Most of us are aware of the dangers of a codependent relationship at this point. Giving up our autonomy and boundaries equals bad news! However, to be truly intimate with someone, we do have to drop some of our defenses in order to have emotional intimacy. Is there a healthy middle ground between complete independence and codependency? Is there a way to have a truly intimate relationship without losing your sense of self? Well, let’s explore the tenants of interdependent relationships! We’ll take a deep look at maintaining healthy communication, setting boundaries, and achieving emotional interdependence.
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Codependent Vs. Interdependent
For our purposes in this article, there are essentially two types of romantic relationships: codependent and interdependent. Let’s take a quick look at each and their basic tenants. It’s important to note that romantic relationships are not the only ones affected by attachment style. Codependent relationships often happen between parents and children, friends, and even coworkers. While the signs may be more noticeable in a romance, usually a codependent person will display them in other relationships as well.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, codependency is defined as “a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person manifesting low self-esteem and a strong desire for approval has an unhealthy attachment to another person and places the needs of that person before his or her own.”
Codependent relationships typically exhibit an unhealthy balance of power. One person depends heavily on the other person for survival, and that recipient exhibits the need to be needed. The codependent person often gives up their personal goals and makes all major life decisions based on what’s best for their partner and their relationship. This type of relationship can severely damage the sense of self-worth for both parties, affecting overall mental health.
Interdependence is defined as mutually depending on one another while maintaining healthy boundaries. In an interdependent romance, both parties realize that they complement each other and rely on one another for certain aspects of life. However, there is mutual respect, and both partners function as separate and whole individuals, based on their own merit. Interdependent couples don’t deny that need one another in some ways, but they don’t allow their emotional bond to override personal interests and their sense of self-worth.
How Codependency Develops
Codependency is often seen when one person in the relationship is a narcissist. Narcissism is a personality disorder that thrives on control. The partners of narcissists are constantly manipulated to please the narcissist. If that person doesn’t set boundaries and identify the manipulation, both partners become codependent, on opposite sides of the spectrum.
Codependency may also happen in relationships where one partner has a substance abuse issue or suffers from a debilitating disease that decreases their independence. These issues may make them more likely to rely on others for personal needs. In some circumstances (not all), substance abusers become manipulative, taking advantage of romantic partners financially and emotionally. They also take advantage of their partner’s time. They rely on their partner to care for them, and the partner thrives on being needed. They’re convinced their lover wouldn’t make it without them. In this type of relationship, both partners are suffering from a form of codependency.
Signs of Codependent Relationships
While every romance is different, certain actions and feelings are common in a codependent relationship:
- Having to ask permission to go out or see friends
- Blaming a partner for unhappiness or being blamed
- Experiencing distress when away from their partner, even for a short time
- Doing all activities together
- Isolating from family and friends to please a partner
- Continuously feeling relationship insecurity
- Controlling a partner’s behavior
Signs of an Interdependent Relationship
On the other hand, an interdependent kind of relationship is characterized by freedom, respect, and security. Couples can
- be vulnerable with one another without fear
- recognize their partner’s strengths and weaknesses, and work together as a team
- seek outside hobbies and goals without fear or guilt
- maintain close relationships outside of the romance
- encourage one another on personal goals, and help their spouse achieve them
- take responsibility for their own faults and their own happiness
- work together to solve problems and find mutually beneficial solutions
The Dangers of Codependency
Is it really so bad to depend on your partner for things? No, not put that simply. Dependency, in some aspects, is a natural part of an intimate relationship. However, the problem occurs when a person loses their ability to think on their own and denies their own emotional needs in an effort to please a partner. People-pleasing is the underlying issue.
If a person in a long-term relationship focuses all their energy on pleasing their partner to the detriment of themselves and that emotional support is not reciprocated, it will eventually negatively affect their well-being. If we’re honest, anyone in a long-term partnership relies on their partner for some things, and a healthy reliance keeps us connected, responsible, and devoted, but it has to be a two-way street.
How to Create a Healthy Interdependent Relationship
Codependency is a trap that some personalities easily fall into. Proper prevention is a better guard against unhealthy relationships than reactionary measures. Creating a strong relationship with self and maintaining a healthy community are the primary ways to guard against codependency. Here are a few specific steps you can take to guard against abuse and ensure healthier relations all around.
1. Focus on personal growth.
When most of us enter a new romantic relationship, the excitement and butterflies cause us to lose focus when it comes to anything else, at least for a while. Whether you’re dating someone new or find that you’re too attached to your current partner, taking some time to focus on yourself may be a good move!
Sure, when you marry or enter a long-term relationship, you’ll start to plan your future together. You’ll make joint goals and work towards them. That’s healthy, but all your goals should not be dictated or influenced by your partner. Keep a list of your personal goals, and share them with your partner. Whether you’re working on physical fitness, spiritual growth, or career goals, keep them visible, and revisit them daily. Just because you’re growing as a couple doesn’t mean you should stop growing as a person.
2. Set healthy boundaries.
Setting boundaries is a key measure for ensuring healthy relationships, whether they are romantic, familial, or in the workplace. You might have intellectual or emotional boundaries, and that’s okay. You get to decide how much you reveal to another person. Never feel pressured to dive into emotional or intellectual territory that makes you feel uncomfortable.
You may need to initiate boundaries on how much time you give to your partner. Independent people need their own space, and they need time to allot to close relationships outside of their romance. Don’t just say you’re going to spend less time outside the relationship, but set actual hour boundaries, and schedule events with others.
