Knowing the difference between interdependence vs codependency is very smart. When you clearly know the difference between these types of relationships, you are better equipped to have healthy relationships.
In this article, you will learn three key differences to discern between interdependence vs codependency. Please know if you ever feel confused about what exactly is codependency, you’re not alone. There are many definitions out there for codependence which makes it confusing!
There is a simple way to understand codependency which is having an external focus of the world.
Most basically, people who have codependency, focus more on others than themselves. This includes spending most of their time and energy people pleasing or helping others. To accomplish this, as time and energy are finite, a person is their codependency often neglects their needs and doesn’t self-care.
Related: Why Self-Care is Not Selfish
What is Interdependence?
Interdependence is the healthy, balanced alternative to codependency. The simplest way to define interdependence is the practice of balancing self-care with other-care.
Interdependent people know that they cannot pour from an empty cup so they, first and foremost, practice self-care. Then with the energy and time they can honestly give to others, they do so. This is done from an authentically generous place – and does include sacrifice, at times, when it’s aligned for the interdependent person.
How to Know the Difference Between Interdependence and Codependency
There are clear ways to know the difference between these experiences. The rest of this article will outline 3 clear ways to know if you are acting in a more interdependent or codependent manner.
But please know that we all have the tendency to act in codependent ways sometimes. This does not mean something is wrong with you. Rather, it’s only a sign that you may benefit from some more balance in your relationships.
Different Relationships Can Be More or Less Balanced
Also, please know that while typically, codependency and interdependence are discussed from the perspective of romantic relationships, these experiences apply to all relationships.
You may be interdependent in some relationships such as your friendships but codependent in others like with your parents. There is no shame in this. Rather as you gain awareness, you are empowered to make new, healthier, choices.
Difference #1 for Interdependence vs Codependence: How is Your Relationship with Yourself?
To understand the difference between interdependence and codependence, it’s helpful to look at your relationship with yourself. This may seem like a strange place to start but it’s not. Your relationship with yourself is the foundation of all of the relationships you have with others.
While it’s not true that you can’t love another person until you love yourself – it is true that you can only love another person to the degree to which you love yourself.
Related: How Self-Love Affects Relationships
Ways a Person in Interdependency Cares for Themselves
Interdependent relationships are the healthy ideal. To have these relationships, you must have a strong foundation of self-love and self-care. This means, you regularly practice caring for yourself, and you have an open, self-aware relationship with yourself.
Self-loving practices a person may have in interdependency include:
- Drinking enough water,
- Taking time to soothe their emotions when they’re upset,
- Validating their emotions,
- Journaling to process their thoughts and needs in a relationship,
- Taking time to rest and relax daily,
- Getting movement,
- Deep breathing, and
- Practicing self-compassion
Of course, there are many other self-loving practices, but these are great examples.
In Codependency People Neglect Themselves
People in their codependency spend so much of their time and energy trying to care for others, they often forget about themselves.
Common signs a person is neglecting themselves which is a codependent trait include:
- Putting themselves last on their to-do list,
- “Forgetting” to eat or drink water,
- Never getting enough sleep,
- Their mind going blank when asked what they like to do for fun, and
- A sense that they don’t know themselves anymore – or never did
If you relate to any of these codependent signs your relationship with yourself is missing, please know you can heal this starting now. There are numerous articles on this blog to guide you to self-love. Or you may just look at the list of self-loving practices above. Self-love comes from the practice of showing yourself love.
Difference #2 for Interdependence vs Codependence: What are Your Boundaries Like?
A primary way to spot the difference between interdependent or codependent relationships is to look at the boundaries within this relationship.
Ideally, you have boundaries in every relationship. At first, this may seem surprising yet it’s only by having a healthy sense of separation from another person can you really see and hear them. This is the basis of genuine intimacy.
Interdependent Boundaries are Consistent and Flexible
If a person is interdependent they have boundaries with others. Boundaries exist for safety and a sense of respect. Without boundaries, you cannot have healthy relationships with others – or yourself. Having boundaries is the act of self-love in practice. And it shows other people love because you share genuinely with them, but you have a filter to ensure you’re honest yet kind.
