Codependency vs. Interdependency: A Big Difference
By Carista Luminare, Ph.D.
Romantic relationships are complex, especially regarding how each person is uniquely wired to bond with the other. Partners can deeply love one another while having a perpetual challenge of how they want to connect and depend on each other. In a successful intimate relationship, there is a delicate balance between independence and dependence.
The benefit of partnership is that there is a certain level of dependency for specific desires and needs to be fulfilled by someone else. Each individual benefits if they consciously clarify and share their expectations, rather than assume the other knows.
Too much dependency where one self-abandons what is healthy for them to care for the other is often referred to as “codependency.” On the other hand, interdependency is a healthy way of being dependent on one another while maintaining one’s independence.
There are specific distinctions between codependent and interdependent behaviors between any two people, and how their unexpressed hopes for how they connect can impact their relationship.
Codependent Behavior Traits:
Codependency is a term that describes a dysfunctional relationship where one partner enables the other’s unhealthy conduct, often to the detriment of their own well-being. These characteristics can range from mild to moderate to severe in self harm.
In a romantic relationship, imagine a couple where one partner struggles with an addiction (alcohol, drugs, debt, sex, etc.). The codependent partner may spend a significant amount of time and energy trying to manage that person’s addictive behaviors, such as making excuses for their actions, or trying to control their activities. The codependent partner may also prioritize their companion’s needs over their own because they are in denial or embarrassed to admit there is a real problem.
(Note: This same dynamic could be between any two people not in a romantic relationship, such as relatives, friends, etc.)
Common signs of codependency include:
- Feeling responsible for the other person’s emotions
- Needing the other person’s approval too much
- Neglecting one’s own interests to care for another
- Abandoning one’s True Self expression
- Isolating from others out of feeling powerless
Interdependent Behavior Traits:
In contrast, interdependency is a healthy and mutually beneficial form of dependence where partners rely on each other while still maintaining their independence.
Interdependency acknowledges that while each partner has their own strengths and weaknesses, they can work together to support each other’s growth and well-being. In an interdependent relationship, both partners prioritize their own self-care and interests while also making space for their partner’s requests.
For example, imagine a couple where one partner is an extrovert who enjoys socializing, while the other is an introvert who prefers quiet evenings at home. In an interdependent relationship, the extroverted partner may encourage their partner to attend social events, as well as respect their need for alone time. In exchange, the introverted partner may support their partner’s socializing while mindfully setting boundaries when they need personal space.
Common signs of interdependency include both partners:
- Balancing their individual and mutual needs
- Compromising for each other
- Communicating openly and honestly
- Committing to the relationship as a priority
- Maintaining their independence and sense of self
Interdependency is a healthy way of being in a romantic relationship because it allows both people to be themselves while also being part of a couple. Both partners can develop as individuals, while also supporting each other.
Codependency vs. Interdependency Differences:
A key distinction between codependency and interdependency is the level of emotional health and maturity required in each type of relationship.
Codependency often arises from unresolved emotional wounds or a lack of self-esteem, where the codependent partner seeks validation and a sense of purpose through their partner’s problems.
In contrast, interdependency requires emotional maturity and self-awareness. Both partners recognize their own strengths and limitations and intentionally work together to build a strong and healthy relationship.
Another difference between codependency and interdependency is the impact on their individual well-being. Codependency often leads to the enabler neglecting their own needs, leading to feelings of resentment, burnout, and sometimes anxiety or depression. The codependent partner may also become increasingly isolated, as their partner’s problems consume too much of their time and energy.
Codependency can be harmful to both people in the relationship. The codependent person may become resentful towards the other person if they feel as though their needs are constantly being ignored. Additionally, the other person may become overly reliant on the codependent person and may struggle to develop independence.
In contrast, interdependency fosters autonomy within the commitment. Both partners encourage each other to pursue their passions and prioritize self-care, while still feeling supported and connected to their partner.
Finally, codependency and interdependency can have different effects on the overall health and longevity of a romantic relationship. Codependency often leads to a dynamic where one partner feels responsible for the other’s problems, leading to feelings of insecurity and frustration over time. Codependent relationships can also become increasingly toxic, as both partners become more enmeshed and lose their healthy self-sufficiency.
In contrast, interdependent relationships are built on a foundation of mutual trust, respect, and support, which fosters a sense of love, stability, and longevity in the relationship.
In conclusion, codependency and interdependency represent two very different ways of relating to a romantic partner (or anyone). While codependency can be harmful and ultimately lead to a detrimental relationship, interdependency encourages mutual freedom and mutual security.
It’s important to recognize the signs of codependency in oneself or a partner and work towards establishing healthier patterns of relating, including how you communicate about your different needs for connection.
If you suspect that you or a loved one may be in a codependent relationship, seeking the guidance of a therapist or counselor can be a crucial step in breaking free from this pattern as you work towards building healthier boundaries and establishing a more balanced relationship.
Ultimately, a fulfilling romantic relationship requires both partners to prioritize their own well-being while also being there for each other. By clarifying together the unique balance of dependent and interdependent expectations, partners can create a strong foundation for a trustworthy and loving relationship.
Carista Luminare, Ph.D., is an Attachment Specialist , counseling individuals and couples for 45 years. Learn how Carista and her partner rewired each other and many clients from insecure attachment to secure love – featured in her 4-week online course called “Confused about Love? Get Clear. Be Wise. Feel Secure” at: www.ConfusedAboutLove.com/register