For more information on setting relationship limits, take a look at “The Importance of Setting Boundaries in Relationships.”
3. Get intimate at your own speed.
When it comes to intimacy (whether emotional or sexual), know your limits. You should never allow another person to manipulate you into sharing intimate information or participating in any sexual behavior that you’re not comfortable with. Be firm. Maintain open and clear communication, and make sure you have clear boundaries in mind before you enter into a situation where you’ll be alone together.
4. Don’t seek validation from your partner.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to please your partner in certain aspects. However, refrain from seeking validation about your self-worth from a partner. Allowing another person to dictate your worth, in any way, is a slippery slope toward emotional abuse. You’re a vital part of humanity all on your own, created with innate beauty, special skills, and unique characteristics. Accept your unique quirks. Flourish in your talents, and set goals to improve on your weaker areas as you choose!
5. Practice clear communication.
As with any relationship, setting boundaries with a partner requires clear communication. Take some time to think about your limits. Write them down if you need to. Then, when you’re ready, present them to your partner.
Proper communication is multifold. First, you need to choose a time when you and your partner can focus on each other completely. Don’t have major conversations in front of the TV after a long day of work. Practice active listening, giving your partner time to express their needs and limits, as well. Reinforce that you understand their wishes by repeating their words out loud and asking if you’re understanding correctly. Be direct and firm. You’ve thought these things over, and you’ve made your decision. Present it clearly, and stick to it.
6. Have frequent check-ins.
Relationships change over time—at least healthy ones do. That means your boundaries will change as well. Also, you’ll likely have to reiterate your boundaries with your partner, as they will forget or allow their guard to slip as time goes by. Schedule frequent check-ins with each other to talk about your relationship. What’s going well? What needs improvement? Are both partners feeling fulfilled and respected in the romance?
7. Take some time for self-care.
In order to be the best partner you can be, you need to take care of yourself. Self-care is a very personal thing. Some find solace in aerobic exercise. Others need spiritual care. Some need a spa day, and still others may wish to see a therapist. Perhaps you just need a long bath and a glass of wine. Whatever it is you need to feel relaxed, centered, and confident, go do that. Schedule as many activities as you need into your calendar, and make them a priority!
8. Consult trusted advisors.
People in strong, interdependent relationships often seek advice outside of the pairing. Whether it’s a therapist, your bestie, your parents or siblings, or a pastor or spiritual advisor, it’s wise to consider the perspective of others on relational matters. If you’re feeling unsure about a person, about the way they’re treating you, or about your own feelings, run it past a trusted source. Ultimately, the decision is yours, but loved ones offer valuable insight that we sometimes can’t see on our own.
9. Prioritize other relationships.
While a romantic partner, after some time, is probably the most important person in your life, they aren’t the only person. Don’t neglect your outside relationships. They are vital to your overall mental health and well-being!
Schedule coffee dates with your best friend. Take your mom to lunch every now and then. Plan that girl’s weekend with your crew. Call your sister! Close relationships with friends and family are an integral part of a healthy romance, not a deterrent!
10. Seek help from a relationship coach.
If you’re struggling to achieve any of these nine things on your own, consider speaking with a relationship coach. If your partner will consent, make it a couples session. A well-trained and unbiased third party can point out areas of concern that we often can’t or won’t acknowledge on our own. Your momma is wise, no doubt, and your friends certainly have your best interest at heart, but someone outside your close circle may be the better option.
11. Encourage your partner.
Interdependent relationships are built on trust and a teamwork mentality. Good teammates encourage one another to achieve their goals and contribute when possible. Encourage your partner in their personal goals, offer advice when appropriate, and lend a helping hand. On the flip side, clearly communicate anything you need from your partner to achieve your personal goals. While the goals are independent, healthy partners help each other achieve them!
12. Solve problems together.
One of the best aspects of a healthy, interdependent relationship is that you never have to solve problems alone. A trustworthy partner is your first mate, and you can tackle any storm together. When a problem arises, put your heads together, and search for a solution that is mutually beneficial for you both.
Problems within a relationship should always be looked at as a mutual issue to solve together. Blame-placing, shaming, and shirking responsibility for your own actions have no place in a thriving romance. When fights or disputes arise (and they will), try to view the situation as a chance for personal growth and an opportunity to strengthen your bond. It’s possible to come out on the other side of a big fight stronger, happier, and healthier as a couple.
Your romantic relationship should be a safe space. A healthy, interdependent relationship is built on a foundation of equality and mutual respect. When couples are interdependent, they feel safe enough to be vulnerable with one another, set clear boundaries, and meet each other’s emotional needs willingly. Each presents with a strong sense of self and their own hobbies and desires. Plus, they can find personal fulfillment outside of the romance.
Whether you’re starting a new romance or revamping an old one, using a few of these tools can help you form a more fulfilling and healthy relationship. Setting these boundaries in place will be difficult at first, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it once you start reaping the benefits. Good luck—you got this!
Still not sure if your relationships need a revamp? Check out “What Healthy Relationships Look Like (According to Experts).”
Frequently Asked Questions
Interdependent relationships are formed between individuals who have a clear sense of self-worth, keep separate hobbies, and find fulfillment outside of their romance.
Interdependent relationships are generally considered the healthiest. They exhibit individuality but not total independence. Interdependent partners work together as a team!
Interdependent relationships include partners that exhibit a strong sense of self-worth, operate in mutual respect, and utilize each other’s gifts to achieve mutual goals.