Dependence. Independence. Co-dependence Interdependence. These are not buzz words – they are terms that clearly delineate ways of interacting with others.
Dependence – A newborn baby is dependent. All the power lies with its parents. Dependence is a vulnerable, trusting state. As adults, we can be, at times, dependent on others, but it is never that same one way street that it is during early childhood. Utter helpless dependence on another becomes a pathology in adulthood.
Independence – Much is made of this concept in American society: the primacy of the individual. But to be honest, even the most mature person is never completely independent. We depend on the highway department to keep the roads open and we depend on our colleagues to pull their weight at the office… and so on.
When we talk about romantic relationships we use two words to define the balance of dependence and independence.
Co-dependence – A co-dependent relationship is out of balance and unhealthy. It is rooted, depending on what side of the equation you fall on, either in extreme need for or the compulsion to control the other. Each or both partners take advantage of their ability to fulfill the others needs by keeping them needy and dependent on the relationship. It is based on desperation rather than desire.
Interdependence – This is where independence meets dependence in a healthy middle ground. A healthy balanced relationship with a clear line between where “I” ends and “you” begins is possible. In an interdependent relationship, you and your partner can rely on one another for love and support while staying true to yourselves. Although within this relationship there are needs and desires to be met, it is not based on neediness, but on mutual affection, respect, and choice.
For people who fear any thought of being even mutually dependent on anyone, relax. It is impossible, in fact unhealthy, to be entirely independent. Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “I am a Rock,” testifies to the benighted existence of one who disdains all human connection in order to be fully independent. In seeking freedom from pain or loss, love is shunned. So if we can agree that, if you are reading this blog, you either are in or want to be in a relationship, you are going to be okay with some form of healthy interdependence.
The way relationships become imbalanced and codependent can be seen with Jay and Sarah. Jay is an outdoorsman who loves nothing more than heading out for a weekend to hike and fly-fish. Sarah grew up in Chicago but she and Jay moved to a small city in Virginia where Jay had lived all his life. Sarah left her friends and social network behind in Chicago. Her idea of a great weekend is to stroll with Jay through the streets of the city, stopping at coffee shops, visiting museums, and then either heading out to dinner somewhere nice, or going home for a cozy evening in their apartment.
Over the years, Jay has all but given up his outdoor activities. His friends have stopped asking him if he’ll spend a day – let alone a weekend – with them in the mountains. He is sure that Sarah will feel abandoned, and that it is his job to keep her from feeling alone and lonely. Though Jay chose this dynamic in his desire to take care of Sarah’s perceived needs, he has become frustrated and unhappy. He has the power in the relationship because he is the one calling the shots. His resentment seems to imply that Sarah has the power over him, but he is arranging their life together as he sees fit, though based on needs he perceives or imagines Sarah to have. This is classic co-dependence. Jay is giving up parts of himself to take care of – and ultimately control – Sarah.
Had Sarah and Jay been interdependent rather than co-dependent, their life together could have been very different.
Check out some of the benchmarks and benefits of an interdependent relationship below. Have you achieved some of these in your relationship? If not, do you think it’s possible?
♥ Communication. Through honest discussion, active listening, and openness both parties’ needs and desires can be met.
♥ Balance. Power is shared equally and both partners take responsibility for their own feelings, actions, and contribution to the relationship.
♥ Individual growth. Partners learn more about themselves and gain self-confidence and trust in one another, enabling the relationship to grow.
♥ Couple growth. Mutual respect for each partner’s needs, interests, and goals includes doing what is best for both partners and allows the couple to grow together.
♥ Commitment. Making and honoring sincere agreements with each other, based on each partner’s separate needs and wants, strengthens the relationship.
Had Sarah and Jay been interdependent rather than codependent they would talk and understand where each was coming from. Jay’s empathy for the fact that Sarah was new to town would make her feel seen and understood. His love for her would dictate that of course he would want to spend quality time with her. Her love for him would help her understand that the great outdoors feeds his soul and thus she would not begrudge him time with his fly rod. Her understanding would make him feel seen and understood. They could pursue their own interests and passions while also coming together and growing as a couple. They could talk, share, and make plans. For example: next weekend Jay will be hiking the Blue Ridge and Sarah can go out to dinner with a new coworker and spend an afternoon shopping, something Jay really doesn’t enjoy. When they talk, they can share how they feel about certain situations rather than narrating a laundry list of past failures. In other words, truly communicate, heart to heart.
Interdependent relationships are an immensely fulfilling way of traveling through life with someone you love, desire, respect and are committed to.