Linda: If you’re finding it challenging to create the relationship of your dreams, it doesn’t mean
that you’re a poor student. Rest assured that most others probably don’t find the process any easier than you do. Yet there are some couples whose relationship seems to live up to the phrase “made in heaven”, and some of them actually are what they appear to outsiders to be. Many, however, are not. Some people are just more skilled at creating and managing the impression that they want the world to have of them. So if you’re being challenged in the relationship department, don’t take it personally. It’s not necessarily your fault. It’s inherent in the nature of the game that we encounter obstacles and unanticipated difficulties whenever we take on a new project. And creating a mutually loving relationship can be quite a project!
Having said that, although it may be true that it’s not necessarily your fault if things aren’t going according to the way that you had planned, it is your responsibility to deal with the reality in which you find yourself. This includes: learning from your experience, integrating what you’ve learned into your behavior, and doing the repair work that will restore good will and harmony into your relationships.
Independence, Dependence, Codependence and Interdependence
One of the things that makes the creation of great relationships challenging is the confusion that many of us have in regard to the question of responsibility. That is, what does it mean to be responsible in a relationship?
Relationships are partnerships in the truest sense of the word. Partnerships involve qualities like mutuality, reciprocity and interdependence. There is an understanding between partners that they share a joint interest in their association with each other and an awareness that they can create something together that neither of them could produce on their own. The term that best defines this condition is “interdependence”. All successful coalitions involve interdependence but accepting the responsibility and vulnerability that is inherent in interdependence can be daunting for many of us.
The American culture is grounded in the value of independence as evidenced in what may perhaps be our most cherished historic document and is included in our most popular national holiday: The Declaration of Independence and the 4th of July (Independence Day). This is not to imply that this document and this holiday are the reason that we tend to hold independence as such a highly treasured virtue. America was founded by immigrants, most of whom came here to escape harsh and oppressive rulers and conditions. What those who immigrated to America came here to experience was, and continues to be, the ability to live lives that were independent of the domination of controlling despots. Their motivations were for the most part, honorable, sincere, and worthy. And they brought with them a longing for freedom and independence that has permeated our nation since its founding.
Yet as powerful and positive as this drive can be, there is a shadow side that is illuminated if it is practiced to an extreme and is reinforced by social institutions. When the drive for independence is so strong that it blinds us to our innate need for cooperation and mutual support, we can experience painful consequences in our individual lives and in our interpersonal relationships. When we forget that it is not only in our basic nature, but in our best interest to honor and embody the quality of interdependence, the results can involve a variety of relationship break-downs. Forgetting that we are interdependent social beings who need each other can reinforce the mistaken notion that we are fundamentally independent and don’t need to rely upon others to meet our essential needs. Such beliefs can lead us to a distorted sense of self-importance, insensitivity to others, arrogance, an absence of humility, and other tendencies that can cause an imbalance in our lives and relationships.
For many of us, an extreme focus on hyper-independence is an expression of resistance to the feeling of vulnerability that is present in the acceptance of our interdependent state. When we deny this, the pendulum swings far over to the other side, and we tend to withhold our feelings and inner experience not only from others, but from ourselves as well. We become out of touch. Consequently, we become unable to connect with others on any more than a superficial level. This isn’t necessarily because we are afraid to do so, but because we haven’t yet developed the ability to bring into our awareness the content of our inner world. Intimate relationships thrive on the exchange of this information and wither when it isn’t available.
For the benefits of interdependence to be fully realized in a relationship, it is necessary to be both supportive, which requires independence, and supported which requires a willingness to be dependent. It requires the willingness to acknowledge that we are bonded by our mutual need for each other and that we are each separate, unique, and autonomous individual. Interdependence means that we are complementary; we each have qualities, talents, skills, and expertise that are valued, and which can enhance the relationship.