“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” – Thomas Merton

Many of us can relate to the experience of being seemingly inexplicably drawn to another person in a way that feels almost magnetic. This spark of attraction is sometimes referred to as chemistry, lust, or love at first sight. However we define it, we usually have an intuitive sense of knowing when it’s there… and when it’s not. This intangible dance between two people enamored by early love can feel intoxicating, mesmerizing, or even ethereal.

Attraction, Intense Emotions & Staying Grounded

It’s all too easy to lose our footing, get lost in intense emotions, and forget to pay attention to the more practical components of healthy, sustained love in the throes of early romance. After all, the words “practical” and “romance” aren’t usually paired together in a graceful manner. When we relinquish the ability to define and assert our personal attitudes, beliefs, and values, the rockslide into the valley of codependence has begun.

Pausing to engage in self-reflection and remaining grounded in our own values are of particular importance during the early stages of lust, love, and longing. After all, there may be few things more truly romantic than genuine thoughtfulness and intentional actions towards the construction of a solid foundation for what may very well become a mature love than lasts a lifetime.

What is Interdependence in a Relationship?

So begins the process of building love based on a foundation of interdependence. We cannot reasonably expect to seek out our own happiness, fulfillment, or sense of purpose from another person. This doesn’t mean that the object of our love and affection cannot be a wellspring of positive qualities. They may even leave us feeling as if we are walking on air, experiencing renewed hope, and authentically understood and accepted… perhaps for the first time.

What it does mean is that we can walk on air without becoming untethered and feel hopefulness that isn’t dependent upon their very existence. We can enjoy the miraculous feeling of being understood in a new way without losing our sense of self along the way. Interdependence involves having a strong sense of self outside of the relationship, engaging in healthy coping skills, and recognizing the value of vulnerability without compromising personal values.

Interdependence is characterized by a balance between autonomy (the ability to function independently) and leaning on one another. It’s crucial to recognize that within the context of all interpersonal relationships, we affect one another. To presume that our actions, or lack thereof, within a relational context affect no one but ourselves is clueless at best and perhaps narcissistic at worst. When a relationship is based on interdependence, each person takes responsibility for their own feelings and behaviors.

Qualities of Interdependent Relationships

In addition to recognizing the impact we have on others and taking ownership of our own behaviors, interdependent relationships are characterized by:

  • Supporting one another without sacrificing core needs or priorities
  • Listening to feelings with openness and without defensiveness
  • Encouraging each other’s interests, pursuits, and goals
  • Respecting differences and actively seeking common ground
  • Turning towards bids for connection, rather than away
  • Self-esteem that is not dependent on ongoing reassurance, approval, or attention from your partner
  • Willingness to express feelings, wants, and needs openly and honestly
  • Respect for one another’s privacy, as there is a foundation of mutual trust, candor, and respect
  • Absence of manipulation, control and unfounded jealousy
  • Reciprocal sharing of interests, passions, and hopes
  • Lack of demeaning and competitive behaviors, as it is understood you are on the same team

Recognizing Codependency

If you find yourself stuck within a codependent relationship, regardless of the role you play in the dynamic, it’s important to remember that it takes two people to maintain a relationship… even when it’s unhealthy. The crucial first step towards shifting the dynamics within your current relationship or your overall relationship pattern, is awareness. It is essential to make an honest appraisal of your current and past relationship dynamics, along with what you realistically hope for in the future.

No one is “perfect.” Not you, not other people, nor myself. This is entirely okay… in fact, awareness of our imperfections can be truly liberating. The wonderful outcome of recognizing the inherent lack of perfection within all humans is that you can start getting more honest with yourself and the people you care about. It takes courage to express authenticity and vulnerability, and it’s natural to feel some degree of trepidation.

Healthy & Secure Relationships

When you find someone who is secure with their own beautifully lovable and imperfect self, you may find yourself willing to take the healthy risks necessary to achieve relational interdependence. This means shifting your current relationship dynamic or building a foundation with a new partner that allows the freedom to express your authentic self… and space for them to do the same. In fact, you begin to feel authentically seen and heard in an entirely new way after taking a few thoughtful, healthy risks.

When a relationship is free of enmeshment, control, and codependency, there is room for each person to flourish. Consider what qualities you bring to your current relationship or one you hope to build in the future. Remember that no one else is responsible for your happiness or sense of self-worth… however, a committed, interdependent relationship allows for a balance of freedom and connectedness that leads to naturally enhanced joy, purpose, and meaning.

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Featured image: Clasped by Chris Richmond / CC BY NC-ND-2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

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