I was surprised to learn that this grove of aspen trees is actually one organism, sharing one root system. Each of us also is a community of 70 trillion cells that work together. Biologist Bruce Lipton believes that together we’re “one collaborative superorganism.” I love that Facebook allows us to connect one-to-one all over the planet. Society is highly specialized and interdependent, so that few of us would know how to survive without running water, electricity, and a supermarket. We’re also dependent upon our personal relationships. Human brains aren’t fully developed for 18 years, and psychological and financial independence from our parents takes even longer. Moreover, as adults we depend upon others to fill sexual, social, and emotional needs, such as friendship, communication, nurturing, appreciation, learning, love, and touch. The closer a relationship, the more we’re interconnected.
Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s the author of Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies and six ebooks, including: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits, Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People, and Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness, available on her website, and Amazon. Ms. Lancer has counseled individuals and couples for 28 years and coaches internationally. She’s a sought-after speaker in media and at professional conferences.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Many claim that because we’re wired for dependency, “codependency” is normal and shouldn’t be considered a problem. They claim it’s not only natural, but healthy and beneficial to be dependent upon an intimate relationship. They blame the codependency movement for breaking up marriages and people’s loneliness. I agree that we all have dependency needs and that healthy relationships can meet those needs and greatly benefit us. However, codependency’s detractors don’t understand — probably from lack of personal experience — that codependents don’t reap those relationship benefits. Often they’re in unhealthy relationships, and they relate to others in unhealthy ways with patterns of obsession, self-sacrifice, dysfunctional communication, and control, which are both self-destructive and hurtful to others. They’re often abusive or allow themselves to be abused.
Codependent couples usually are out of balance. Frequently, there are struggles for power and control. There may be an imbalance of power or one partner may have taken on responsibility for the other. They’re often anxious and resentful and feel guilty and responsible for their partner’s feelings and moods. Then they try to control each another to feel okay and get their needs met. Rather than respect each other’s separateness and individuality, they can’t tolerate disagreement and blame one another for causing their problems without taking responsibility for themselves. Sometimes, what they dislike in their partner is the very thing they can’t accept in themselves. Despite their pain, they can feel trapped in the relationship because they fear that they cannot function on their own. Their mutual codependency and insecurity also makes intimacy threatening, since being honest and known risks rejection or dissolution of their fragile self.
Like the aspen trees, on the surface each may appear to be physically, and even mentally and emotionally, independent, yet at an unconscious level, they’re two insecure adults dependent upon each other to express a whole. For instance, a woman who has trouble expressing anger marries an angry man who expresses it for her. Or a man who is extremely closed and shy marries a woman who’s emotionally open and gregarious. They need each other to express their full humanity. In other cases, it’s more obvious that one partner needs the other for emotional stability, as in the case of alcoholic relationships. Financial dependence doesn’t necessarily create codependence, where the dependent partner has good self-esteem and emotional support outside the marriage. Even spouses who appear more capable and stronger may be equally dependent on the relationship. They need someone to care for in order to feel needed, worthwhile, and not alone, while their partner feels valued by receiving.
What makes interconnections healthy is interdependency, not codependency. Paradoxically, interdependency requires two people capable of autonomy (the ability to function independently). When couples love each other, it’s normal to feel attached, to desire closeness, to be concerned for each another, and to depend upon each other. Their lives are intertwined, and they’re affected by and need each other. However, they share power equally and take responsibility for their own feelings, actions, and contributions to the relationship. Because they have self-esteem, they can manage their thoughts and feelings on their own and don’t have to control someone else to feel okay. They can allow for each other’s differences and honor each another’s separateness. Thus, they’re not afraid to be honest. They can listen to their partner’s feelings and needs without feeling guilty or becoming defensive. Since their self-esteem doesn’t depend upon their partner, they don’t fear intimacy, and independence doesn’t threaten the relationship. In fact, the relationship gives them each more freedom. There’s mutual respect and support for each other’s personal goals, but both are committed to the relationship.