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What Is an Interdependent Relationship?

How to tell the difference between codependency and interdependency, and why it matters

When you feel safe with your partner and know you can turn to them for emotional support, without sacrificing your boundaries, needs, mental health, or sense of autonomy, that is known as an interdependent relationship.  

Simply put: if independence is total self-sufficiency, and co-dependency means relying entirely on your partner, think of interdependence as a healthy middle ground. 

What is interdependence? 

An interdependent relationship is a type of relationship dynamic where both partners recognize the importance of their emotional bond while having a solid sense of who they are as individuals outside of their relationship. 

Most of us grow up believing that our romantic partners are supposed to “complete” us. Well, you can blame Greek mythology for that. According to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, humans were created with four arms, four legs, and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them in two and condemned them to a life in search of their “other half”. 

But Greek mythology isn’t real life — in reality, it takes two whole, well-rounded humans to make long-term relationships work. That’s the theory behind interdependence.

An interdependent relationship is one where a couple acknowledges they’re two whole people who complement each other, as opposed to completing each other. They start the relationship from a place of wanting, not needing, an emotional connection. 

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“We often see more interdependent relationships going well from the start when each individual comes into the romantic relationship feeling fully functional on their own,” says  Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Relationship Expert at Paired. 

“Interdependent couples enter the relationship without a mindset of waiting for certain milestones in life until they had someone to do it with, they just went after them solo anyway with an attitude of having someone to do life with only enhances it,” she adds. 

Partners in an interdependent relationship know they can turn to each other for anything, without compromising who they are as individuals or placing all of their self-worth on their partner. Other characteristics of an interdependent relationship include: 

  1. Setting and respecting clearly defined healthy boundaries

  2. Healthy communication skills, such as active listening

  3. Having healthy self-esteem 

  4. Feeling safe and secure in the relationship

  5. Taking accountability for your feelings and/or behaviors

  6. Being able to be vulnerable with one another

  7. Meeting each other’s emotional needs

  8. Having a strong sense of self and individuality

  9. Finding personal fulfillment outside of the relationship

  10. Approaching issues as a team, with an equal give-and-take of trust and support.

What is the difference between codependency and interdependency?

Emotional interdependence is different from codependency, and telling them apart is key to creating a safe, healthy relationship. 

“Codependent” is a term you hear a lot in the context of relationships, but what does it mean exactly? If someone is codependent, their well-being, self-worth, and emotions rely heavily on their partner. People with an anxious attachment style may be more likely to have codependent tendencies in a relationship. 

Other traits of a codependent relationship include:

  1. Having unclear or no personal boundaries, and not respecting your partner’s 

  2. People-pleasing tendencies 

  3. Poor communication

  4. Controlling behaviors or extreme jealousy

  5. Blame-shifting or not taking responsibility for behaviors/actions 

  6. Seeking validation from your partner

  7. Not having any personal interests outside of the relationship or your partner 

  8. Having low self-esteem or poor sense of self

  9. The relationship feels one-sided.

When you’re in a committed relationship, it’s only natural to feel attached to your partner and crave closeness — you might even depend on one another, to some degree. But needing them too much can lead to co-dependency, which creates an unhealthy relationship dynamic. 

Vulnerability is an important aspect of emotional intimacy, but it’s hard to be vulnerable with your partner if you can’t be yourself. Interdependence lets you be your authentic self while recognizing that it’s OK — and perfectly healthy — to be vulnerable with your romantic partner. 

Is an interdependent relationship healthy?

Interdependence allows you to build a secure, nurturing bond with your partner without giving up who you are as an individual. 

Some research has found that people in interdependent relationships gain strength from knowing they have the freedom of living their own life, and that their partners will support and encourage their personal goals. 

In an interdependent relationship, partners are attached but still capable of making their own decisions or living a happy life separate from the relationship. 

Creating a healthy relationship doesn’t happen out of the blue, and it can take a lot of work for both individuals and couples. However, there are a few steps you can take to become more interdependent in your relationship: 

  1. Reflect on what your boundaries are, and communicate them clearly with your partner.

  2. Recognize if you have any codependent tendencies and make a commitment to address them.

  3. Make a list of what makes you happy outside of your relationship and/or partner. This can include hobbies, passions, goals, or career ambitions.

  4. Don’t let your other relationships fall by the wayside, and spend more time with friends, family, and your wider community.   

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