our everyday life

What Does Interdependence Look Like in a Relationship?

by Lauren Mills, studioD

There are many different ways that people relate to one another in relationships. Some people in intimate relationships maintain a lot of independence, while others may become co-dependent, meaning one person puts the other person's needs consistently ahead of his own. Having interdependence in a relationship is often recognized as the healthiest form of an intimate relationship. Dictionary.com defines interdependence as “the quality or condition of being interdependent or mutually reliant on each other.” As the definition implies, people in interdependent relationships tend to have equality and balance in how each individual's needs are met.

Striking a Balance

Striking interdependence in a relationship is not always easy. According to Barton Goldsmith, psychotherapist and writer for Psychology Today, being interdependent is a healthy way of relating because each person is involved in the other person's life without sacrificing values. If you feel that you are always putting your partner's needs ahead of your own or vice versa, the relationship may be out of balance or not truly interdependent. The first step toward overcoming this is communication. Couples can discuss how each person is feeling and figure out how to adjust in order for decisions to be made together that take the needs of both into account.

Compromise Versus Dependence

Relationships often involve compromise, and there is a distinction between comprising and dependency. An article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2009 reported that there are costs to one’s autonomous goal pursuits in interdependent romantic relationships. There may be times when one person in a relationship makes a sacrifice. For example, if one partner gets a job that is a great opportunity but involves moving to another city, the other person may also move. In an interdependent relationship, the partner with a new job will likely reciprocate, making a sacrifice for the other person. Compromising can help a couple achieve a balance between the needs of both parties, as long as one person doesn’t consistently neglect his needs. It is also helpful to focus on the gains provided by the relationship instead of focusing solely on the cost.

Maintaining an Individual Identity

One way of ensuring that your relationship is on the road to interdependence is to maintain your own identity as an individual as well as a couple. According to Joleen Watson, a couples counselor, people in interdependent relationships recognize the importance of keeping their identity outside of marriage and feel confident expressing their opinions while still being sensitive to the other person. You maintain your identity through work, friendships or involvement in activities that you engage in independently. In order to avoid becoming disconnected from your partner, balance your independence with time spent together on activities you both enjoy.

Investing in Relationships

Interdependent relationships require effort, nurturing and healthy boundaries. Gaining awareness of your own needs and goals is an important step toward reciprocity in relationships. Making a conscious decision to compromise or make a sacrifice for another person can be a positive thing as long as it doesn’t undermine an individual’s sense of self and well-being. According to Jo-Ann Svensson, writer and therapist, co-dependence leads to seeking validation and acceptance from others; interdependence means finding acceptance within oneself and then welcoming additional support from external sources. Achieving interdependence as a couple will take effort and compassion, but will lead to healthy and satisfying long-term relationships in the future.

About the Author

Lauren Mills, L.C.S.W. is a licensed psychotherapist and mental health writer with a private practice based in New York City. She has extensive experience providing psychotherapy to children, adolescents, adults and families. She holds a Masters of Science in clinical social work from Columbia University.

Photo Credits

  • Rayes/Digital Vision/Getty Images