What Does It Mean To Have Interdependence In A Relationship?

As anyone who's been in a relationship can attest, there's no one way to have a relationship. Every relationship is comprised of at least two people, and each party brings their complete selves to the table. Then, it's up to those people to create a healthy relationship in which each person can grow and flourish in that growth. It's from maintaining individuality and being supported by a partner that interdependence is born. In contrast, an interdependent relationship is the exact opposite of a codependent one.

According to a 2016 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, interdependent couples report higher individual well-being than those who are more codependent in how they conduct their relationship. The same study also found that couples in interdependent relationships felt stronger and more secure in living their own life because they knew their partner always had their back.

Although not everyone may be able to break their codependent ways, it is something to work toward. Far too often, people get into relationships and lose themselves. They're no longer an individual but an extension of the relationship and their partner. It's important to realize that too much togetherness can be a bad thing, so that's why reclaiming your independence in a relationship — if you've lost it — is something to consider.

You have strong, healthy boundaries

We know that boundaries are essential, and what separates codependent relationships from interdependent relationships is just how strong those boundaries are. Where there's codependency, there tends to be wiggle room and two people who may not take each other's boundaries as seriously as they should. When this happens, each partner ends up sacrificing something of themselves. While relationships do require some compromise, this shouldn't be at the expense of what one holds dear to them — which is exactly what a boundary is meant to protect.

"Boundaries are the framework we set for ourselves on how we want to be treated by others and how we treat other people," social worker Karen Salerno, MSSA, LISW-S told Cleveland Clinic. "It promotes physical and emotional wellbeing, and it respects your needs and the other person's needs in a relationship ... Healthy boundaries in a relationship are respectful of your space and autonomy and the space and autonomy of your partner."

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of autonomy is "the right to self-government." If you have that taken away from you or you take it away from your partner, you cease to be two people in a relationship. Instead, your identity is the relationship. But having strong boundaries can prevent you both from essentially overthrowing each other's government. A healthy, happy relationship is no place for a coup d'état.

You maintain your individuality

Long before you met your partner you were an individual who had goals, fears, opinions, ideas, and a whole boatload of idiosyncrasies that made you, you. To lose those just because you're in a relationship, and morphing into your partner, or for you both to morph into one entity isn't just codependency, but a darn shame. It's on par with throwing away a painting you've been working on your entire life. An interdependent relationship means never losing all the things that make you who you are. It means growing beside someone, not enmeshed in them.

"We often see more interdependent relationships going well from the start when each individual comes into the romantic relationship feeling fully functional on their own," licensed marriage and family therapist Moraya Seeger DeGeare told Paired. "Interdependent couples enter the relationship without a mindset of waiting for certain milestones in life until they had someone to do it with, they just went after them solo anyway with an attitude of having someone to do life with only enhances it."

Once you start acting like and seeing yourself as two halves of one whole, you lose your independence. You came into the world whole, you were whole when you met your partner, and you'll be whole when you die. The concept of finding your other half or "the one" is rife with patriarchal values and the dissolution of the self. You can be 100% yourself alongside your partner.

You practice effective communication

Although communication is the foundation of relationships, it doesn't mean everyone excels at it — but interdependent couples do because they know how important it is. Constant, healthy communication is what keeps boundaries in place, respect on the table, and feelings of unconditional support flowing. It's being fully engaged in each conversation, actively listening, and thoroughly understanding. If there's confusion or a disagreement, healthy communication makes space for those to be resolved in a productive way.

"Open communication is the spine that holds up a relationship whether it is thriving or under strain," licensed marriage and family therapist Sarah Epstein told Forbes. "Good communicators use their skills to communicate their appreciation, love, and respect. Good communication clarifies problems and creates closeness between partners, while poor communication intensifies issues and creates distance between partners."

If you and your partner struggle to communicate effectively, then ask yourself what might be the problem. Maybe your communication is missing something, perhaps you're both hearing and not listening. For some people, practice is necessary to achieve the level of communication skills that come with interdependent relationships.

Your personal growth is supported

Because so much of interdependent relationships is about each partner maintaining their individuality, an important aspect is the unconditional support of each other as you live your life outside the relationship. This could be considered relationship self-expansion in that, despite being a couple, you can continue to be an individual and expand as a person.

According to a 2020 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, when people are allowed to adequately expand the self in their relationship, they're less likely to cheat if given the opportunity. On the flip side of that, those in relationships where their allowance to expand and grow is stifled, are more susceptible to being interested in alternative partners. It also comes down to novelty. If you're in a relationship with someone who's constantly evolving just as you are, there's less room for things to feel stagnant. It's hard to keep even the deepest love alive in a swamp.

Interdependent relationships aren't for everyone. Some people need and even thrive in a relationship in which "me" becomes "we." But if in your heart of hearts, you're not one of those people, don't force yourself into a situation that will strip you of your autonomy. Romantic relationships are great, but they're even better when you know you have the space and support to continue your own journey.