sink and wipe up any mess he had made.
There was no maid sweeping the floor every morning which meant that he had to step on the food and trash he had dropped on the floor. (This was a habit I had broken him of while living in India but I see he quickly reverted to it once I wasn't there to nudge him toward the trash can.) No one changed the sheets everyday so food he had eaten in the bed and gotten everywhere stayed in the bed and he had to sleep on it. (Which btw, just to clarify is actually crumbs, not large pieces of food. No one I know is that nasty.)
Clothes he wanted to wear weren't being washed every single day either. I could go on and on with the lists of things but I think you get the point. Hubby lived like the proverbial spoiled Punjabi momma's boy king while in India and he was not getting the same treatment here. Why you ask?
Hubby got here right at the busy season for work. I could either quit my job and we wind up broke and destitute homeless people or I could take the assignments they gave me and deal with it. Obviously I chose to work considering I just signed all those support papers with USCIS and kind of had to. I was working an average of 65 hours each week with most weeks bordering on 70 hours. (It's now even higher than that!)
Mr. Spoiled Punjabi was making demands left and right. He needed clothes, he needed special food, he needed a lot, just as I had needed things when I got to India. He brought money with him of course but quickly spent that on things he wanted and needed. Hubby is a clothes whore and no matter what he did/didn't have, he wanted new clothes. This is a habit hubby had even in India where he was a compulsive clothes buyer and owned roughly 300+ pieces of clothing and about 15-20 pair of shoes. I let it go.
Gradually hubby realized he had to learn to cook and start doing it more. So he started calling his family and getting cooking lessons over the phone/Skype. Things improved somewhat but then I noticed he had adopted this archaic view on familial roles that is common in India. Next thing I know I'm being accused of not doing my "duty" to him by cooking him dinner and cleaning up after him.
It was very difficult for me not to regress into those codependent behaviors. I wanted very much to avoid his outbursts. I knew where they were coming from, it was the culture shock no doubts about it. My husband had cooked and cleaned in India on many occasions. He also was smart enough to understand our roles were reversed here with me being the primary earner in the home. Still I found quite a few times I was reading things for him because he didn't want to, telling him what answers to put on a job application, spending all of my free time at home cooking and cleaning, etc.
It made me bitter and angry all over again and we had quite a few massive arguments. It became more hostile for hubby to come with me to work than to just stay at home. Either we weren't talking or we were having long drawn out arguments. Then the insulting got ugly.
This is one thing I ABHORE about the Indian culture. Argue all you want, I see Indians do this here on my blog, in online forums I'm in and in real life. You say one tiny thing they don't agree with about India or an observation you have made and they start attacking you personally. I cannot and will not tolerate a personal attack. I found myself more than once snapping back at him and that is not the person I want to be.
Finally I sat down and had a talk with hubby. I let him know he had become the most self-centered, one-sided and individualistic person I know. I told him that we are a couple and he should not be demanding I do things for him that are well beyond my capabilities. I told him that I cannot and will not do all of the working for profit and then do all of the housework. That settled him down for a while.
With each flare up he seemed to get even meaner. Yes, I dealt with anger issues as part of my culture shock but I never attacked him the way he was attacking me. I let a lot of thoughts go through my mind and into this blog back then but I had the common courtesy not to say these things to the person directly. It doesn't foster healthy relationships to throw out spur of the moment and hasty words.
I went out and purchased myself a new book on recovering from codependency. It's called Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself. While this book is based on people who were with alcoholic spouses, I did find it useful. I wound up crying through the first 90+ pages. Just reading it was therapy. But I did more than read. I got out a notebook and I started writing things I felt and reactions to the passages and I answered all the questions at the end of each chapter. I used "I" and made each line personal while writing.
It helped me tremendously. It clarified what was and wasn't codependent behavior in my current circumstances. It helped me learn a few new mantras to say to myself as well. Here's a few of the things I wrote today:
- I will say no when I want to. (This is not something that is easy to a codependent who seeks to avoid negative reactions. I haven't yet mastered the Indian custom of saying no without using the word 'no' yet.)
- I will not take on the responsibility of others, even if they get angry or frustrated.
- I do not have to sit there and allow someone to attack me as if I'm helpless. I can and will remove myself from the situation.
Thankfully I didn't spiral down too far and I was not doing everything. That's where the stubborn streak helped me. I knew deep down from my therapy and self-help before that it was not my job to do everything for everyone. I think this helped me maintain some of my sanity but I still found myself reacting, in the form of stress and anger, to others trying to push me to do their work.
If you think you may be codependent or you want to learn more about it, please see these resources and the ones mentioned in the post. There is a significant amount of codependency that goes on in India with the current Emotional Blackmail: (When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You) and reward system that is in place. It could easily happen to you and you wouldn't know it until you were so far gone you needed therapy as well. Both of the books linked to in this post I have personally read and they helped me a considerable amount. I hope you find them useful as well.
Drew University: Signs of a Codependent Relationship
Good Therapy: Codependency
Imagine Hope: Codependency
Jennifer Musty Reeves: Codependency, It's a Family Thing
Counseling, Assistance and Referral Services: Codependency: Caring Until It Hurts