Whether it’s a sibling, friend, or spouse, we all depend on someone in our lives. So what are the healthy boundaries of dependency?
Licensed Therapist Nick Berry defines the different types of dependent relationships and shares ways you can identify and manage codependency in your relationships.
Q: I've been told that I have a codependent relationship with my best friend, but I'm not sure what that means. Can you explain what codependency is?
Nick: A healthy relationship would look like two people who have a sense of trust and can depend on each other to progress in the relationship, accomplish tasks, feel safe, supported and nurtured.
With a codependent relationship one or the other person in the relationship feels that there's an increased need for the other person to be in their life. Without that one person in their life, their partner, or it could be a friend or a family member, they feel either empty, nervous, or depressed, and they might feel as though their life cannot go on without that person in their life. So as a therapist we may see & hear some things like a person just constantly thinking about their partner, maybe wondering where they are, asking questions, texting them, emailing them and following up with them all based out of a sense of needing to feel secure in the relationship.
Common language used with codependency is sometimes referring to someone as a little too clingy or needy in the relationship.
There are other types of relationships as well:
Interdependent relationships look like both people in the relationship relying on each other to pay bills, to take care of a child, to take care of an animal or, when it’s a family, the family working together to support each other. A dependent relationship is when you depend on somebody to support you or to accomplish something.
So when you’re in a dependent relationship, I depend on you to pay the bills, I depend on you to support me, I depend on you to pick my child up, what that indicates is a sense of trust, and a sense of comfort and security in that relationship.
Dependent relationships and interdependent relationships aren't necessarily unhealthy, it's codependency that becomes the problematic child in that relationship.
Q: Does it always have to be a bad thing or can it be okay to be dependent on someone else sometimes?
Nick: No, it doesn't have to be a bad thing. If in the relationship one person feels as though their life stops or halts because their partner is gone, that’s when it becomes more problematic, and that’s what we define as codependent. A dependent relationship does not necessarily indicate anything bad, in fact both dependent and interdependent relationships can be healthy and needed for the relationship to work and progress.
Q: if I am in a codependent relationship, how can I shift the dynamics to make it healthier?
Nick: There is definitely hope if you are afraid that you are a codependent person in your relationship, or if you think both of you might be codependent in the relationship.
Shifting dynamics means really looking at things like, how to have diversified interests outside of the relationship. How can you increase your time spent with family, or friends, or engaging in a hobby independently? If you feel that increasing your time spent apart is going to take away from the quality of your relationship, or your partner might get upset because you were spending time with your friends or family, it might be time to consider seeking therapy or having an honest conversation about the dynamic of your relationship and proceeding from there.
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