Codependency Isn’t Interdependency

By Darlene Lancer

When it comes to relationships, whether the dynamics are codependent or healthy, interdependency may not be apparent at first. The following are the extremes, so you get the idea. Most relationships fall somewhere in between.

Relationship hell

Although from the outside a codependent couple may look physically, intellectually, and financially independent, in reality, there are two emotionally dependent and insecure adults. Rather than equality, closeness, and respect, there’s a power imbalance and/or power struggles.

One person may anticipate the other’s needs and then feel guilty, anxious, or resentful about it. They’re not just affected by each other; they react to and feel responsible for each other’s feelings and moods. They directly or indirectly try to control the other in order to get their needs met. They feel less free in the relationship and fear both intimacy and separateness, which threaten their insecure selves.

Relationship heaven

Attachment normally develops in intimate relationships. When two people love each other, it’s natural for them to want to be together and to miss and be concerned about one another. Over time, their lives and routines become intertwined. They enjoy helping and encouraging each other. They need, depend upon, and are affected by one another, but are equals and take responsibility for their own lives as well as their contribution to the relationship.

Their lives are interdependent. They don’t fear intimacy, and independence is not seen as a threat to the relationship. In fact, the relationship gives them each more freedom. They respect and support each other’s personal goals, but are committed to the relationship.

Two couples, the Joneses and Browns, always spend their weekends playing doubles tennis in a tournament circuit. One couple is codependent.

The Joneses consider each other best friends. They enjoy the tennis tournaments and socialize with other couples they meet. They leave uplifted and relaxed, and are able to talk about the challenges of their game, their mistakes, and strategy with an attitude of helping one another and their game.

The Browns bicker after each game. The wife has tried to quit, but the husband threatens to tour the tennis circuit alone. She’s usually late getting ready. He’s angry, she feels guilty, and they don’t talk on the way to the game. Afterward, he critiques her playing. They rarely socialize, except when they win, but even then, the husband tries to improve her game.

It’s not the time spent together, but the relationship dynamics that are determinative. The Joneses cooperate and treat each other with respect. They are fed by each others’ company and are able to be close. The Browns are emotionally reactive to one another, and it’s unsafe to be open and close, because of the incompleteness of their individual selves. They may have romantic moments and feel like “one,” but then boomerang reactively.

In this example, the power is imbalanced, and the husband is emotionally abusive. The wife tries to express her power and anger by being chronically late, but she cannot quit the game because she’s afraid of abandonment. So is he, which is why he threatens to leave by playing without her, but doesn’t. They’re in bondage to one another and unable to talk about their problems.