Linda: People with complementary personalities can provide a missing link for each other. In theory it sounds like this arrangement should work just fine. And in most cases it does, at least for a while. But eventually, if things don’t change, it breaks down. A relationship in which both people are living through the strengths of each other rather than strengthening those qualities within themselves is destined to eventually run into trouble.
While it may appear that one partner is more dependent than the other, in fact they are both dependent upon each other to provide the relationship with the balance that it requires. The problem is that while the relationship may be balanced and receiving the resources that it needs, neither individual is feeling complete.
This condition is known as co-dependency. Co-dependency is not the middle ground between independence and dependence. It is the inevitable result of an imbalanced relationship in which both partners are unknowingly colluding with each other to perpetuate a system that has some obvious advantages and some not so obvious disadvantages.
Polarity is defined by the dictionary as “the presence or manifestation of two contrasting principles or tendencies.”
Polarities in which partners have differing or even opposite perspectives or personality traits also show up in forms other than independent/dependent. Other examples include:
- thinkers and feelers
- planners and impulsive driven
- highly sensitive and less sensitive
- extroverts and introverts
- self-centered and other-centered
- initiators and reactors
- slow-paced and fast-paced
- doers and contemplatives
- connection-lovers and solitude-lovers
- rescuers and those in need of rescue
- optimists and pessimists
- connectors and freedom fighters
Differences can enliven a partnership. They only become a problem when we find ourselves at opposite ends of the pole, in other words, polarized. This happens when the differences become problematic because we view our partner through eyes of judgment, disapproval, or criticism. In all cases, it’s a matter of learning to respect the differences. In so doing we become able to see each other through eyes of appreciation and gratitude.
We all tend to attract people with complementary temperaments, not because we like making things hard, but because on an unconscious level we know that we have something to learn from this person. We have attracted them in order to provide us an opportunity to cultivate an aspect of ourselves that could enhance the quality of our life. If differences become problematic, they need to be addressed.
The first step in this process is to acknowledge that things are not going as well as one or both partners would like. This condition may be illuminated by the presence of symptoms that are showing up within one or both partners. A few examples of these symptoms are:
- Depression and changes in mood
- An increase in the frequency and intensity of arguments
- Frequently feeling victimized or blamed by each other
- A noticeable drop in the frequency of or desire for sexual relations on one or both parts
- Feeling distant and disconnected from each other
When symptoms appear it’s best to address them sooner rather than later. The longer these conditions remain present, the more toxic and entrenched things become. The person who first recognizes that things are not going well has the responsibility to acknowledge their concern to their partner and to initiate efforts to address the situation.
Frequently couples are able to make great strides in dealing with relationship disturbances on their own. Sometimes professional assistance may be necessary. It’s always a good idea to try to put the corrections in on your own. But it can also be easy to misjudge the magnitude of the challenge if toxic conditions have gone unacknowledged for a long time.
Because we attract others who complement our strengths and weaknesses, occasional disturbances are inevitable. Coming to terms with differences requires a change in attitude, not a change in who we fundamentally are.
The repair that needs to occur cannot only restore the trust and respect that may have diminished over time but can greatly deepen these feelings. As each of us becomes more whole and balanced within ourselves, we become more fully available to each other and have more to give the relationship. This promotes a cycle of positive reinforcement that enables us to transform breakdowns into breakthroughs.
To personalize this information, you can do this brief but powerful Interdependence exercise:
- Where do you see yourself falling on the spectrum of interdependence between 0 (primarily focused on self) to 10 (primarily focused on others)?
- How do you feel in regard to where you stand on the spectrum?
- Do you see a need to move in either direction?
- If so, what could you do to shift the balance?