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From Co-dependency to Inter-dependency

The term 'co-dependency' often pops up in discussions about healthy relationships, and frankly, it used to confuse me. What's the line between a relationship where you count on each other and one where you're clinging a bit too tightly? It's like trying to differentiate between a comforting hug and a constricting bear hug.

Part of the confusion, I think, stems from the mixed signals our culture throws at us. But then, I stumbled upon a term that perfectly encapsulates the healthier variant: inter-dependency. It’s like co-dependency’s more mature, self-aware cousin. It acknowledges our inherent need for connection as group-oriented beings, while also celebrating our individuality. Yes, we need each other, and Yes, I want to be my own person.

Man embracing his partner tightly

For me, a simple litmus test for gauging the health of my relationships involves observing two key movements:

  • The ease of moving closer to each other.

  • The comfort in transitioning from closeness to embracing our individual spaces.

Ideally, these movements should be as smooth as a well-choreographed dance, free from drama or discord.

This dance of connection and autonomy isn’t just for adults. It’s a fundamental rhythm for children, too. They need to flow effortlessly into and out of connection to feel safe enough to explore and assert their individuality. It’s like learning to ride a bike – you need someone to hold onto the bike at first, and then you need them to let go. If you fall, you want someone to be there for you. Afterwards, you probably feel ready to venture out again on your own.

In my personal life, I’ve seen these dynamics play out in my attachment to various communities. The same principles apply, just on a larger stage.

Another hefty term that speaks volumes is 'abandonment wound.' It’s a type of developmental trauma many of us endure simply because, as kids, we are completely reliant on our caregivers. And let’s face it, caregivers are human and come with their own set of flaws.

I have an abandonment wound too; welcome to the club! This deep-rooted sense of loss and craving for connection is actually at the heart of my passion for fostering loving relationships. You could say my entire business and life purpose are built on this personal narrative! It’s been incredibly enlightening to learn about these inner workings of mine.

These deep-seated fears of being alone can nudge us towards co-dependency, a tango of attachment often marked by anxiety, avoidance, or a mix of both (check out: attachment theory).

Man and woman laying and looking each other in the eyes

Let's consider some everyday examples of co-dependency:

  • Consulting 'your person' for every minor decision, as opposed to confidently deciding on your own when appropriate.

  • Spending every waking moment together, either because you want to or because 'they need you', versus striking a healthy balance between togetherness and personal time.

  • Feeling compelled to solve your sibling's problems, instead of offering support within your boundaries.

  • Turning down your dream job because you assume your relationship can’t handle the change, rather than discussing potential solutions.

We’re all wired differently. Some find comfort in solitude, while others thrive in close emotional bonds. I lean towards the latter. Despite valuing my independence, prolonged periods without emotional and physical connection leave me feeling unsettled. It has an extra charge compared to what you would normally expect from any human. Recognizing this has been a game-changer for me, and it's a continuous journey of learning and growth.

So, where do you fall on this spectrum? How do these dynamics play out in your relationships?

I had an eye-opening conversation on this very topic with Louise Mazanti, PhD., in my latest podcast episode: "Grow Up: A Psychotherapist's Insights on Mature Intimacy". Dive in, and let's continue this exploration together!

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