Do your needs take a backseat to your partner’s or do you both consider each other’s needs in meaningful ways? Knowing this can help you build a healthy relationship.

Is your relationship codependent or interdependent? To answer this, consider the following statements:

  1. “I need you. I can’t live without you. You complete me.”
  2. “I want you. We make a great team. I’m glad you’re my partner.”

Which expression of love and affection would you rather hear? Which do you think is an accurate reflection of your relationship?

If your answer was the first statement, you may be in a codependent relationship. If you chose the second statement, then your relationship may be interdependent.

One of the key elements of creating an emotionally stable and healthy relationship is knowing the difference between interdependence and codependence.

“But wait, shouldn’t I want someone to feel like they can’t live without me and that I complete them?”

Not necessarily.

Let’s start by clarifying the difference between codependent and interdependent.

Most of us have heard of codependency. It’s most often used as a negative to describe an unhealthy dynamic within a relationship.

There are common signs of codependency:

  • Your sense of self-worth and self-esteem comes from outside yourself — primarily from your partner or other relationships (families can produce codependent relationships as well).
  • Your mood, emotions, and decision-making ability are governed by the feelings, behavior, or responses of your partner.
  • You neglect your own personal needs or desires to please and fulfill those of your partner.

Interdependence is quite different. Signs of an interdependent relationship could be the following:

  • You’re two autonomous individuals who make a choice to be together and form a couple.
  • You find personal fulfillment through your own interests and accomplishments as well as the relationship.
  • You love and support one another while respecting boundaries between you two.

Which one sounds more rewarding to you?

Many couples slip into codependency without even realizing it.

When you begin a relationship, you naturally want to spend time together and please one another. Sometimes these desires cross a line (boundary), and partners lose themselves (individuality) in the relationship, becoming overly focused and dependent upon the other.

Left unchecked, this dynamic can change from healthy to unbalanced and unhealthy. In other words, it becomes codependent.

Common signs of a codependent relationship include:

  • needing to get permission before you make plans with friends, which is different from notifying your partner of a desire to see friends
  • blaming your partner if you feel unhappy or dissatisfied in any way
  • wanting to know what your partner thinks before you voice or even form an opinion
  • worrying about how to make your partner happy, and considering that far more important than making yourself happy
  • always being together because one partner finds being apart to be distressing

In a codependent relationship, your identity may be defined by your relationship and partner.

Interdependent relationships have a different profile altogether. In a well-balanced relationship, you’re more likely to see the following characteristics:

  • clearly defined and respected boundaries between partners
  • individuality in thoughts, beliefs, and pursuits — but not at the exclusion of your partner
  • recognition of what it means to be a whole person and not just half a couple
  • a continual effort to practice healthy communication and respect for one another
  • a sense of security in your ability to strengthen the relationship or work with the other to face relationship challenges

A 2016 study found that couples in interdependent relationships gained strength from knowing that they could each live their own lives and pursue personal goals with the support and encouragement of their partner.

So, what can you do if your relationship seems codependent? Can you change it and turn it into an interdependent relationship?

Yes. But it may take some work.

Moving your relationship from one of codependence to interdependence can feel uncomfortable at first, and possibly even scary. You may feel like your relationship will fall apart and you’ll lose your partner.

But taking a chance by making positive changes that may make your relationship healthier and longer-lasting may be worth it in the end.

Those changes will likely involve each partner individually and the relationship as a whole.

You can begin the process by opening a channel of communication on the subject. Try to talk with one another about the state of dependency in your relationship.

Then, you can talk openly about the changes that may be required and how they’ll benefit the relationship. This can be a difficult subject, particularly for those who experience codependency. But it can go a long way in helping and strengthening the relationship.

Consider the following tips for creating more interdependence in your relationship. It’s crucial to discuss each one openly with your partner, defining why you want to take this step and how it may benefit the relationship:

  • Recognize your own behaviors that contribute to codependence in your relationship, then try to take responsibility for changing them.
  • Make a list of what makes you happy. Not you as a couple — just you. Consider discussing in a kind and open way, allowing your partner to ask questions freely. Try to define why these activities are enjoyable and how they can benefit the relationship.
  • Find your inner “no.” There’s a fine line between trying to enjoy and support your partner’s interests and feeling like you must do what they want all the time. It’s OK to say no to things.
  • Practice making your own choices without the feedback or permission of your partner.
  • Make a concerted effort to spend more time with friends outside the relationship. Doing this is fulfilling and also creates a perspective that may help improve your relationship.

If you want to change the dynamic and create a healthy relationship, both of you will need to actively respect the independence and boundaries of the other.

If you and your partner find it difficult to discuss your relationship honestly, consider reaching out to a mental health professional that specializes in relationship and family counseling.

Changing unhealthy relationship dynamics isn’t always easy. It can sometimes seem impossible.

Partners can have different perspectives on the state of their relationship in some cases. This could mean that one partner may be resistant to change.

If you need additional help, consider seeking the help of a mental health professional specializing in relationship counseling.

Change can happen. Sometimes it’s just a matter of taking the blinders off and making the effort. Regardless of the ease or difficulty of changing, the relationship on the other side of the effort will be a healthier one. And the partners, too.