August 23, 2019

Interdependence vs. Codependence—It’s Okay to Have Needs

20639243Kimia had been in several relationships that started out well, but eventually did not fulfill her. She invariably ended up feeling taken advantage of, and that her boyfriends did not really care deeply for her. I asked her, “Do you think you made it clear to them that you won’t tolerate disrespectful behavior and that you deserve better than to be ignored?”

“I didn’t want to seem too needy,” was her reply. Kimia just hoped that by treating her partners lovingly and with care and respect that it would be returned. That didn’t happen.

Why are we so afraid of seeming “needy?” The cultural stigma against depending on anyone wreaks havoc with intimate relationships, which require that we give up a certain amount of autonomy to become part of an interdependent whole. Kimia’s fear of showing her unguarded, vulnerable self to her partners meant that they had no idea what she needed or that she was feeling so uncared for.

There is a big difference between interdependence and codependence, but I believe many people conflate the two, to their own detriment. Let’s look at some of the qualities of a partner in a codependent relationship—one that is by definition unhealthy.


  • Have a hard time identifying what they feel, or they deny or minimize their true feelings
  • Attempt to be unselfish at all times, dedicated to others’ well-being—and actually believe this is possible
  • Believe they don’t need help from anyone, ever, but don’t understand what a relationship looks like if they themselves are not needed
  • Blatantly cover their pain or vulnerabilities with sarcasm, anger, humor, isolation….
  • Attract people who are not actually available to them, which suits them, as it confirms their lopsided world view
  • Believe they are never good enough (and thus run the hamster wheel of attempted perfection all the faster)
  • Are embarrassed by attention, praise, nurturing, because they don’t like thinking that they need or want it
  • Can never identify what they want or need, let alone ask for it
  • Stay in harmful, unfulfilling relationships and situations too long because they are so good at putting themselves aside in order to make others happy
  • Won’t stand up for themselves, or even express an opinion if it differs from those of others
  • Believe that others can’t take care of themselves, which stands in stark contrast to their conviction that they can

 Interdependence is very different. Author Katherine Woodward Thomas wrote in her book Calling in “The One”: “Loving relationships must include the ability to be vulnerable enough to depend on someone.”

Just because you find yourself in a relationship with someone who cannot, or does not want to, support you, offer you consistency and love, and take your needs into consideration does not mean that you are too needy. It is vital that we all recognize that having needs is not inappropriate. The two extremes on either side of that are—being overly dependent or being so afraid of looking overly dependent that we shut down our needs altogether.

Sure, it is possible to be too dependent. Over-dependence, like codependence, is different from having healthy needs. We can look at the over-dependent partner in another blog, but for now, understand that interdependent is very different from dependent, or codependent.

What to strive for:

  • Figure out what your list looks like: what do you need to be happy in a relationship? For Kimia it was being valued and respected, feeling intellectually challenged, feeling cherished, and having great communication.
  • Believe that you are worthy of having those needs met. Affirm each one of the items on your list daily. Kimia wrote down her affirmations: I am worthy of respect. I am intellectually stimulating and stimulated. I cherish myself and worthy of being cherished. I am open to the flow of honest communication.
  • Open your eyes to the needs and values of your partner and honor them, but not at the expense of your own core self.
  • Develop trust in yourself not to fall into codependent habits of self-denial and controlling behavior.
  • Ask your partner to honor your independence as well as your needs, with the goal of achieving loving interdependence.

I published a blog about the value of interdependent relationships a couple years ago that you can check out too, for further insights into the healthiest and most fulfilling kind of relationship we can have. In the meantime, please remember: even though it has four letters, N.E.E.D. is not a bad word. Not by a long shot.


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