An interdependent relationship is a mutual give-and-take of emotional support, intimacy, and above all, trust. Many of us want to rely on our partner, but the romantic bond can turn into an unhealthy trap if the expectations turn into co-dependency.
The difference between co-dependency and interdependency.
The clinical definition for co-dependency can be slightly different, but it's generally described as an excessive emotional and psychological reliance on someone else. Researchers have pinpointed four elements that primarily attribute co-dependency:
- External focusing
- Emotional suppression
- Interpersonal conflict and control
Co-dependent couples need to accomplish their sense of self-worth and value through each other. Taking emotional support is something palpable, but they start using their partner as a crutch for any of their unaccomplished desires without even knowing. This is not good in any way because devotion to a relationship shouldn't be about outweighing someone's individual and psychological needs. If this dynamic is continued, these interlinking factors paint a picture of a toxic relationship marked with scary things like people-pleasing, projection, self-criticism, diminished self-esteem, controlling behaviours of your partner, dysfunctional or lack of communication, anxiety, and high reactivity.
On the contrary, interdependency is characterised by two self-determined individuals who can care for and nurture their relationship without sacrificing or compromising each other's sense of self. There isn't a strong emphasis on what the other person can do for their partner because they are already working on it themselves.
Since interdependent couples have absolute authority over their lives and fulfil their significance, they come with the thought of wanting their partner, not needing them, allowing them to bring their highest selves to shine. As a result, the relation feels stabilised and secure.
How can you move from co-dependency to interdependency?
If anyone of us is in a situation where you see some co-dependent characteristics in the relationship, don't agonise. It is a sign that it is time to recalibrate and find balance in this relationship. You can change the orientation of your relationship, but it'll take awareness, reflection, and collaboration. Here are a few ways to start:
Take time for yourself.
Set aside some time to work on the most important relationship of all: the one with yourself. You may not know any longer than what you think, feel, or need at any given time because It's likely you have abandoned your feelings in the pursuit of putting the relationship above all else.
Build up confidence by returning attention to your well-being, passions, dreams, and hobbies without factoring in what your partner likes.
Over time, these actions will nurture your sense of self. Focusing and cultivating acceptance toward yourself will serve as a buffer against over-reliance on your partner.
Create and enforce firm boundaries.
Having a feeling of being uncomfortable, saying no is the ideal breeding ground for co-dependency to thrive. Establishing various types of boundaries—physical, mental, emotional, sexual—breaks that up by defining what you're not responsible for making the other person pleased and will help you find containment and peace within.
Pay attention to your body. Analyse what feels off? What feels good? What aligns with your values, and what doesn't excite you anymore? What do you feel uncomfortable doing?
Only say yes to the things that bring happiness for you. Say no to everything else.
It'll feel extremely uncomfortable at first to neglect the needs that comfort your partner, but this consensual practice is essential to create the foundation for an interdependent relationship.
Work on healthy, open communication. Take the help of a therapist.
If co-dependency is a persisting feeling manifested in other places in our lives, it may be worthwhile sometimes to seek help—individually or as a couple. A therapist may help you figure out the cause behind your co-dependent habits and help you figure out long-term practices that support your journey toward secure attachment.
Words for Thought
Interdependency can't exist if one partner is still clinging to co-dependent tendencies. It takes two people to co-create something new. It may feel not very comforting to acknowledge your role in perpetuating co-dependency, but the conversation will move you toward growth. Otherwise, things won't change.
Be specific about habits in the relationship that need to change. If you need help setting boundaries, let your partner know. Be frank, open-minded, and honest about the feelings so that the relationship can move forward.
When people can appreciate their partner for who they are instead of what they can give, they can reimagine and relive relationships in an integrated way.