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The Difference Between Codependency and Interdependence

Oct 3, 2023 | Relationships

Codependency vs. Interdependence

In the vast realm of human relationships, the intricacies of our bonds often balance between reliance and autonomy. At times, this balance shifts in subtle yet significant ways, setting our trajectory toward excessive dependency. Determining where our relationships stand can often mean the difference between feeling trapped and feeling free.

In relationships, codependency is an over-reliance of two or more individuals on each other for autonomy, motivation, and self-worth. This unhealthy reliance can breed resentment and power imbalances while limiting the individuality of both parties. In contrast, interdependence celebrates the strength of mutual respect, allowing individuals to flourish collectively in their relationships.

While codependency and interdependence look similar from the outside, they have vastly different motivations and implications for mental health. This article will delve deep into relationship dynamics to shed light on what it means to be in a healthy, interdependent relationship.

Understanding Interdependence

Interdependence embodies mutual reliance between two individuals, offering synergistic benefits from the participation of both.

In other words, interdependent relationships function optimally when both individuals benefit from their combined efforts. Synergistic refers to their bond being stronger than the combined sum of the individuals.

At its core, interdependence embodies mutual reliance. Contributing elements within an interdependent relationship functionally depend on one another for harmony, balance, and self-improvement.

The key word here is functionally depend, which refers to the necessity of the bond for mutual support and growth. Within this bond, both people retain their inherent individuality while participating dependently in a healthy relationship.

Overall, interdependence strikes the balance between dependence and independence in a relationship.

The overlap between independence and dependence

Striking the Balance Between Dependence and Independence in an Interdependent Relationship

As individuals, we are always walking the tightrope of our individuality and the “partness” that comes from being in various relationships or communities. Sometimes, it may feel like we are too dependent on others or that our individuality prevents us from accepting the support we need.

This inherent contradiction is natural and occurs throughout life. We are constantly working to maintain our autonomy and self-worth while recognizing our limitations and need for support.

Children are naturally dependent on their parents or caregivers and require them for support. As children age, they become more independent and autonomous as they learn the world’s boundaries and their places in it.

As life’s later years approach, we realize the limits of independence and how much we depend on others for support, once again requiring reliance from others to live fulfilling lives.

Timeline of dependence and independence - infancy through old age

This trajectory, while natural, is sometimes disrupted by environmental factors. This disruption can lead to too much dependence, independence, and sometimes codependency.

Unlike dependence, where one party may overly rely on another, or independence, where individuals function without reliance on others, interdependence acknowledges the interconnectedness of all parties involved.

Advantages of Interdependent Relationships

Interdependence is a dynamic where two or more people rely on each other for mutual benefit. These individuals retain their individuality while reciprocating the help of the other.

Advantages of interdependent relationships include:

  • Strength in Unity: Interdependent relationships harness the strengths and compensate for the weaknesses of everyone involved.
  • Flexibility: These relationships are adaptable. They change and evolve as the needs and circumstances demand of them.
  • Emotional Resilience: Interdependent relationships foster emotional well-being as individuals can lean on each other during challenging times while maintaining their personal strength.
  • Sustained Growth: Both individuals in this relationship grow personally, professionally, and emotionally.

Understanding Codependency

Codependency is an imbalanced relationship dynamic where one individual’s sense of purpose is primarily focused on the needs of another, often at the expense of their well-being. It usually involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of another.

For example, a relationship where one individual feels they must care for a sick relative at the expense of their well-being. In these situations, the other individual allows or enables this dependency and cultivates it, allowing for uneven power dynamics and a forced nature to the relationship.

The Dynamics of a Codependent Relationship

In a codependent relationship, when one person is overly dependent, the second party is considered the “caretaker” or enabler and provides support at their own expense.

Here’s a breakdown of the dynamics:

The Enabler/Caretaker

This person takes on a disproportionate amount of responsibility. They may feel compelled to “rescue” or care for the dependent person with their time, resources, or emotional energy.

The caretaker’s self-worth may be derived mainly from this role, and they may fear they are not valuable or needed without someone to care for. They may also minimize or excuse problematic behaviors of the dependent.

The Dependent

This person relies heavily on the enabler for emotional, physical, or financial support. They may have problems with addiction, chronic illness, mental health, or general immaturity. Additionally, they may come to expect this level of support and take advantage of the enabler’s willingness to provide it.

Codependent cycle of power dynamics

In many cases, this dynamic becomes a cycle: the dependent’s behaviors and needs affirm the enabler’s role as a caretaker. In turn, the enabler’s actions perpetuate the dependent’s behaviors. Both parties will likely fear abandonment or change, making them resist ending the cycle.

The Overlap Between Codependency and Interdependence

In both codependent and interdependent relationships, both parties are dependent on the other for support. However, the ways that dependence manifests are significantly different between the two.

In a codependent relationship, the dependence between both individuals is asymmetrical: an uneven power dynamic exists. In these relationships, one dependent is care-giving, the other care-receiving. The abuse of power dynamics leads to many relationship issues and stagnates growth, as neither individual wants to change or admit there’s an issue.

In contrast, interdependent relationships have a very symmetrical dependence. Both individuals provide the same level of support and appreciate the boundaries of the other. There is mutual respect, clear communication, and shared responsibility.

Key Differences Between Codependency and Interdependence

Even though both terms involve relational power dynamics between individuals with a powerful connection to one another, they manifest quite differently regarding reliance, boundaries, growth, and power dynamics.

