The Codependency Myth

codependencyPopular self-help books, articles, and TV shows tell us over and over that dependency in relationships is a bad thing. You should aim to be self-sufficient and maintain clear boundaries between yourself and your partner, they teach. You should never become too involved with a person to the extent that you need them. That would make you codependent and deficient in some way — work on gaining a “better sense of self”.

That idea is all wrong. As outlined in the book  Attached, adult attachment science explains that it is not only normal, but inevitable to be dependent on a partner.

Dependency Is Not a Choice

Studies show that when two people form an intimate relationship they regulate each other’s psychological and emotional health. You and your partner become one unit. Our partners help control our blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, and even our hormone levels. How can you keep clear-cut boundaries between yourself and your partner if you affect each other on such an internal level?

A True Partnership Involves Two

A partnership involves two or more people working together towards a common goal. In a true partnership both partners have a responsibility to each other. Neither partner can sustain the partnership alone or it would not be a partnership. In a romantic partnership each partner is responsible for the others comfort and well-being in the relationship.

The Dependency Paradox

Regardless of how independent we believe we are, and no matter how we consciously try to be self-sufficient, we are all dependent. Feelings of vulnerability, attachment, and fear of loss are a part of any relationship. But this does not mean we need to be with our partner at all times or ignore other aspects of life. Quite the opposite: the more thoroughly dependent we are on our partners, the more independent we come. This is known as the dependency paradox.

Our ability to independently step out into the world depends on the knowledge that we have someone to support us in this — a secure base. If we feel secure we can take risks and become more self-sufficient.

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11 thoughts on “The Codependency Myth

  1. Yes, that’s weird. Why would dependency on a healthy level not be a good thing?

    I think it has something to do with Feminism, they think that being dependent on a man would be a bad thing. I know it does not say that it is specifically directed towards women, but I think it is.

  2. The problem is: Nothing is set in stone. Feminist realised this and though, ideally, dependency on a healthy level would a wonderful (perhaps) stable relationship make, reality for many women (some men I surmise, but since they’re generally the bread winners……). Our environments show us many examples of this co-dependency going wrong for many mostly older women, who have given up having careers outside their homes, to being a housewife, left after 20+years to fend for herself, especially financially and being “too old” for the market even if she has a degree. Nope, this article sounds so romantic and all, but reality is just that and I would recommend any (especially) woman to be very independent, ie, if the decision is to be a stay at home mum, then before the wedding and having babies, make sure your future (mainly) financial security is contracted, afterall, housewife duties IS a job. With the emotional aspect of dependency, well, that’s more complex as it takes a well balanced individual to manage this and not many of us are…..

  3. Nkosazana,

    “Why would dependency on a healthy level not be a good thing?”

    Because the words dependency and healthy should not be used in the same sentence. 😉

    I don’t think feminism is what began the whole codependency is a bad thing idea, but it could have added to it.

    foosrock,

    I think by codependency most people are referring to the emotional aspect and not so much the financial aspect. Although I think being a stay-at-home mother is fine too, if circumstances allow it (more on that in the link).

  4. OMG, this is a great post. I was just thinking about this not long ago (and over the past weekend) when I heard a woman who was having trouble in her marriage say that she hates hearing young women say that their lives would be better if they had a man and how she tries to teach young women to not look to a man for their happiness.

    Now, I understood the point that she was trying to make. Some women (heck, a lot) do get involved with the wrong men just to avoid loneliness and they have no concept of having a strong and healthy sense of self.

    At the same time, when I think about it, I AM happier when I’m in a good relationship than I am alone. Why is that a bad thing? I’m much happier with my sweetie than I am without him… and really, isn’t that the point to a relationship anyway? He’s happier with me than he is by himself, isn’t that a good thing?

    And yes, we both do have our independent lives. I don’t care if he goes off and plays golf some mornings and he doesn’t care if I do my thing. As long as we have enough “us” time, we’re good.

    While I understand the need to teach women to NOT base their self-esteem and self-worth on the concept of being desired by men, we need to know when to turn off that protective mechanism and spread the message that healthy, happy and yes, dependent relationships are good things and very desirable in one’s life!

  5. Bunny,

    “I AM happier when I’m in a good relationship than I am alone. Why is that a bad thing?”

    Same here. I guess it’s because it makes us weak-willed and dependent. 😦

    😉

    “I’m much happier with my sweetie than I am without him… and really, isn’t that the point to a relationship anyway?”

    …Yes. Too many people forget this, I think.

    “we need to know when to turn off that protective mechanism”

    Right. Some (wo)men get burned in relationships and then adopt the stance that a person needs to have clear emotional boundaries (in order to make sure they don’t get hurt). But a little dependency never hurt. You should be able to rely on your partner: if you can’t, there is a good chance your relationship isn’t healthy.

  6. Thank you for this post. Media/popular culture/ always made me feel bad about myself for this. I am one of those people who don’t do well when alone. I guess I need emotional support. Maybe it’s because I grew up without a father, I don’t know. But in any case, what I need most in a relationship is love and emotional support. I thought it’s a bad thing. You shouldn’t need anybody, right? But, is it? What’s wrong in needing emotional support, and love? Humans are social beings. We need emotional support. There’s nothing wrong with it. I am not sure if I could trust people who claim they are happier alone, or that the fact they are in a relationship doesn’t make them feel better (so why starting a relationship anyway? Sex alone is easier to get). Now, I am not ridiculing anyone’s life choices: it might work for them. But I am not one of those people.

    The only problem I see here, is when only one person in a relationship is the dependent one, while another doesn’t need it. It smells trouble. (Not always, but it can easily become one).

  7. Mira,

    “What’s wrong in needing emotional support, and love? Humans are social beings. We need emotional support.”

    Precisely. Some people are more social than others, but even introverts like us have a social instinct. And there are those whose social instinct is primarily one-on-one. There is no difference between someone who depends on their partner versus someone who depends on their friends. Yet most of the society would say the former person is unhealthy while the latter is very healthy and normal.

    “I am not sure if I could trust people who claim they are happier alone, or that the fact they are in a relationship doesn’t make them feel better”

    I think for some people, relationships really aren’t that big of a deal. And that’s fine. But it seems like several of those people like to look at others weirdly for whom relationships are a big deal.

    “The only problem I see here, is when only one person in a relationship is the dependent one, while another doesn’t need it. It smells trouble.”

    That is a bad situation, and not an uncommon one. The Anxious-Avoidant Trap… I think I’ll write on that in the near future.

  8. Miss Alee,
    What did you study in college? I love the fact you have these topics on your blog. I looked up The Dependency Paradox, and definitely will be reading up on it when I have the chance. Thank you for hipping me to it!

  9. Sherry, I studied biology (molecular and biochemistry). I’m interested in human relationships and culture though and I do a lot of reading on the subjects.

    Yes, the Dependency Paradox is something I observed all along but didn’t have a name for. Glad you like the topics. 🙂

  10. Fifteen years ago, I met a woman. In the intervening years, we’ve stayed (and grown old) together. We’ve shared most things and we’ve kept some things to ourselves. When apart, we’re okay. Together, though, we’ve made an airplane and maybe even flow a little bit. Who cares if we’re codependent?

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