But we've become interdependent. I count on his strengths -- he counts on mine.

Everyone’s talking about co-dependence.

You know it’s not a good thing, or something you want.

But what exactly is it?

The word “co-dependent” emerged years ago to describe a set of behaviors or choices by someone who was in relationship with an alcoholic or other substance abuser. Their caretaking, denial and active covering up was just as problematic as the abuse itself — and needed treatment.

The meaning of the term has widely broadened since then.

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. Among the core characteristics of codependency, the most common theme is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and identity.”

It’s been called “relationship addiction,” and recently, an author defines it as “the feeling that we can’t exist without the other person.” There are lists of symptoms that include low self-esteem, people pleasing, need for control, and others. There’s CoDA, Co-Dependents Anonymous, a support group for people who have these issues, and want to have a healthier relationship with themselves and their partner.

All of that can be helpful and enlightening to many.

What I’m afraid of is that we’ve become leery of the word “depend.”

“No one can make you happy but yourself.”

“I don’t want to be dependent on anyone.”

Whatever happened to “No man is an island, unto himself…”?

The thought that we are all supposed to take care of our own needs and wants, without depending on anyone?

Not my idea of what makes relationships or intimacy work.

My husband was out of town for three or four days a couple of weeks ago. Every time that happens, I notice what I count on him to do around the house. We, like most of us, have separate responsibilities. I don’t retrieve the dead mouse from behind the trash, or reset the trap. He has practically forgotten how to turn on the stove. The house would be overridden by rodents or he would become very thin, if something happened to either one of us.

Yes, I could learn about mouse traps and he could google how to boil an egg. We would learn to survive alone, like many people do every day.

But we’ve become interdependent.  I count on his strengths — he counts on mine.

Interdependence doesn't mean you lose yourself, or become less of a strong individual. It means life is not quite so hard, because you've got a partner.That happens in an emotional realm as well. I count on his patience. I need reminding every now and then that good things come to those who wait. He counts on something about me… probably my energy. I’ll have to ask him… but I know he does.

Interdependence. Being there for each other. Having the others’ back. Keeping your partner in your head when you make decisions, whether it’s buying their favorite piece of fruit at the grocery store, or deciding not to flirt back with someone at a party.

Interdependence doesn’t mean you lose yourself, or become less of a strong individual. It means life is not quite so hard, because you’ve got a partner. It means you have expectations that aren’t rigid, but that you’ve got someone to count on. It means you’re aware of how they’re different from you, and you rely on that difference at times.

[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#codependence #relationshipskills #drmargaret”]Interdependence builds trust.[/tweetthis]

One woman years ago came in to see me after her husband had died, fairly suddenly. He was well-known internationally, and she had spent the months after his death flying around the world, accepting honors on his behalf.

“I thought I was doing great with my grief. I cried some, missed him terribly. But I thought I was fine.”

She was walking up her back steps on day, fell, and broke her arm.

He wasn’t there to hear her call for help. That was the moment the totality of her grief hit her.

Lonely people miss having someone they can depend on. It’s reassuring — comforting.

Don’t be afraid of depending on someone — if it’s the right one.

Be dependable in return, and you’re that much closer to having a great relationship.


If you struggle with codependence, as described above, the classic book to read for help is Codependent No More. You can also look for a local CoDA group for support and more information.


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