Nature of Reliance

While both relationship types involve reliance, interdependence involves mutual reliance where autonomy is maintained, respecting one another’s boundaries. Codependent relationships involve excessive reliance on one another to the detriment of their own well-being.

Respecting Boundaries

Boundaries are blurred to non-existent in codependent relationships. Inevitably, one person’s problems become the others’, leading to feeling overwhelmed or burdened.

In contrast, interdependent relationships prioritize boundaries, seeing them as an extension of the other’s autonomy.

Growth vs. Stagnation

Individuals in codependent relationships often resist change and growth, preferring the safety and comfort of their current situation. Interdependent relationships are continually growing, seeking ways to improve.

The following chart outlines what too much dependence, independence, or codependence looks like in a relationship and how these compare to a healthy interdependent relationship.

Chart outlining what too much dependence, independence, or codependence looks like in a relationship

Transitioning from Codependency to Interdependence

Transitioning from a codependent relationship involves a transformative journey that requires self-awareness, commitment, and, often, external support.

Breaking the cycle of codependency allows both individuals in a relationship to thrive independently and collaboratively. Here are steps for navigating this shift:

  1. Recognize and Acknowledge Codependent Patterns: Before change can occur, it’s crucial to identify and accept the existence of unhealthy relationship patterns. This can involve reflecting on patterns of enabling and being honest about feelings of resentment or fear.
  2. Seek Professional Help: Engaging in therapy, whether individually or as a couple, can offer insights, strategies, and coping mechanisms.
  3. Establish Clear Boundaries: Boundaries are vital for maintaining personal autonomy and mutual respect. Ask your therapist for appropriate strategies.
  4. Prioritize Self-Care: To thrive within a relationship, individuals need to nurture themselves outside of it.
  5. Develop Healthy Communication Patterns: Replace passive-aggressive, avoidant, or manipulative communication with open, honest, and assertive dialogue.
  6. Celebrate Individual Achievements: Celebrate personal achievements and support each other’s endeavors.
  7. Understand and Respect Differences: Every individual is unique. Embrace differences in opinions, interests, and aspirations, recognizing that these enrich our relationships.
  8. Reassess and Adjust Regularly: As with all relationship aspects, it’s vital to check in regularly. Reflect on progress, address any backslides, and adjust strategies as needed.

Transitioning from codependency to interdependence is not a linear process. It requires effort, patience, and mutual commitment. However, the outcome is a healthier, more balanced relationship where both parties can flourish individually and together.

If you’re considering taking the following steps towards interdependence, consider a therapy consultation to recognize your progress and take steps towards a happier, healthier relationship.

Take Your Next Step Towards Interdependence with Start My Wellness

Transitioning from codependency to interdependence is a journey of self-discovery, mutual respect, and relational growth. Every step taken towards a balanced relationship enriches not only your bonds but also your sense of well-being.

If you’re currently struggling in a codependent relationship, you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. With expert guidance and support, building an interdependent relationship is attainable for everyone.

Take your next step towards interdependence with Start My Wellness. Our team of licensed therapists and couple counselors has decades of experience helping couples navigate the intricacies of their relationships.

For more information about our services, don’t hesitate to check out our therapists or call us today at 248-514-4955.

Additional Resources: Books on Codependency

The following books on codependency and interdependence are additional resources you can consider to help navigate these complex topics. All links go to Amazon for ease of purchase only. We are not affiliated with Amazon.

Codependent no More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself

Codependent No More by Melody Beattie is often considered the definitive book on codependency. Beattie provides a comprehensive look at what codependency is and offers practical tips on how to overcome it.

The New Codependency: Help and Guidance for Today’s Generation

Also by Melody Beattie, this follow-up to Codependent No More addresses how societal changes influence codependent behaviors and offers guidance tailored to modern challenges.

Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where it Comes From, How it Sabotages Our Lives

Authored by Pia Mellody, Andrea Wells Miller, and J. Keith Miller, Facing Codependence delves into the origins of codependency and provides insights into how it affects relationships and individual lives.

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life

While not solely about codependency, Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend provides invaluable advice on setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, which is crucial for those dealing with codependent tendencies.

Additional Resources: Books on Interdependence

The following books are resources on interdependence. While not all are directly about interdependence, these books are very helpful for understanding and learning the habits and strategies of interdependent individuals.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

This classic by Stephen R. Covey offers a framework for personal and interpersonal effectiveness. He breaks down the journey from dependence to independence and, ultimately, interdependence, describing it as the pinnacle of productive human relationships.

Co-Active Coaching: The Proven Framework for Transformative Conversations at Work and in Life

While Co-Active Coaching by Henry and Karen Kimsey-House is primarily about coaching, it delves deeply into collaborative relationships, emphasizing the interdependent nature of coach-client dynamics and how these principles can be applied in various scenarios.

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love

This book by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller looks at attachment theory and how it plays out in adult relationships. Interdependence is a primary topic in the context of secure attachments and the balance between autonomy and closeness.

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love

Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson focuses on the importance of emotional bonds and connections, underpinning the essence of interdependence in romantic relationships.


  1. Psychology Today: Creating Healthy Interdependence in Your Relationship
  2. APA PsycNet: Independence and Dependence in Aging: A new balance
  3. The Practical Psychologist: Interdependence: The Meaning and the Advantages
  4. Mental Health America: Co-Dependency
  5. Psych Central: What’s the Link Between Codependency and Enabling?
  6. Start My Wellness: Couples Therapy: Strengthen Your Bond
Dr. Anton Babushkin

Author: Anton Babushkin, PhD

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