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Darlene Lancer, JD, MFTDarlene Lancer, JD, MFT
A blog about Women’s Issues, Self-esteem and Relationships

Codependency or Interdependency - What's the Difference?

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT Updated: Dec 3rd 2012

I was surprised to learn that this grove of Aspen trees is actually one organism, sharing one root system. Each of us also is a community of 70 trillion cells that work together. Biologist Bruce Lipton believes that together we're "one collaborative superorganism." I love that Facebook allows us to connect one-to-one all over the planet.

grove of aspen treesSociety is highly specialized and interdependent, so that few of us would know how to survive without running water, electricity, and a supermarket. We're also dependent upon our personal relationships. Human brains aren't fully developed for 18 years, and psychological and financial independence from our parents takes even longer. Moreover, as adults we depend upon others to fill sexual, social, and emotional needs, such as friendship, communication, nurturing, appreciation, learning, love, and touch. The closer a relationship, the more we're interconnected.

The Debate

Many claim that because we're wired for dependency, "codependency" is normal and shouldn't be considered a problem to correct. They claim it's not only natural, but healthy and beneficial to be dependent upon an intimate relationship. They blame the codependency movement for breaking up marriages and people's loneliness. I agree that we all have dependency needs and that healthy relationships can meet those needs and greatly benefit us.

However, codependency's detractors don't understand - probably from lack of personal experience - that codependents don't reap those relationship benefits. Often they're in unhealthy relationships, and they relate to others in unhealthy ways with patterns of obsession, self-sacrifice, dysfunctional communication, and control, which are both self-destructive and hurtful to others. They're often abusive or allow themselves to be abused.

Codependent Couples

Codependent couples are usually out-of-balance. Frequently, there are struggles for power and control. There may be an imbalance of power or one partner has taken on responsibilities for the other. They're often anxious and resentful and feel guilty and responsible for their partner's feelings and moods. Then they try to control one another to feel okay and get their needs met. Rather than respect each other's separateness and individuality, they can't tolerate disagreement and blame one another for causing their problems without taking responsibility for themselves. Sometimes, what they dislike in their partner is the very thing they can't accept in themselves. Despite their pain, they can feel trapped in the relationship because they fear that they can function on their own. Their mutual codependency and insecurity also make intimacy threatening, since being honest and known risks rejection or dissolution of their fragile self.

Like the Aspen trees, on the surface each may appear to be physically, and even mentally and emotionally, independent, yet, at an unconscious level, they're two insecure adults dependent upon each other to express a whole. For instance, a woman who has trouble expressing anger marries an angry man who expresses it for her. Or a man who is extremely closed and shy marries a woman who's emotionally open and gregarious. They need each other to express their full humanity. In other cases, it's more obvious that one partner needs the other for emotional stability, as in the case of alcoholic relationships. Financial dependence doesn't necessarily create codependence, where the dependent partner has good self-esteem and emotional support outside the marriage. Even spouses who appear more capable and stronger may be equally dependent on the relationship. They need someone to care for in order to feel needed, worthwhile, and not alone, while their other partner feels valued by receiving.

Interdependent Couples

What makes interconnections healthy is interdependency - not codependency. Paradoxically, interdependency requires two people capable of autonomy - the ability to function independently. When couples love each other, it's normal to feel attached, desire closeness, be concerned for one another, and to depend upon each other. Their lives are intertwined, and they're affected by and need each other. However, they share power equally and take responsibility for their own feelings and actions and contribution to the relationship. Because they have self-esteem, they can manage their thoughts and feelings on their own and don't have to control someone else to feel okay. They can allow for each others' differences and honor one another's separateness. Thus, they're not afraid to be honest and can listen to their partner's feelings and needs without feeling guilty or becoming defensive. Since their self-esteem doesn't depend upon their partner, they don't fear intimacy, and independence doesn't threaten the relationship. In fact, the relationship gives them each more freedom. There's mutual respect and support for one another's personal goals, but both are committed to the relationship.

 

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s counseled individuals and couples for 27 years and coaches internationally and is the author of two books: Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies. Her ebooks include: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind - Become Assertive and Set Limits, Spiritual Transformation in the Twelve Steps and Codependency Recovery Daily Reflections. Ms. Lancer is a sought after speaker at national conferences, on radio, and to professional groups and institutions. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own, www.darlenelancer.com and www.whatiscodependency.com, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.” Find her on www.youtube.com, Twitter @darlenelancer, and Facebook.

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