I smiled warmly at Janice’s enthusiasm. She’d done a lot of work on herself in the past year. She knew she didn’t want any more codependent relationships. She was done with trying to save her romantic partners.
“That’s a good goal for you,” I told her, “but it’s just a stepping stone. Your ultimate goal is interdependence.”
Janice looked confused. “I thought dependence was bad.”
“Interdependence is something different,” I explained. “It’s when you rely on one another, but you don’t need each other.”
At times like these, I wish the language of psychology was a bit clearer. Everyone knows the difference between independence and dependence, but not as many people are familiar with terms like codependence and interdependence.
If your aim is a healthy, long-lasting relationship, then understanding the subtle differences in those concepts can help you a lot.
As Janice discovered, you don’t need a man to complete you, but it’s great to find a man to complement you. I’ll show you how in a minute.
First, let’s look at what happens when you need a man to complete you.
The technical term is codependence. A codependent relationship is one where you need your partner to need you in order to feel whole. You can’t be yourself without him. If your relationship ended, you’d feel lost.
In codependent relationships, you use one another to get your needs met. Perhaps you need someone to take care of, and he likes being taken care of. Perhaps he’s an introvert, and he needs an extroverted partner to bring him out of his bubble.
Being needed feels good. That’s why Janice kept choosing romantic partners who needed her. One was hopeless with money and relied on her to keep the rent paid. Another drank too much and wouldn’t have held down a job if it weren’t for her constant support.
She felt safe in those relationships, because she knew he wouldn’t leave her if he couldn’t function without her. It was scary to contemplate dating someone who didn’t need her. He might not have any reason to stay.
But Janice was determined to change. She was going to become the least needy woman on the planet. She was sure that success lay in not needing men at all.
“After all,” she told me, “don’t men love independent women? I thought that was one of the things they looked for.”
“Independence is something to cultivate while you’re single, certainly,” I agreed. “But you have to be ready to step forward into interdependence once you start a relationship. Otherwise, you’ll end up feeling ‘alone together.’”
“How do I do that?”
This is what I recommended.