What exactly is the difference between co-dependency and interdependency?
This is a question that comes up a lot for folks who are familiar with the idea of co-dependency. Many of us have an idea that we are supposed to "love ourselves before we can love others" and "be the source of our own happiness." We may feel that if this is not happening that we are being "dysfunctional" or "co-dependent." One of the interesting things to me about the re-focus on attachment research in the past decade of psychology has been the re-realization that humans are inherently dependent on others. We are born some of the most vulnerable babies of all species, requiring a full decade if not more of intensive parental involvement. Our brains do not actually finish maturing until halfway through our second decade of life. We have always, and continue to, live in groups or "packs". We use solitary confinement as the worst punishment for the worst humans. So how many of us got this idea that depending on others was bad or pathological seems curious indeed.
I recently encountered a podcast with Dr. Stan Tatkin, a prominent couples therapist and author who utilizes attachment theory as a foundation of his work, which addressed just this issue. Among other things in this interview Dr. Tatkin shows how his model is representative of healthy interdependency versus the pathological idea of co-dependency. It would take several pages for me to summarize his theory on this point and he does a perfectly fine job on his own. So for those reasons rather than try to explain his viewpoint to you I suggest that you listen yourself:
He gets to the topic of codependency around 20 minutes in to the podcast. While you are there you may want to check out other topics in this podcast which specializes on relationships. The podcaster has many excellent guests on his shows and seems to cover a lot of important ground.
And if you are interested in learning more about healthy relationships, as always I also recommend Dr. Tatkin's audio program, Your Brain On Love, as well as his books, Wired For Love and Wired For Dating.
Wishing you happiness in your connections,
A thought occurred to me the other day in the midst of counseling a couple. One of them had recently adopted a dog from the animal shelter. She was talking about the history of the dog and why it had certain habits and fears. To all of us in the room it went without saying that since the dog had been mistreated by it's previous owners it came with "issues". I think many of us have had those experiences, like raising your hand to pet a dog and watching it flinch or cower. Our first thought in that situation is "oh dear, I bet this dog has been abused!". We generally don't get mad at the dog for misunderstanding us. Nor do we expect the dog to know that we are not the same person who previously hurt them. We are generally concerned and patient and understand it will take the dog time to trust us. We also would not be surprised if a dog trainer told us that there were some things we could do on our part to not create fear in the dog.
So while all of this is usually pretty obvious to humans in regards to dogs, the corollary to understanding our relationship partners is sadly not all that intuitive. We are often upset to find that our partners, who had previous "owners" (parents/caregivers) have baggage and a host of unconscious expectations that cause them to misunderstand us and sometimes act in ways that don't make sense. By the way, they are seeing the same behaviors in us! It's as if one dog from the pound (with their own history of having been neglected or hurt in the past) adopts another dog from the pound (with their own history also). You can imagine the problems that ensue.
If you have read my blog posts or website you may know that I practice a particular style of couples therapy-- PACT. In that style of therapy we find it useful to look for certain patterns of behavior that arise from particular histories of interactions with our early caregivers. These patterns are called "attachment styles". There are two basic styles that represent the majority of us who end up having relationship problems-- "Avoidant" (which Dr. Stan Tatkin calls "Islands") and "Resistant" (which Dr. Tatkin calls "Waves"). These two predominant patterns can be described in terms of types of dogs you may encounter at your local pound.
The "Avoidant" or "Island" type of partner is like the dog at the pound who, when you approach the cage smiling and holding out a treat, backs up and hopes you will go away. You may feel hurt or rejected, even annoyed. You may think to yourself "hey, I'm the good guy here!", "c'mon buddy, give me a chance!" If you are patient and give the dog a little space in time he or she will likely relax and may even show some interest. If you open the cage and again give the dog space it will, in it's own time, come out. But don't expect this type of dog to jump into your arms in the first few minutes! He or she will need to move past you and walk around a bit, making sure that you do not represent any danger or infringement on their free will. Once the dog has established that you are OK letting it walk about freely it will likely approach you, in it's own time, and perhaps make a gesture of interest. If you move too quickly or with too much enthusiasm this type of dog will back away and then you are back to square one for a bit.
If you try to imagine what kind of history this dog has it's not hard to conjure: This dog was neglected. It had the kind of owner who put out food and water but did not show the dog much affection. The dog is not used to being engaged or approached much. When this owner did approach the dog it was likely for the dog to do something for the owner rather than the owner doing something for the dog. Perhaps it was an older dog who was too tired to run much, but the only time the owner came to it was to drag it out for a run because that's what the owner wanted to do. The owner missed the cues from the poor dog that this was only fun for the human! The owner simply threw a leash on the dog and dragged it around the block, perhaps even chastising the dog for going to slow. Then upon returning home the dog is put back into it's corner and ignored again. This dog will come to see his owner as a task-master who is only really interested in him or herself. The dog will be mistrustful of approach because it only means that the dog is now expected to do something that the dog may have no interest in. The dog has learned that the owner is not sensitive to it's needs or wants and most of the time leaves it alone. So the dog learns to entertain itself and gets pretty good at this. It can stare out the window and watch birds or run around alone in the back yard chasing squirrels. But the dog does not expect the owner to partake of these activities or show any interest in what the dog is doing. In fact, the dog comes to prefer not being noticed by the owner because the owner is only interested in their own needs and the dog finds that unpleasant and unfair.
