Codependent, Independent or Interdependent Relationship… Which One Are You In?

Relationships
Codependent, Independent or Interdependent Relationship… Which One Are You In?
Romantic love can give rise to some of the greatest experiences of pain as well as happiness in our lives. Besides possibly the death of a close family member or friend, there is no misery more profound than that associated with the experience of a breakup or unrequited love. Similarly, there seems to be no deeper felt happiness than that experienced through a connection established from an intimate relationship.

The extent to which the relationships we form become stable and satisfying vs. addictive and destructive is largely determined by our own personal development through a maturity continuum from codependence to independence to interdependence.

In essence, this article will answer four questions:
  • What are the characteristics of the three stages of the maturity continuum?
  • Why are they important with respect to our own individual effectiveness?
  • Why are they important with respect to the effectiveness of the relationships we form with others? -With particular emphasis on romantic relationships.
  • What can I do to progress through the maturity continuum to maximise my personal and interpersonal effectiveness?
Generally, codependent people will seek other codependent people to form codependent relationships, independent people will seek independent people to form independent relationships, and so on. (Opposites may attract in some areas, but not this one). As such, the terms used to refer to both the maturity of an individual and the relationships they form will be used interchangeably.

Codependence (0+0=0)

Codependent relationships arise when two people form a relationship with each other primarily because neither feels that he or she can “stand alone.” Rather than working on ourselves to cultivate a source of good feelings that is drawn from within (self-esteem) we slip into a state where our sense of self becomes dependant on external (or egoic) factors outside of our locus of control. In this case the need for a partner to provide us with validation, attention or good emotions.
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Our sense of self becomes dependant on external (or egoic) factors outside of our locus of control. In this case the need for a partner to provide us with validation, attention or good emotions.

Codependent relationships are like 0+0=0. There is virtually no contribution to the relationship from either partner as each partner is relying on their counterpart to fill a void from within themselves.

It’s no different from a heroin addict needing his latest fix of heroin, or a celebrity needing constant positive feedback from fans and the media, or even a sportsman identifying with being the best at his sport (rather than being his best self). Once the drugs run out, or the celebrity’s attention goes away or the sportsman’s body starts to age they inevitably crash and slump into depression.

We may try our hardest to chase that fix again by opting for the quickest route: after a breakup we might go back to our ex partner or we might quickly hop into another codependent relationship. These are tell tale signs of someone stuck in a codependant headspace.

Codependency is extremely common. We all know someone who keeps breaking up and getting back together with a partner, or someone who’s constantly annoying us with new Facebook relationship statuses declaring their undying love for a new partner, only to move on to another quicker than you can say “NEXT!”. If you know someone who may benefit from reading this article, please help them by directing them to this article!

[Article explaining why some people are destined to fail in ALL of their long-term relationships <~Click to Tweet this]

Getting out of Codependence

As with any challenges we face, we must identify and apply the most effective principle or natural law that governs the results we seek.

Codependent relationships quickly become toxic and destructive to both involved- each member coming out of each one progressively worse than the previous relationship. Therefore, the earlier we can address the problem the better off everyone involved.

If we choose to address it with quick-fix band aids only when it gets out of hand, we are leaving the underlying problem untouched to fester and resurface again. Therefore, we must seek a solution that will remain effective indefinitely. This can only be achieved by treating the underlying cause. This forces us to build a solid framework that nothing or nobody can break so that it never resurfaces.
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We must seek a solution that will remain effective indefinitely. This can only be achieved by treating the underlying cause.

There is no magic pill solution to getting out of codependence. These are deep rooted, complex problems each requiring their own unique plan of action. However, the same fundamental principles will apply. Hence you may find this common sense approach useful as a rough guideline:
  1. First things first- Go cold turkey.
    • Completely cut contact with any ex partners: delete their numbers to prevent drunk dialling, remove them from any social newsfeeds as well as any friends associated with them that might give you second hand inferences to what they’re doing.
    • Make a commitment to not get into another relationship for a significant period of time (at least a year) and stick to it.
  2. Create goals in other areas and formulate an action plan to achieve them.
    • Focus your efforts on working towards something that is entirely internally generated i.e. something that revolves around you taking regular action.
    • Examples: Try starting up a new business venture, go back to education or working towards that body you were too lazy to get whilst in a relationship.

