Our culture praises independence. We are taught to be strong, never reveal weakness, and above all never rely on others. In theory this approach works great. Never open up to anyone, never rely on anyone, and never get hurt. But this belief has led to one of the most isolated and disconnected cultures to ever walk the planet.
We feel weak when we express emotion and feel ridiculous for wanting and needing others in our lives. The reality is we are a species that is wired for connection and belonging. Training ourselves to be extremely independent is a huge disservice because when we are in a situation where dependence and reliance is required—such as a romantic relationship—we have no idea how to navigate these foreign waters. We often swing from one extreme to another, operating as either extremely independent or codependent, resulting in unhealthy relationships.
On the flip side of the coin we have dependence. Many people cringe at the thought of being dependent in a relationship and there is often a very negative connotation that goes along with it. Dependence in itself is not the devil. In fact dependence is a core component of building a secure and lasting relationship. It is defined as relying on another person for support. It is born out of trust. Codependence on the other hand can become problematic in relationships.
Codependence is defined as excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner. Many of us have encountered this feeling at some point in life. It is the feeling of losing yourself in another person. Not knowing where you end and they begin. This can be problematic for several reasons, but chiefly because you need to be a whole person rather than looking for another to complete you. You need to understand your value and worth as a person rather than depending on your partner for it.
Try to picture dependence on a scale. On one end you have extreme independence and on the polar opposite end you have codependence. Neither extreme is helpful for your relationship. The best solution is to find a middle ground. Those who are anxiously attached (or have endured abuse or struggled with substance abuse) tend to lean more towards the codependent side, whereas those who are avoidant tend to be more on the independent side. It is a scale and not all anxious and avoidant individuals would fall into the extremes, but those who rate high on anxious or avoidant behaviours tend to follow this pattern. Ideally, we want to move away from the outer edges of the scale, towards the middle—towards interdependence.
The ideal is to create a hybrid—an interdependent relationship.
An interdependent relationship is where both partners are mutually reliant on each other. It is a safe bond where partners can rely on each other but also maintain their autonomous identity. Trust me this is not as easy as it sounds. Many people lose themselves in others, or push intimacy away in an attempt to protect themselves. Finding a balance of depending on but also being autonomous can be tricky.
Here are a few tips to help fuse the two extremes and move towards interdependence:
Find a Secure Model
Securely attached individuals are excellent when it comes to the balancing act of interdependence. Due to their positive view of self and others, they tend to see people as dependable and reliable. They trust that people will support them and they are eager to support others. They have a secure sense of who they are and don’t rely on others for their self worth. This means they enter into their relationships not only concerned with their own needs but also the needs of their partner. We can learn from and emulate the traits of a secure individual; it can be very helpful when learning to nurture a hybrid relationship. Learn more about secure individuals here.
Work on Developing Yourself
For those who are anxiously attached and/or tend to get into codependent relationships, developing yourself is a great place to begin. What are your goals or aspirations? What are you passionate about? Work to develop a life that is complete with or without someone to share it with. That special person will come, but in the meantime don’t just sit and wait. Having your own identity and path in life is extremely fulfilling and keeps you from shape shifting or losing yourself in each new relationship.
Learn to Depend on Others
For those who tend to be more avoidant or independent, the prescription is to try to tolerate the ability to depend on others. Go out on a limb and ask someone for help. Even though you could complete a task, allow your partner to do it for you. It is not weakness to rely on others or to allow them to support you. We know that you are capable of doing it yourself and that “you don’t need anyone,” but the reality is that you want someone. In order to keep a special someone, you need to be able to have a mutually reliant and supportive relationship. Go ahead, live a little! Next time you are determined to open a jar of pickles, stop and ask your spouse for help. Unless you are a man…in which case I don’t want to challenge your manhood… Perhaps you can work up the nerve to stop and ask for directions ; )
Well that settles it. Being overly needy is no worse then being overly independent. They both result in unhealthy relationship dynamics. As with most things in life, balance is key. Fusing both a dose of dependence and independence together creates the perfect hybrid- a mutually reliant and rewarding relationship.
Wishing you love and connection,