Every successful, romantic relationship is built from a strong foundation of trust, communication, and respect. Most importantly, each partner recognizes that they are their own person within the relationship — they are not overly reliant on each other. They share a strong emotional connection while still respecting each other’s boundaries.
This is known as an interdependent relationship — and it’s important not to confuse it with a codependent relationship! Here, we’ll take a look at the difference between the two and how to build a healthy, interdependent relationship with your partner.
What is an Interdependent Relationship?
In short, interdependence allows partners to create emotional intimacy while still respecting and appreciating each other as individuals. You’re not trying to change each other! You appreciate your partner for who they are, and they never feel the need to compromise their beliefs or values to make the relationship work.
In a healthy, interdependent relationship, you and your partner are able to turn to each other for anything. You appreciate your life together, but also realize the importance of having relationships outside of your own (with family, friends, hobbies, etc.). You do not rely on each other for feelings of self-worth.
Here are some of the biggest characteristics of interdependent relationships:
- You practice active listening during conversations
- Both you and your partner take time for personal interests
- You feel safe being vulnerable around each other
- You both have a healthy level of self-esteem
- You take responsibility for your own behaviors
- You communicate well with each other
- Your relationship has healthy boundaries
- You are able to turn to each other for anything (bad and good)
At the end of the day, an interdependent relationship allows you to grow and be confident in who you are as a person while knowing your partner appreciates and respects it.
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The Difference Between Interdependence and Codependence
The opposite of interdependence is codependence, which is incredibly unhealthy for romantic relationships. In codependent relationships, partners are unable to grow as individuals, and there’s no sense of autonomy. They rely too heavily on each other for their own feelings of self-worth. Those who are codependent on each other usually lack self-esteem and instead look to their partner to make them feel needed and worthy. They don’t usually spend time apart outside of the relationship, and friends, family, and personal interests are typically pushed to the side.
The main characteristics of a codependent relationship include:
- Lack of healthy boundaries
- Strong people-pleasing behaviors
- Poor communication
- Lack of emotional intimacy
- Blaming each other instead of taking responsibility for actions
- Low self-esteem in one or both partners
- No interests outside of the relationship
- Manipulative behaviors
In a codependent relationship, one person is often the emotional and psychological support (or “caretaker”) while their partner has their every need attended to. Both partners typically enable each other — one likes feeling needed and the other likes being taken care of. Since both partners need a secure sense of self to thrive in the relationship, codependency is considered extremely unhealthy.
How to Build an Interdependent Relationship With Your Partner
So, what are some of the most effective ways to build interdependence in your relationship? Here are seven tips:
1. Practice Self-Awareness
Sometimes, people get into romantic relationships simply to avoid feeling alone or worthless. Ultimately, you should not need someone else to provide the validation you’re looking for — you should find it in yourself!
To maintain a healthy sense of self in your romantic relationships, you need to do some major self-reflection. What matters most to you? What are some of your core values and beliefs? Which hobbies or interests will you continue to pursue, even when you’re in an intimate relationship?
Before committing to someone else, you need to commit to (and be happy with) who you are as an individual. If you’re not, you may end up depending on your partner in an unhealthy way, which leads to codependence.
2. Nurture Friend and Family Relationships
It’s perfectly natural to want to spend the majority of your time with a romantic partner, it’s so important to maintain relationships with friends and family. Remember, they were there long before your partner, and they’ll be there if you don’t work out!
If you cut out friends and family while dating someone (whether intentionally or not), you’ll quickly fall into a codependent relationship. You can’t rely on your partner alone to fulfill all of your needs, and you need the support system that comes from friends and family. Not to mention, they provide an outside perspective on your relationship and can provide honest, objective advice when you need it.
3. Set Personal Goals
In every healthy, interdependent relationship, both partners continue to prioritize interests and hobbies outside of the relationship. You and your partner support each other’s goals, rather than hold each other back.
One of the biggest aspects of interdependence is not allowing yourself to lose who you are — and that includes keeping your career on track, trying new hobbies, or pursuing personal interests. You can’t truly maintain a sense of self if you aren’t spending some of your time doing things that are
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No”
When you have a healthy level of self-awareness, you understand the importance of saying “no” — and meaning it. Saying no helps you create relationship boundaries, which are an essential part of any healthy relationship.
Boundaries may sound a little negative, but they are actually a good thing! They help you better understand each other and your individual needs. This actually helps boost your bond and bring the two of you closer. Without boundaries, you start treading into people-pleasing territory, which can lead to an unhealthy, codependent relationship.
5. Be Vulnerable About Your Fears
A relationship based on interdependence allows each of you to open up and show your vulnerable side without worrying about being judged or criticized. The reason? You’re comfortable and happy with who you are, and your partner is too.
In an interdependent relationship, you can turn to one another for intimacy, support, and affection without the fear of losing yourself or being controlled.
Vulnerability isn’t always easy to practice, but Relish can provide steps to help you get there. Download our relationship coaching app and see how we can help you and your partner be more open and honest with each other! Your first week is free.
6. Speak Up For Yourself
Much like saying “no” in your relationship, it’s also important to speak up for your beliefs, values, and opinions. There are so many things your partner loves about you, and we’re willing to bet that having a mind of your own is one of them!
When you stop standing up for yourself in a romantic relationship, you stop being true to who you are. As much as you and your partner might have in common, it’s normal (and healthy) to have your differences. The key is to embrace and appreciate them!
7. Check In With Each Other Often
Scheduling regular check-ins with your partner creates time for you to discuss any worries, concerns, or boundaries. (This is where some vulnerability comes into play!) Interdependence means you can lean on each other for support and be honest when the relationship is in need of a little improvement.
In an interdependent relationship, you’re able to make individual life decisions without fear of the relationship ending. You have a strong sense of self that is not dependent on your partner’s affection. Each of you understands how critical it is to stay true to yourselves, and more than anything, you love each other for it!
By Caitlin Killoren on Dec 20, 2021
With a degree in Psychology and over a decade of experience, Caitlin has made improving people’s relationships both her career and her passion. Her work has been featured in publications like Bustle, Well + Good, and Goalcast, and she currently resides in Austin, Texas with her husband and giant fluffy dog, Remy.