When you’re interdependent, you have boundaries with others to ensure you are treated with respect. At the same time, you are flexible as this is the nature of healthy boundaries. You may, for example, set the boundary that your time needs to be respected yet if you have a friend who cancels at the last minute because something came up with their kid, you may be understanding.
Codependents Often Don’t Like the Idea of Boundaries
Often, in codependency, a person believes boundaries are “mean” or unnecessary in some relationships. However, to have no boundaries with someone is a sign of enmeshment. This is a major issue in relationships because it makes it seem like two people are one person. Yet this isn’t possible. Enmeshment also greatly worsens a fear of abandonment because it makes it seem like if you lose the other person, you will cease to exist.
Without healthy separation, you cannot truly understand another person. Or be understood.
Codependent Boundaries are All or Nothing
No matter how close you are to someone you will have different opinions and needs. For example, you may typically see eye to eye with your partner yet notice that you prefer to spend money differently. If you think that you don’t need boundaries, you’ll never have the honest conversations or express your limits. Then you may be filled with unmet expectations and resentments. This of course hurts relationships.
On the other hand, once resentment builds up, it’s common for a person in their codependency to feel entitled to get whatever they want now that they’re speaking up. While understandable, neither approach is healthy for relationships.
Difference #3 for Interdependence vs Codependence: How Do You Solve Relationship Problems?
Finally, to understand the difference between a codependent or healthy relationship, it’s important to look at how you address problems.
This includes how self-aware you are, your boundaries, as well as how you communicate.
Interdependent People are Assertive and Take Accountability
A key difference between a person being interdependent or codependent is how they communicate about problems.
A person who is interdependent is self-aware. Because of this when there are relationship problems, they work to have empathy and accountability. This means that they don’t believe that one person is to blame i.e., their partner and that they are innocent. Instead, they understand that they are mutually responsible for relationship problems – and each person is empowered to fix them.
Of course, an interdependent person isn’t perfect. Yet they work to dig deep and be understanding towards the other person when there’s issues. They can kindly explain their concerns in a clear way. Yet they are also open to hearing the other person’s perspective. Whenever possible, they seek to negotiate and compromise.
Interdependent Communication in Action
A person who is interdependent will express their concerns without blaming or attacking the other person. For example, they may say something to their partner like, “I was really hurt when you didn’t call me back last night when you said you would.” They stop here. They are honest but they don’t want to attack the other person.
If their partner says something like they forgot, for example, the interdependent person may say, “I understand. In the future though, could you please not make a commitment to me unless you are able to follow through?”
Codependent Blame and Shame
A person in their codependency is sadly susceptible to gaslighting. This includes from others but also towards themselves. They may tell themselves that their concerns aren’t a big deal, and they need to get over whatever’s upsetting them with someone else.
This leads to passive or passive-aggressive communication. This is where they don’t say anything or drop hints or make sarcastic “jokes” hoping the other person understands their feelings, needs or boundaries. Of course, this isn’t effective because it’s not appropriate to expect other people to read our minds. We’re responsible for communicating.
Alternately, in codependency, a person may explode after hiding their feelings for so long. They may feel their partner deserves to hear them vent now. Sometimes, they may feel embarrassed for this or other times, they may feel entitled to attack the other person because their resentment has built up for so long.
You Can Heal Codependent Relationships
If you relate to any of these signs of codependency in any or all of your relationships, please know there is no shame in this. It takes tremendous courage to be willing to become more aware of how your life may be imbalanced.
Also, you are already on the path to recovery by being here! Just by reading this article, and noticing what you do and don’t relate to, you’re building self-awareness. This is a necessary component of having a healthy relationship with yourself which is the basis of all interdependent relationships.
Please know that it’s completely possible to recover from codependency. It just takes commitment to taking baby steps. For extra support, please explore this blog including the article, “Codependency: How to Fix it for Healthier Relationships.”
You may also want to check out my book The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle, where I outline the five steps of recovery. If you like a hands on step by step approach, you may enjoy completing my workbook, The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence.
Whatever steps you take next, please remember – you already have started to recover by being here. You are so capable of healing!
About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Therapy Within Reach: Setting Boundaries, will be released September, 2023.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to email@example.com or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.
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