Interdependence in Relationships: Maintaining Your Individuality in a Partnership

A romantic relationship with a codependent person is the epitome of the “old ball and chain adage.” I think it’s safe to say that most of us look for red flags in this area, as we don’t want to lose our autonomy. However, in romantic endeavors, we need to let our guard down a bit to create real emotional connections. So, is there a way to balance this out? Can we be intimate with someone— give them our all— without losing our identity? This concept —in a nutshell— is what relationship gurus call interdependence. It’s the sweet spot where you know your partner is your ride-or-die, but also, you don’t solely rely on each other for your self-worth, entertainment, or happiness. Interdependence in relationships is possible, but it takes work!

Codependent Vs. Interdependent Relationships

The distinction between a codependent and an interdependent relationship lies in the dynamics of emotion and autonomy within the partnership. In a codependent relationship, individuals may excessively rely on their partner for validation, self-worth, and emotional fulfillment, often sacrificing their own needs and boundaries in the process. Typically, there is an imbalance of power, with one partner assuming a caretaker role while the other becomes dependent. However, in the end, many of these relationships result in two overly needy partners, who just display their dependent characteristics differently.

In an interdependent relationship, both partners maintain a sense of autonomy and individuality while also supporting each other’s growth and well-being. They collaborate as equals, communicate openly, and respect each other’s boundaries. Interdependent couples foster mutual trust and independence, recognizing that their relationship enhances rather than diminishes their individual identities.

How Codependency Develops

Codependency often arises in relationships affected by factors like narcissism, substance abuse, illness, and low self-esteem. Partners of narcissists may feel compelled to seek constant validation to sustain the relationship, leading to a power imbalance through sly manipulation. Similarly, caretaking roles in substance abuse or illness situations can evolve into codependent patterns, with the caretaker prioritizing their partner’s needs over their own. These dynamics often stem from underlying issues of low self-esteem, where individuals believe their value lies in meeting their partner’s needs, eroding their sense of identity.

Experiencing trauma, such as childhood abuse or neglect, can also foster a fear of abandonment that leads to self-loathing and immense anxiety. According to The Foundation for Post-Traumatic Healing and Complex Trauma Research, trauma survivors fearing abandonment may develop extreme codependence. They can even go as far as violating their own personal or moral values to keep a partner. This is a coping mechanism to avoid the rejection that caused so much pain in the past.

If you, or your partner, are dealing with unresolved trauma relating to abandonment, it’s important to focus on creating safety. That usually takes some help from a mental health professional. There are a few approved treatments for trauma-related anxiety, so don’t be afraid to reach out. It’s never been easier. You can download the Betterhelp app for personalized care from a licensed professional, from the comfort of your own living room. If you need a free service, check with your local clinic or health department. They often have a list of mental health volunteers who you chat with.

Red Flags: Signs of Codependent Relationships

Overly dependent persons, though individuals, typically exhibit shared similar patterns. There are certain codependent tendencies, behaviors, and emotions to look out for (in yourself and your partner). Here are a few red—or at least orange—flags.

  • Isolating from family and friends to satisfy the partner
  • Excessive reliance on your partner for emotional validation and self-worth
  • Difficulty setting and maintaining personal boundaries
  • Feeling responsible for your partner’s emotions and well-being
  • Neglecting your own life decisions to prioritize your partner’s
  • Difficulty expressing your true feelings or opinions for fear of upsetting your partner
  • Enabling destructive behaviors in your partner, such as substance abuse or irresponsibility
  • Feeling trapped or unable to leave the relationship, even if it is unhealthy or harmful
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed when asserting your own needs or desires

Green Flags: Signs of Interdependent Relationships

In contrast, an interdependent relationship thrives on freedom, respect, and security. In such relationships, couples exhibit:

  • Mutual respect and equality between partners.
  • Open and honest communication, with both partners freely expressing their thoughts and feelings.
  • Encouragement of personal growth and individual pursuits within the relationship.
  • A strong sense of self and identity, separate from the relationship.
  • Collaboration and teamwork in decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Support each other’s goals and aspirations.
  • Healthy boundaries established and respected by both parties.

How to Create a Healthy Interdependent Relationship

Some personalities easily fall into the pitfalls of dependency. You might be one of them. The best way to guard against unhealthy relationships is by knowing the signs and being preventative, rather than reactionary. To avoid becoming a dependent person, you need to create a strong relationship with your own emotional needs and keep a healthy community. Below are several concrete measures you can employ to create bonds that are mutually beneficial and life-giving.

1. Set healthy boundaries.

Establishing healthy boundaries is essential for growing positive relationships, whether they’re romantic, familial, or professional. It’s perfectly acceptable to have intellectual or emotional boundaries, and it’s important to assert your right to decide how much information you disclose to others. Never feel obligated to engage in discussions or share thoughts that make you uncomfortable. That’s your intellectual right!

In some cases, you may need to set boundaries regarding the amount of time you spend with your partner. Maintaining individual space is crucial, and it’s essential to allocate time for relationships outside of your romantic partnership. Instead of merely stating your intention to spend less time with your partner, consider setting specific time boundaries and scheduling activities with others.