Notice that this dog is not necessarily abused. It's just emotionally neglected. Therefore when you show a lot of enthusiasm and rush forward to give it a big hug at the pound this dog is not comfortable with that. It will try to avoid that kind of effusive contact and get more space from you. In time, if you are patient, it may become more comfortable with you and the dog may even come to enjoy a certain amount of attention. But it may also never be the kind of dog that you can scoop up and hug and smooch all over. The dog has baggage.
Now compare that to a different kind of pound pooch. This dog has been intermittently abused and praised by its owner. Confusing, right? This owner was a bit moody and wrapped up in their own dramas. On a good day they would lavish the dog with treats and hugs and then on bad days might yell at the dog or even give it a kick. The dog was not able to know from day to day what was coming. So the dog also learns to be guarded. Only when you approach this dog at the pound they don't necessarily want you to go away. Part of them is thinking "well, this could be good...you may have a treat for me". But the other part of the poor dog is thinking "yeah, but this could be bad!". So the dog may approach but with ears back and a slightly open jaw, ready to bite if things turn ugly. When you see the dog approaching you in this way you might think "geez! Here I am trying to be nice and it looks as if you may bite me!" This type of dog may even approach you and growl, only to then lick your outstretched hand. Their behavior is likely to be a confusing mix of pleasure at your attention and fear and even anger at what they perceive is potential backlash. Even more confusing is that this dog, right after growling at you, will likely follow you into the next room. The dog does not seem to want to be alone, even though half the time when you try to engage it the dog may snarl or bark at you! And even more frustrating this dog may tear up your furniture in protest if you leave it alone for too long. This dog is certainly a confusing fellow! But, if treated with love and patience, this dog will eventually growl less and lick more. However it may always be quick to curl it's lip and look like it's about to bite. It's up to you to know how to help the dog feel safe and loved and to not take it too personally when the dog seems scared or testy. This dog would, if it were human, correspond to the attachment type of "Resistant" or in Tatkin's terms, a "Wave." This dog too has baggage.
When we meet our life partners they are not newly birthed puppies. They are middle-aged dogs with histories of having been, much of the time, mistreated in some way or another by someone in their formative years. It may not have been out and out abuse (although that is certainly possible), it may have been mild emotional neglect or moderate mis-attunement or confusion behaviors from distressed or overwhelmed parents. Whatever the case, they have baggage (as do we!). We need to come to expect this and not take it personally. We need to try to learn about our partner's histories and figure out how we can offer corrective experiences that will, over time and with patience, reduce their problematic behaviors. And we need to be reasonable about our expectations, knowing that while you can teach old dogs new tricks, you may have to use some pretty persuasive treats and even engage your friendly (PACT certified!) "dog trainer".
Wishing you the best in your loving connections (both human canine),
One of the most common reasons couples come to me is affairs. They may be purely emotional, purely physical, or some of each. They could be a brief interlude or a decades-long relationship. One partner may have strayed or both. And despite what I think most people's intuition is, in my experience if the couple is willing to work on it almost all of these couples have stayed together. While the devastation of this kind of betrayal is certainly enormous it is capable of being healed. And not only that but it can also lead to a kind of exploration of the basic tenants of the relationship that allow for tremendous growth and change. Most of my affair couples tell me that after doing the hard work of healing that their current relationship is actually much better than it was for years preceding the affair.
If you have read my blog before you know that I practice PACT -- the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy. This approach was developed by Stan Tatkin, PsyD and incorporates brain science and attachment theory into couples work. I find it to be a brilliant, dynamic and exciting type of work that produces faster and deeper results than most couples therapies available.
In regards to the specific problem of affairs, Dr. Tatkin did an interview with Dr. Diane Poole Heller in which they discussed how affairs in our adult relationships are often related to problems with our attachment to our caregivers as children. The interview is presented in two parts:
If you are wanting to heal from an affair or learn more about couples dynamics in general I highly recommend watching these interview segments. More information can also be found in Dr. Tatkin's audio program Your Brain On Love", which is available on iTunes, Amazon or at www.soundstrue.com
This is a great one-hour interview with Dr. Stan Tatkin about how humans are wired. While Dr. Tatkin states that our brains are more naturally wired for war than love (due to the survival drive) we CAN learn how to activate the natural aspects of our brains and nervous systems that allow us to connect deeply to others.
