Healthy Co-Dependence

CoupleStaringMuch has been written about unhealthy co-dependence which I would define as an unbalanced reliance upon another person for one’s own sense of value and worth.  Perhaps it is based upon a compassionate desire to rescue someone to help them get better or a deep desire or perceived need to be needed by someone else.

Whatever the reasoning, the codependent person seems to be drawn to people who are skilled at taking advantage of these characteristics.  Stated simply, giving people are at risk to losing themselves to the manipulations of takers.  In the extreme, the relationship can become demeaning and abusive.

Perhaps it is in reaction to this relational imbalance that some have asserted  marriage to be a 50/50 relationship where each partner reserves half of themselves for their own needs while laying down the other 50 percent for their partner.  With this proportion a valid point is that we need to take care of ourselves in order to care for another person.  The emphasis is upon not losing one’s self in the exchange.

I would suggest that the idea of a 100/100 equation communicates much the same with a significant shift in emphasis.  This is where each partner is busy finding ways to meet the needs and desires of the other over their own personal needs and desires.  When this is a mutual arrangement the relational potential is significantly enhanced.

Know One’s Self

To begin with, a person needs to know who they are and what they, personally, need.   If a person is too focused upon the needs of others too early, they may never really discover their own unique personal needs and desires.  Marriages that are preceded by an extended period of single-ness can be enhanced by one’s ability to know one’s self: i.e.,  their own preferences, goals in life, desires, dislikes and aversions.  Knowing what they bring to a relationship, they have a  good idea of what they need as well as the qualities and characteristics of another that would compliment their own.

Often, people who marry early in life and start having children immediately are so focused upon the needs and desires of their spouse and family that they may put their own personal development on hold.  Neglecting the development of their own sense of personal identity they face new challenges as they approach the empty nest when the kids are grown and moving on.  This can lead to a personal crisis or the need for a mid-life correction as a person finally confronts the fact that they have sacrificed their own needs for those of their families.  As self-discovery begins at this later stage in the family life cycle it sometimes becomes necessary to renegotiate relational expectations and behavior patterns; hence, the so-called mid-life crisis.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

The other part of the 100/100 equation is communicating personal preferences and expectations to the spouse who, also wanting to give fully, desires to know what his or her partner desires.  Without this critical element one’s expectations are not met because they are not verbalized.  Sometimes, the choice to do this is intended to keep from ‘burdening’ their partner. The reality is that they are asking their partner to use the trial-and-error method of inductive and deductive reasoning to approximate success.  The preferred method, of course, would be to verbalize our wishes and desires in order to inform our partners so that they can meet those needs because they wish to do so.

A frequent objection to communicating our needs and desires to our partners is based upon fear.  The concern is that when we tell our spouse what we want, that might be the reason they do it rather than because they want to do it altruistically.  This situation can create a classic double bind.  The logic can go something like this:

What I want should be such common knowledge that I should not have to verbalize or explain it to you.  You should love me enough to be able to read my mind and know it intuitively.  If you do not have this sensitivity to my needs then I must do without what I want and endure your mistakes.  Alternatively, I can find other ways to meet my needs without you.  But, I must never have to communicate what I want because, then, I can never know if you are doing it because you really want to do it or because I have asked you to do it.

In the end this is a false dichotomy because a spouse who is committed to the 100/100 equation wants to do for his or spouse precisely because they have asked for it!  At first, yes, it is awkward and seems artificial.  Nonetheless, with persistent communication that allows the spouse to know what to do, intuition becomes more consistent, paving the way for more accurate approximations as he or she anticipates the other’s needs and desires and begins to meet them.

A knowledge of one’s self and an ability to communicate it to a loved one is so important to the knitting together of lives into a loving relationships.  When partners can know what is desired and needed from the other they each become empowered to meet those individual preferences and become more dedicated to anticipating and satisfying them.  Potentially, it is an escalating positive feedback loop that can cement two people together in a mutually satisfying relationship that will thrive with the  inevitable challenges, setbacks and opportunities that will arise during the family life cycle.

This is what I would call a “healthy co-dependence.”

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