The Struggle for Independence

The first step in independence is to make the choice to value our own self esteem and long-term happiness higher than any short-term comfort or pleasure. We must be willing to overcome inertia, face fears, confront pain and stand alone in loyalty to our own judgement.
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The first step in independence is to make the choice to value our own self esteem and long-term happiness higher than any short-term comfort or pleasure.

We become empowered to act rather than be acted upon and begin taking small steps into becoming more conscious, responsible and assertive. We notice that when we do this we begin to like ourselves more. This inspires us to push on, go further and take on harder challenges. We get tougher and more resourceful, strengthening the spiritual equivalent of a muscle.

We enjoy a greater sense of self-worth, self-efficacy and begin to experience ourselves as loveable. This provides the foundation for appreciating and loving others. We now have something to give and are no longer trapped in feelings of deficiency.

Entering an Independent Relationship (1+1=2)

After spending a significant period of time (e.g. 2-5 years) focusing on other important life domains we find ourselves in a much better position to enter a new relationship (although this was not the primary motive).

We are naturally drawn to others with equally high self-worth. This is because in the context of the maturity continuum, like attracts like. Vitality and expansiveness are naturally more appealing to persons of high self-worth than are emptiness and codependence. Note that this is in relation to romantic love- not to a brief infatuation or sexual fling, which operate under a completely different set of dynamics.

In our relationships, we establish secure boundaries from the onset and are able to assert them in appropriate ways. It is subcommunicated that we are willing to walk away at any moment should our partner repeatedly infringe on our boundaries. As such, there is an alignment between our behaviours and convictions. By standing by our own values, we maintain our integrity and self-respect, which we now regard much more highly than the inevitable short-term discomfort and pain felt from a breakup.
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We establish secure boundaries from the onset and are able to assert them in appropriate ways. It is subcommunicated that we are willing to walk away at any moment should our partner repeatedly infringe on our boundaries. As such, there is an alignment between our behaviours and convictions.

Independent relationships are like 1+1=2. Each member feels entitled to assert their needs and wants but at the same time understands that they get back out of the relationship what they put into it. They don’t need to be with their partner all the time to feel good as they have developed themselves to the extent that they can self-generate a positive emotional ecosystem. Thus, the relationship is built on a foundation of giving and serves to enrich rather than to ‘complete’ those involved.

Independence is a far cry from codependence. While it is a major achievement in and of itself, it is not the ideal.

Achieving Greatness with Interdependent Relationships (1+1=11)

The current social paradigm tends to favour independence over interdependence due to influences from growing social movements and high profile individuals in popular culture. This is at the detriment of higher interdependent values such as communication, teamwork and cooperation.

The current emphasis on independence is likely a knee jerk reaction to having others control and manipulate us (codependence) -and not the result of a rational pursuit of a fundamental paradigm for maximal effective living.

Interdependence is more like 1+1=11 (or more) as it presents unlimited opportunities for positive interactive growth and development. Members amplify each other’s talents in a way that the same group of people couldn’t make happen by working independently. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
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Members amplify each other’s talents in a way that the same group of people couldn’t make happen by working independently.

If codependent people need others to get what they want and independent people can get what they want through their own effort, interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest successes.

Interdependence (e.g. 1+1=11) is not to be confused with compromise (1+1=1½). While compromise is honest, genuine and respectful, it is not creative and does not lead to the synergistic results seen in interdependence. Also note that interdependence can only be built on a foundation of independence: two dependent people cannot bypass independence to create an interdependent relationship, nor can one independent person successfully ‘change’ someone from codependence to independence.

Eventually, we realize that life is by nature highly interdependent. If we plant two plants close together, the roots will comingle and improve the quality of the soil so that both plants grow better than if they were separated. If we put two pieces of wood together, they will hold much more than the total of the weight held by each separately. It is only when we act in accordance with this natural law and gain access to the vast resources and potential of other human beings that we have the capacity to produce our greatest achievements.

References:

Covey. S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Part ONE- Paradigms and Principles, The Maturity Continuum, 35-36.

Covey. S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Part THREE- Public Victory, HABIT 6 Synergize: Principles of Creative Corporation: 171-172.

Branden. N. (2004). Six Pillars of Self Esteem: PART II- Internal Sources of Self-Esteem, 5. The Focus on Action, 59-61.

Branden. N. (2004). Six Pillars of Self Esteem: PART II- Internal Sources of Self-Esteem, 9. The Practise of Self-Assertiveness, 117-119.

Branden. N. (2004). Six Pillars of Self Esteem: PART II- Internal Sources of Self-Esteem, 10. The Practise of Living Purposefully, 129-138.
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