In romantic partnerships, one of the most important things is emotional connection. It is important to feel seen, heard, and understood in relationships. Emotional connection ensures that our partner knows us on a deep level, and can comfort us appropriately when we are feeling low, and celebrate with us when we are experiencing highs.
The success of long-term relationships depends on the quality of the emotional connection, and establishing a healthy one involves understanding the difference between interdependence and codependency.
In an interdependent relationship, each partner highly values and supports the emotional bond they share while maintaining independence and a sense of self within the relationship. Interdependent partners encourage growth in each other, hold respect for different viewpoints, and don’t require compromise on important values.
There is a fine line to balance on here – too much independence in a relationship can disrupt the emotional connection and turn romantic partners into roommates.
Codependency in a relationship refers to an emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual over-reliance on another person. Often, codependent relationships are imbalanced, where one person is a “giver” and the other is a “taker”. It is a circular relationship, where the giver needs to be needed, and the taker feels helpless without the other. Often, there is little individual identity apart from the relationship in either partner.
Often, codependent relationships can be characterized by stagnancy. Over-dependence on another person prohibits personal growth and development, causing a sense of being “stuck”.
The first and most important step to building an interdependent relationship from the beginning is establishing your sense of self. Being confident about who you are, what your values are, and even what you enjoy doing in your free time is important to carry into a relationship. Entering a relationship in order to curb loneliness without establishing a strong sense of self sets the tone for codependency.
After entering into a relationship, be clear with what you want and need to maintain your sense of individuality, set aside time to invest in your goals and time with friends and family outside of the relationship. Allow your partner to do these same things, encouraging their unique needs and goals as well. Giving each other space to grow as well as a safe space to come together for encouragement, comfort, or celebration as you navigate life together is the perfect set up for interdependence.
If you believe you are in a codependent relationship, there are ways you can take back your independence and work toward a more healthy connection. The first step is to work on your self-awareness and begin to slowly reduce codependent tendencies. This can be a challenging process, and can be made easier with the help of a therapist who specializes in relationship or identity issues.
It is important for you and your partner to get to know yourselves as individuals, and then bring those complex qualities together, making room for each other in your shared experiences. If your partner actively prevents you from doing any of the above steps to move away from codependency, consider the possibility that the relationship might need to end.
Again, this is difficult work. If you need extra support and guidance as you assess and navigate your relationship into a place of healthy connection, we are here to help.