It’s called a relationship not a going-our-own-way-and-having-zero-connection-with-each-other-ship.
There is a misconception often attributed to relationships (either linguistically or practically in real life), which is calling interdependency in a relationship “codependency.”
Naturally, when two people meet each other and fall in love, they build a connection and form a bond with each other (we’re not talking about twin flames here). Some relationships may be bound to fail, eventually, if there is no emotional connection whatsoever, even if both partners are good to each other.
Sometimes, after a couple breaks up, we find them in new relationships, more happy than ever because they have found someone with whom they can be in sync, love ever so dearly, and find balance.
However, sometimes, this emotional connection can transform into something that harms the relationship—codependency.
In brief, according to Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT, codependents “don’t reap those relationship benefits. Often they’re in unhealthy relationships, and they relate to others in unhealthy ways with patterns of obsession, self-sacrifice, dysfunctional communication, and control, which are both self-destructive and hurtful to others. They’re often abusive or allow themselves to be abused.”
In a codependent relationship, the couple is in a struggle to gain power over the other, which would lead to an imbalance that would harm the relationship. Instead of paving the way for a healthy amount of independence of the partners, codependent relationships seek to eradicate individuality and up the game of blame, unacceptance, and inability to function solo.
However, relying on each other in a relationship doesn’t have to be detrimental. Just a healthy amount can actually save relationships.
This is what we call interdependency.
Now, I didn’t want this piece to be solely informative, so I went ahead and reached out to people. I asked them what makes a relationship successful in their opinion, besides the main component—love.
Then I combined their answers and compared them with the definitions associated with interdependent relationships, and here’s the result:
>> First answer: “They can freely communicate with each other without fear or judgment.”
When communicating our feelings in an interdependent relationship, we shouldn’t feel afraid of our partner’s opinion or judgment. An interdependent couple can “listen to their partner’s feelings and needs without feeling guilty or becoming defensive.”
>> Second answer: “They support each other, but they do not crumble and burst out of existence without each other.”
Our self-esteem is something we should already have before jumping into a relationship. And if we develop our self-esteem within the relationship, it shouldn’t be dependent on the partner; it should be something appreciated, not controlled by them. Since this self-esteem doesn’t depend upon the partner, “they don’t fear intimacy, and independence doesn’t threaten the relationship. In fact, the relationship gives them each more freedom.”
>> Third answer: “They have healthy boundaries.”
Healthy boundaries do not mean secrecy, pushing the other away, or lying. Healthy boundaries mean asking permission, taking the other’s feelings into account, showing gratitude, giving space, and taking responsibility for your actions.
According to the Gender and Sexuality Therapy Center, partners in a codependent relationship “have poor boundaries, the desire to control their partners’ behavior or actions, anxiety, low self-worth, fear of abandonment, and struggles with intimacy.”
>> Fourth answer: “Vulnerability is not scary.”
It is often a little difficult for some of us out there to be vulnerable when we first dive in a new relationship. Even if we know our partner loves us, sometimes we protect our own vulnerability by feigning continuous strength.
But in an interdependent relationship, vulnerability becomes a natural thing that we don’t fight to hide anymore. There is a sense of safety between partners, and nothing is used as a weapon to manipulate the other.
Wendy Rose Gould states in her article on vulnerability in relationships, “No matter what type of relationship we’re talking about—be it friendship, familial, or romantic—vulnerability is key to fostering a closer, deeper, and more authentic bond with another person. It keeps us honest with each other and ourselves, breaks down walls, eliminates the potential for miscommunication and misunderstandings, and allows us to be wholly ourselves.”
>> Fifth answer: “Being completely honest with each other, no matter what.”
Honesty is crucial, even if it revealed something unwanted at times. This is different from being completely rude; what is meant here is to express how we truly feel in a mindful way instead of hiding it.
In interdependent relationships, the couple feels confident and safe enough to express their thoughts because they are not pressured to please their partner at the cost of their own mental health.
We shouldn’t feel afraid of telling the truth. We shouldn’t go for “partner-pleasing” if it harms us or them in any way. We shouldn’t be scared to be who we are. A healthy relationship means acceptance and understanding.
And so, sometimes people may mistake interdependency for codependency if partners rely on each other because we live in a world that mostly associates complete independence and do-it-all-myself attitude with strength.
It is alright to be vulnerable and create a healthy dependence when we’re in a relationship. It is alright to be happy to have someone we can rely on. It is alright to be capable of autonomy but desiring closeness and intertwining ourselves with another human.
It is natural. Interdependence in a relationship is natural. Codependency is not.
Eventually, a shared power in the relationship leads to stronger ties, healthier habits, and an everlasting love.