I hope you enjoy this. If you like the theory presented here please look for a PACT therapist to work with you and your partner. I am trained in PACT as are numerous other therapists here in Austin, Texas.
And whether or not we are "wired" for love, consider the following wisdom
While loving someone deeply gives you courage
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength
A lot of people talk about co-dependency. We all know that it's not something good but what does it really mean? And is there a good type of dependency? Or is all dependency bad?
The term originally came out of 12-step programs like AA. In that system there is the addict and then there is their partner who is the "co-dependent". This person is wrapped up in the addiction just as much as the addict. The addiction rules their life with equal fervor. On the surface people's sympathies often go with the co-dependent rather than the addict. We may find ourselves thinking "oh, that poor person, attached to that addict who is making their life so miserable".
But the reality is that both people are dysfunctional. The co-dependent person is getting some kind of perk out of being in this situation. Mabye it's the sympathy of others. Or the excuse as to why they can't get ahead in life-- because they are too busy taking care of the addict. The addict looks like the "hot mess" in the relationship and in contrast the co-dependent looks well put together.
In this type of relationship both people actually have an agenda. The addict wants to maintain their addiction and the co-dependent wants to have an excuse for why their life isn't the way they want it to be. In fact in these relationships both partners are using the relationship for meeting mostly their own needs. They do not expect the relationship to be fair. In fact, they expect and act as if relationships will NOT be fair! Their needs may be to have a partner hold down the home front while they engage in affairs or addictions. Or the need may be to play the martyr and support an addict while complaining to everyone else about how mistreated they are. This is not interdependency.
Interdependency involves the idea that in a relationship, we are greater than the sum of our parts. That two together can accomplish more than either one alone. Or as the african saying goes, "if you are going to take a short journey, go alone and you will go faster. But if you must go far, take another". Life is a long journey and taking a partner along with us to be our help-mate can be incredibly fulfilling and successful if we can learn the basic rules of truly mutual relationships. Psychologists and researchers call these truly mutual relationships "secure", meaning that each partner knows that the other person is going to be there for them no matter what. And that each partner also knows that whatever happens to their partner happens to them too. So in a secure relationship, one would never do anything that would intentionally hurt the other person, or be unfair to them, or take advantage of them, because in the end it would hurt BOTH of them. It is a state of knowing that you are bound together on all levels and acting accordingly.
The method of couples therapy that I practice, called the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy, or PACT, talks a lot about how to develop a secure relationship. Dr. Diane Poole Heller interviewed PACT's originator, Dr. Stan Tatkin, about the phenomenon of interdependency. You may enjoy watching the interview to learn more about this:
I hope you find this video helpful as well as the information provided above. Remember, all relationships can change given proper support and guidance.
Dr. Krista Jordan
If you have read my website you will know that I am very interested in attachment styles. Research done by Dr. John Bowlby and his associate Mary Main in the 1940's showed us that infants have a potential of 4 different styles of relating to their primary caregivers: Secure (the ideal, healthy pattern), Anxious-Ambivalent (sometimes called Angry-Resistant), Anxious-Avoidant and Disorganized (sometimes called "Cannot Classify"). These 4 patterns have proven to be extremely useful in predicting adult behaviors in romantic relationships as well as parenting behaviors.
If you are interested to find out what your attachment style is there are several ways to go about this. The "gold standard" has always been to have the Adult Attachment Interview administered by a trained researcher. This is the instrument used in research to identify attachment patterns in adults. However finding a therapist who is trained to administer this instrument can be difficult! Another adult attachment test that has been developed is the Adult Attachment Projective. However, this also needs to be done by a trained professional and not all cities (and certainly most rural areas) have anyone who has this type of training.
In an effort to find a method for people to determine their adult attachment classification I have tried various self-administered tests. The one that I have found to be most useful is on the website of psychologist Diane Poole Heller. Her self-administered test can be done online and gives you results immediately. Rather than being fully categorical (meaning you can only have one classification), her test creates a pie chart showing you what percent of your responses line up with a particular style. This is much more in keeping with what I see as a clinician-- that in some situations a person will look anxious-ambivalent, but in other situations they may look more anxious-avoidant for example. I think her approach makes sense clinically and is also easy for a lay person to understand.
For a really great understanding of how your attachment style impacts your romantic relationships I strongly recommend listening to Dr. Stan Tatkin's MP3 download, "Your Brain On Love". It explains in plain English how your childhood attachment style influences your romantic relationships in adulthood.
Remember, even those of us who came into adulthood with insecure attachment styles can learn new ways of being. With the help of a good therapist we can learn to re-pattern our ways of relating to mimic those of secure functioning couples. This can bring increased harmony, enjoyment, intimacy and stability to our relationships. Thanks to neuroplasticity we all have a chance at the benefits of a secure attachment to that special person.
Krista Jordan, Ph.D., ABPP
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