Knowing the Difference Between Codependency and Interdependency

Do you feel like you’re always putting your needs on the back burner in order to prioritize your partner? Have you felt yourself disappearing inside of your relationship, as though your sense of self is shrinking? Are you slowly realizing that you’ve never maintained any real boundaries in your relationship?

All of these issues are common signs of a codependent relationship. While healthy partners build their connection upon a mutual foundation of love and trust, codependent partners often do not know who they are without each other. Healthy, happy relationships are characterized by interdependency. Both partners love each other but know they could also live fulfilling lives independently.

But how can you tell which category your relationship falls into? Here are a few ways that codependent and interdependent relationships differ.

External Focus

A codependent person will draw most of their opinions, values, and habits directly from their partner. They may change their attitude, hobbies, and general personality drastically depending on who they’re dating. They do not have a strong, consistent understanding of their inner self. While interdependent partners may influence each others’ views and lifestyles, they do not shape themselves around the other’s personality. Instead, they bond over mutual values and interests while respecting the other’s right to be themselves.

Self-Sacrifice and Martyrdom

Codependency is heavily related to self-sacrifice. A codependent partner will usually shove their own needs and wants aside and focus on their partner instead. They might feel like their needs simply don’t matter or that they have to put other people’s needs above their own in order to be loved. In an interdependent relationship, both partners will give each other extra support and care when necessary, but they don’t hesitate to address their own needs, as well.

Repressing Emotions

In a codependent relationship, partners will avoid dealing with their own feelings. They may not have been able to freely express their feelings around their family growing up, or they might have dated someone who discouraged their authentic emotional expression. Sometimes, they may not even really be aware of how they feel because they’ve been taught that it is unimportant. This is often learned behavior. Interdependent partners will readily open up to each other about how they’re honestly feeling.

Conflicts and Reactivity

Partners in a codependent relationship are prone to fighting. They consistently engage in unhealthy behaviors that drive them to bicker and argue. While all couples will inevitably fight sometimes, codependent couples can end up fighting on a near-daily basis. Alternatively, they may go for a while without fighting or disagreeing on anything, but meanwhile, both partners are getting upset with each other—they just don’t feel safe expressing it. Eventually, these feelings explode into a major conflict. On the other hand, interdependent partners can disagree with each other calmly and turn conflicts into opportunities to strengthen their relationship and grow closer.

Need Vs. Want

Overall, codependent partners desperately feel like they need each other. They do not know who they would be without the other person around. Codependent people are often serial monogamists—they struggle to live their lives without a partner to whom they can turn. Alternatively, interdependent couples know that if they ever did separate, they could live happy lives without each other. This doesn’t mean that they don’t care about each other or that they wouldn’t miss the relationship. But they have a sense of self-worth that would survive a breakup.

Do you suspect that you and your partner are in a codependent relationship? Working with a therapist can help. Reach out to us today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session for couples therapy.