2. Focus on personal growth.

When each partner prioritizes their individual development and well-being, they bring more to the relationship, fostering a stronger bond and deeper connection. Personal growth encourages self-awareness and self-improvement, allowing partners to better understand themselves and each other.

Additionally, when both partners are committed to their own growth, they can support and encourage each other along the way, creating a dynamic and mutually beneficial relationship. Ultimately, by investing in yourself, you can create a foundation for a thriving interdependent partnership, characterized by mutual respect, support, and empowerment.

3. Engage in intimacy at your own pace.

Each individual should feel empowered to set their own sexual boundaries and express their needs and desires freely. By respecting each other’s pace and comfort levels, partners create an environment of trust. This approach allows for the development of a deeper emotional bond, as both partners feel safe and secure in expressing themselves authentically. By prioritizing consent and communication, couples can navigate intimacy in a way that strengthens their bond and enhances their overall relationship satisfaction.

4. Have frequent check-ins.

Checking in often is really important for keeping your relationship healthy and strong on all levels. Have a targeted chat (regularly) to see how things are going and make sure you both feel happy and heard. Share your thoughts and feelings openly. This is your time to respectfully air grievances and improve your relationship. Discussing issues at scheduled times also prevents minor annoyances from exploding into major disagreements.

5. Prioritize other relationships.

It’s important to spend time with other people to stay grounded. Your relationships with friends and family are part of your past and contribute to your identity. Stay connected to the important people in your life and give yourself a break from romance every once in a while. Make plans to hang out with your friends, have dinner with your family, or go out for drinks with your coworkers.

By prioritizing these relationships, you not only strengthen your bonds with others but also give yourself and your partner space to grow individually. Plus, it’s nice to have a support system outside of your romantic relationship. While you should never make your romantic decisions based solely on the opinions of friends and family, always pay attention to issues that your loved ones express. They typically have your best interest at heart and can see things that you are blinded to by lust or love.

6. Support your partners’ growth.

Supporting your partner’s growth means cheering them on as they chase their dreams and work on becoming a better version of themselves. While you aren’t responsible for your partner’s self-worth, encouragement is a hallmark of an emotionally responsible person. When you encourage your partner to pursue their goals, you show that you care about their happiness and success. Whether it’s helping them study for a test, listening intently to their ideas, or just giving them a pep talk when they’re feeling down, your support can make a big difference.

7. Problem solve together.

“Two heads are better than one,” they say. Instead of blaming each other or getting mad, seek compromise together. By listening to each other’s ideas and coming up with a plan that works for both of you, you build trust and make your relationship stronger.

8. Seek guidance from a relationship coach.

If you’re having trouble in your relationship, talking to a relationship coach can be really helpful! Getting some men to reach out for help is like pulling teeth (I get it. I’m one of them). Couples therapy is a safe space for difficult conversations. It can help you understand each other better and figure out how to work through problems that you can’t see a solution for on your own. Sometimes, it’s easier to talk to an impartial third party because they can give you a different perspective.

9. Take some time for self-care.

Self-care means doing things that make you happy and relaxed, like taking a bubble bath, going for a walk, or doing something creative. When you take care of yourself, you’re better able to care for your partner and your relationship. You can’t give what you don’t have. If you’re striving to give out peace, comfort, and encouragement, you have to get them in yourself first.

Closing Thoughts on Interdependence in Relationships

Your romantic relationship should serve as a secure haven where you can feel comfortable! A robust, interdependent partnership is constructed upon principles of equality and mutual appreciation. In such relationships, partners feel secure enough to expose their vulnerabilities, establish explicit boundaries, and willingly attend to each other’s emotional needs. If your relationship is not ticking these boxes, that doesn’t mean it’s a throwaway. It’s possible you just need some guidance, so don’t be afraid to reach out to a relationship professional or get some advice from a trusted couple that you both admire.

Whether embarking on a new romance or rejuvenating an existing one, incorporating some of these strategies can contribute to a more gratifying and wholesome relationship. While initially challenging, implementing these boundaries gets easier over time as you begin to experience the rewards. Stick with it! Your relationship will either flourish, or it will dissolve, and you’ll walk away healthier.

About Author

Ryan is a professional travel and relationship writer, originally out of Arkansas. Educated as a health and physical education teacher, he sold all his possessions, uprooted, and went on sabbatical in 2020 to go exploring! He's spent the last four years traveling the world, living and working in more than forty countries. At his side, is his wife of 19 years and fellow travel writer, Abby. Aside from being a sports fanatic and Jesus lover, he's uncle extraordinaire to 14 of the greatest creations on Earth. His passion is sharing cultural finds and encouraging men to experience a more fulfilling life by loving, serving, and understanding their partners better. Ryan is often published on Adventures From Scratch where he shares his relationship advice and family adventure tips, and on Let's Roam, where he details his travel experiences. You can find more from Ryan on he and his wife's YouTube Channel- LostAmongLocals.

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