All Healthy Relationships Have This in Common
Many of us don’t really know what makes a relationship healthy. Which is understandable, because many of us simply never learned. We look to our families to teach us, and depending on your childhood experiences, you might’ve seen a very different picture. A picture that was anything but healthy (though you assumed, again understandably, that it was totally normal and common).
Maybe you regularly heard screaming and slammed doors. Maybe you regularly saw conflict go unaddressed, put away in a box in a bedroom. Maybe you regularly saw sulking and silent treatment. Maybe you regularly watched masks being worn, a pretending that everything was fine when it clearly wasn’t. Maybe you regularly saw shaky boundaries and emotional outbursts.
All healthy relationships share one vital ingredient, which is the opposite of the above: interdependence.
You can think of interdependence as a happy medium. It is the midpoint between two unhealthy extremes: anti-dependence and codependence, said Chris Kingman, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in couples therapy.
Anti-dependence is when a partner is so emotionally guarded that they don’t share what’s inside their heart. They don’t reveal their thoughts and feelings. They get impatient with their partner’s emotional needs. They require a lot of space.
Codependence is the complete opposite. One partner is overly dependent on the other for emotional safety and security, Kingman said. “It’s normal and healthy for a partner to want to connect emotionally with the other partner. But when that other partner is not available, it is codependent to have huge emotional reactions of anger or despair.” It is codependent to act in manipulative ways to get what they want, he said.
According to Jean Fitzpatrick, LP, a licensed psychotherapist who also specializes in working with couples, interdependence is functioning as a team and being emotionally vulnerable with each other.
When a partner is emotionally vulnerable, the other partner is able to be supportive and empathetic—instead of shutting down or getting defensive, Kingman said. He shared this example: When one partner says, “I really feel insecure when you go away on business,” the other partner responds with, “I’m glad you’re telling me your feelings. I always miss and think about you when I’m away, and sometimes I feel insecure, too. Let’s make sure we stay connected when I’m away, OK?”