What is interdependency?
In psychology, interdependency is a way of relating that involves both parties being able to depend on each other in an egalitarian, non-demanding way.
Understanding the different forms of dependency
To understand interdependency, it can first help to examine the other ‘dependencies’ you might be more familiar with.
Dependency is when you entirely rely on another for all of your needs to be met. It’s the relationship a child has with a caregiver, for example, or a sick person has on a nurse.
Codependency is when you depend on another for your sense of self-worth, often unconsciously manipulating them to get the attention you want. The term was first coined to describe the partners of alcoholics who were recognised as a sort of addict themselves, unable to walk away from the high of caregiving despite no real return. It has grown in meaning to refer to any relationship where one partner attaches their happiness to another’s response to them (for more information, see our article on codependency).
Counterdependency is when you decide you don’t need anyone at all. In fact you see needing others as a weakness. While this might seem like a step forward from being dependent or codependent, it really isn’t. It’s unrealistic as we do need other people in life, and it’s very psychologically damaging as it means you push away human intimacy and all the support and self development it brings.
(Read our article on counterdependency to learn why codependents so often date counterdependents, and how you can actually switch from one to the other).
Interdependency is the greater aim for everyone recovering from any of the above. It’s about being able to be depend on others because you want to, not because you have to.
With interdependency you are first able to be autonomous. You can rely on yourself to fulfil your own needs and supply your self-worth, identity, and self-care. From this sturdy platform, you can then engage in a give and take of depending on and needing others knowing that if it doesn’t work out you will be just fine. And because you are operating from self-worth you naturally choose to relate to others who give as much as they take, so that the power balance is equal and not draining.
What do interdependent relationships look like?
When we first fall in love it’s normal to feel very attached, and to want to depend on the other person. Again, interdependency does not exclude need.
But in an interdependent relationship, there is an equal sharing of resources. In other words, you give and take to each other equally in both time, attention, energy, and commitment.
There is also an equal sharing of responsibility. This means you are able to be responsible for your own feelings and actions. You not project your feelings onto your partner or constantly blame them, but see your part in each decision and confrontation.
You also both recognise and bring your talents and strengths to the relationship. This comes from having enough self-esteem you know you have worth and don’t need to beg another to tell you what you are good at.
You leave any need to control at the door. Control is not part of the interdependent equation. In an interdependent relationship you manage yourself, not the other person.
How to make your relationship more interdependent
If you’d like to work towards being more interdependent with others, here are some useful strategies.
1. Work on your self-esteem.
It’s not always an easy thing to establish in life, but self-esteem means we don’t use relationships for a sense of self. A good starting point can be self-compassion, the act of being more accepting towards yourself.
2. Learn how to be alone.
The best way to learn your own strengths is to spend more time with yourself. The more you enjoy your company, the more others will.
3. Work on your listening skills.
Part of interdependency involves being able to allow the other person to think and feel what they want to. The more you know how to listen to someone, the less likely you are to assume you know what those feelings are or become defensive due to misinterpretation.
4. Learn how to communicate your needs.
If you can’t ask for what you really need and set clear boundaries, then your relationships are more than likely to be codependent. If this is hard for you, work with a counsellor or psychotherapist who can help you discover the root of your inability to know and ask for what you need.
5. Set long-term goals.
It’s all too easy to use a relationship to make life interesting, but this quickly topples into codependency. Learning how to set achievable goals and then diligently working towards them means your relationship can breathe, and it has room to be a joy over a need.
6. Learn about attachment theory.
This is the school of thought that believes the way we bonded with our main caregiver as an infant determines how we relate to others as an adult. Often, if you are codependent or counterdependent, it’s because you did not have a bond you could trust as a child. Understanding this dynamic helps some people grieve and move forward.
7. Seek the help of a relationship counsellor.
If your relationship feels so rocky you can’t imagine any of the above helping, it does not necessarily mean that your relationship is ‘bad’ or ‘a failure’. In many cases it just means you don’t know how to communicate. A trained relationship therapist can help you both learn to explain how you feel and ask for what you need moving forward.
Do you have a tip for making a relationship more interdependent? Share below, we love hearing from you.