Dependence, Independence, Co-dependence, and Interdependence

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Recently I was sitting with a couple in session, explaining to them boundaries, and how we are each responsible for our own actions, feelings, etc. One of them asked me, “but if we each take care of each other, wouldn’t that be ideal?” What he was describing is interdependence. Interdependence IS the ideal that we all strive for, but it is often confused with dependence. Lets take a look at different forms of dependence and how they affect relationships.

Independence is “standing on your own feet” and “taking care of yourself.” Many people consider an independent person strong and in control. This is great, but it is also lonely. No one gets into a relationship because they are looking for independence. On the contrary, we look to a relationship to give and receive care.

Dependence describes a relationship where boundaries are blurred. This may look like new relationship where both partners are super in love and can’t get enough of each other. This sense of oneness is deceiving, though, and after the initial thrill wears off, this type of fusion becomes rather suffocating if the partners don’t start to respect each other’s space. Dependence also can be a relationship where each partner is constantly annoyed and bickering. The partners seem to hate each other, but in reality they are still defining themselves by relating to the other person.

Co-dependence usually refers to a relationship where one partner enables destructive behaviors in the other partner, such as addiction. A co-dependent partner defines him/herself by tiptoeing around the other person and adapting him/herself to take care of the other. It may appear on the outside that the addict is the “sinner” and the co-dependent is the “saint,” but actually the co-dependent is just as unhealthy as the addict because they allow and even encourage the destructive behavior and allow themselves to be abused or taken for granted.

Interdependence, on the other hand, is the holy grail of relationship happiness. In an interdependent relationship, each partner has a strong sense of self and some degree of independence. From a place of wholeness, each partner is able to give to the other and bring out the best in the other. Each partner may say, “s/he makes me a better human being.” In an interdependent relationship, partners have individual identities, but being with their partner makes them happier. The couple does not have to agree on everything, but they do share many of the same values. The allow each other to free, and come together by choice. There is a high degree of acceptance and caring, and a low degree of coercion and guilt. There is a lot of trust in the self and also in the partner.

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