So often, when individuals take the first step to working on their relationships in therapy, though the issues at hand may seem very different, the end goal is the same: Interdependence. At heart, the couples we see in therapy want a deep, close, genuine, caring connection. The problem is that their own issues and emotional pain are getting in the way of their ability to grow and to work on their relationship. At Imagine Hope Counseling Group, we teach and emphasize the importance of interdependence in the recovery process for healthy, intimate relationships. So what exactly is “interdependence”? Webster’s Dictionary defines the prefix inter as: 1. Between; 2. Reciprocally carried on or occurring between; 4. Between the limits of. Dependence is defined as: 1. One that is relied upon. At Imagine Hope Counseling Group, our defintion of interdependence is that of two whole people who are capable of giving, being vulnerable and connected. It is what everyone wants, but very few people have! Truly interdependent couples are very precious, and devote time and hard work in their personal recovery and in their marriage. Much like the roots of a tree, interdependence allows a relationship to thrive and grow stronger and healthier. Even trees, however, start out as a seed. Just as the seed needs many things in order to survive and grow, so do our relationships with others. We believe that the following characteristics describe interdependence very well:
- Interdependent couples accept the need for them to change and take ownership of their own issues. They do not blame their partner or others for their problems, nor do they assume the role of a victim. Interdependent couples are able to realize what their issues are on an individual level, and are dedicated and motivated to working through their issues, regardless of what their partner has chosen to do. They recognize when their issues are being brought into the marriage, and are dedicated to their own growth and recovery.
- Interdependent couples don’t give up their own identity. They recognize the importance of having and maintaining their own identity outside of the marriage, in addition to their identity as a couple. I view interdependent relationships as having a “me”, “you”, and “us”. I like to think of interdependence like the concept of fire. In order for fire to burn, it must have the right amount of oxygen to survive. Without oxygen, the fire will burn out. Much the same in relationships, when one person “becomes” the other person, the relationship does not get the oxygen it needs in order to survive and the fire will go out. We call this term enmeshment. On the same note, with too much oxygen, the fire will burn out of control. In relationships, when people become disconnected emotionally and there is too much distance between them, we term this “cut-off”. Interdependent couples are able to celebrate their individuality and uniqueness, without “becoming” the other person, or taking on the other person’s feelings. They feel confident to express their own opinions, without sacrificing their own sense of self for another person. At the same time, however, they are able to compromise in the relationship and are sensitive to the other person’s needs without compromising their own values and self-worth.
- Interdependent couples are able to confront and criticize their partner in a non-judgmental, healthy, and non-blaming manner, without rage and without shaming. They also step up to the plate in accepting their own role in the marital conflict, accepting constructive criticism without becoming defensive or reactive. Because they are able to accept their own flaws, their own need for change, and work on their own issues, interdependent couples are fully accepting of each other, including their flaws! It is much like each partner is holding up a mirror to the other. This mirror allows the partner to see both strengths and weaknesses, which can be seen as an opportunity for growth as opposed to a passive-aggressive way of hurting the other person.
- Interdependent couples are not enablers, and set good boundaries and limits in their relationships. They do not enable nor do they invite hurtful, dysfunctional, and unhealthy behavior to continue in their partner or relationship. Through the continual process of recognizing and working on their own issues, as well as having a voice in their relationships, they share mutual respect with each other. When they do not feel respected, they are able to voice their feelings in a genuine manner. By setting good boundaries and limits with others, interdependent individuals hold others accountable for their actions. They do not assume responsibility for, rescue, or make excuses for the other person’s unhealthy behavior. As they continue to work on their own growth and recovery, they are confident in letting go of unhealthy and destructive behaviors in their life.
- Interdependent couples fight! They fight in a healthy way and do not fear or avoid healthy conflict and uncomfortable feelings in their marriage. Because they are able to express their genuine feelings when they occur, they are able to show anger in a healthy way, without rage. When they do show their feelings in an unhealthy manner, they are able to recognize their relapse, realize what deeper issues have been touched, and forgive themselves without spiraling in shame. They are also able to forgive their partners for their mistakes. Interdependent couples recognize that to deny feelings is to deny who we truly are. They accept that the full range of emotion is to be real. They know that without expressing genuine emotion, the feelings will run their lives and take over in the form of addictions or other counterproductive and unhealthy behaviors.
- Interdependent couples have healthy communication, with deep connection and intimate sharing. Because they are consistently working on healing their emotional wounds and confronting their emotional pain, they feel free to communicate and show others their real self. Commitment to working on their relationship is a priority. They commit to therapy and individual growth in their recovery. They trust the process of healing, trusting their ability to feel their pain, work through their issues, and follow through with their individual and marriage counseling appointments.
I view the process of interdependence as the letter “A”. Each vertical line (/\) represents the relationship, one line for each person. The horizontal line in the middle represents the channel of ongoing work and commitment to the relationship or marriage. Without this channel there is no lifeline to the relationship, and without a lifeline, the relationship will slowly die unless both individuals are committed to working on their own issues that impact the relationship. A healthy, interdependent marriage is hard to build and takes a lot of work and ongoing effort to maintain. Remember, there are no quick fixes! No one outside of your self is able to heal you or heal your emotional pain, nor will any pill be developed to give us an instant cure or instant interdependence. You can, however, plant the seed of interdependence and begin building the roots of a healthier marriage. The caring and highly trained staff at Imagine Hope Counseling Group are excited to start helping you rebuild your relationship into one of interdependence, genuine sharing, and connection. We look forward to your call!