Dependent/Independent/Interdependent

Community is important. (Yeah, yeah, I know, big shock that I’d say that. Stop pretending to have a heart attack).

I’ve been preaching boundaries and acceptable behavior for many months here, and the reason I do it is because community is important and you cannot have a good relationship without interdependence. Thing is, you won’t choose that if you’re not solid and safe in your boundaries first.

This is where the title to the article comes in. You see, there are stages of growth that every person goes through1.

First, you’re dependent. We typically associate this with childhood because the way children are dependent is big and obvious. They cannot care for themselves, but over time, they learn the skills necessary to do so. The thing is, often people are emotionally dependent long after they’re no longer so physically. You are emotionally dependent if your sense of self-worth and security derives from the continuing nurturing of another person.

I’ll tell on myself. I was in my late thirties before I moved away being emotionally dependent on someone. So, just so you know, there’s no high horse about this sort of thing coming from me. I got lucky and was forced into the next stage.

Yep, Independence.

Now many people are physically independent even before they hit their twenties. That’s really cool. But to be in keeping with the poly theme, I wanna talk more about emotional independence. Boy, oh boy, that sounds all cool and self-sufficient, doesn’t it? Yep, I can take care of myself, I don’t depend on anyone for my needs…. Wow, this is awesome!

It is awesome, and a fun feeling.

But there’s one more step — Interdependence. This is when you’re relying mutually on each other(s) in support of a common goal such as family, childrearing or some other community goal.

Interdependence can’t happen, by the way, unless you’ve been independent. It’s a necessary stage. If you’ve skipped the whole independence thing, you’re probably dependent, no matter how it looks otherwise.

Interdependence is where a good poly relationship happens. It’s where individuals, perfectly capable of and relaxed at the prospect of being self-reliant, self-supporting and perfect fine and happy with self-care can mutually agree to a level of support and care between each other. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that until you reach the whole interdependent level, you’re really not ready to have poly relationships at all.

So, where are you in your personal development?

If you’re saying, “I need my SO.” or “Life wouldn’t be worth living without X”, you’re dependent2. It might be productive to take a hard look at yourself and ask yourself if you like where you are. If you do, well, good luck with that. It’s a somewhat dangerous path, but can be a valid choice. Just do it with your eyes open. If you aren’t too happy with it, there are a range of options. Counseling can be useful. You might find mental exercises where you mentally replace the word “need” with “want” for anything not having to do with your physical survival3. Try exercises that make you aware that you’re responsible for your own emotional well-being. Consistently ask yourself how you can meet your own emotional desires. Make sure you’re not throwing them aside to care for others, as well.

If you’re independent, make sure you check that it’s a choice rather than a fear of closeness. It’s a valid choice in a lot of circumstances, but you want to be sure you’re open to the benefits of community — of serving and being served.

When you get to an interdependent situation, do keep in mind that there’s a serious mutuality going on there! You might be spending a lot of time in service to others, but those others are going to be spending a lot of time in service to you. Remember to accept the help. If you’re not accepting the help and care as well as giving it, you’re actually in a weird cycle of dependence or co-dependence. Mutuality is the key. I mean, we all know giving is fun, right? Yes, yes, yes, enjoy yourself in it, but don’t hog all the fun. Let your loves have the pleasure of doing the same!

1Please note that I did not say, “Every child goes through”. Sure, it’d be great if we did all go through these stages in childhood, but the simple fact of the matter is that in our culture and the way many people are reared, we don’t. So don’t beat yourself up no matter what stage you’re in. It won’t help you and just makes you feel bad.

2 Like I said, been there, done that, and it wasn’t so long ago. No beatin’ yourselves up if this is where you are. It’s not productive, but it doesn’t make you bad.

3 Don’t go overboard with this. If you don’t thrive in a household where there’s a lot of shouting or little privacy, you don’t. Just do your very best to detach how you thrive emotionally from a dependence on other people’s behaviors.

8 thoughts on “Dependent/Independent/Interdependent

  1. maka

    thanks for this….the subject is coming up a lot in one of my relationships lately. i think we needed to read this.

    Reply
  2. Lotte

    Awesome explanation. The thread on lj-poly about lovers being “enough” was interesting in terms of “needing” more than one partner, and there’s this idea floating around that poly people don’t have their “needs” met by one person. I don’t need any of my lovers, but I have chosen to intertwine my life with theirs and exchange the joys and duties associated with meeting each others’ needs and wants.

    Reply
  3. freelove999

    It’s a good article in helping to understand how poly is achievable – through not owning or controlling the lives of others, particularly your lovers. However, I believe the states you talk of are layered, and you might also move in and out of different states. For example, if I am in some kind of crisis situation (hey, life throws at all of us from time to time) this is likely to make me feel more dependent, more needy of those aroud me, and there is nothing wrong with feeling dependency and needing support, even if you are normally independent or interdependent.

    Another example, in my poly relationship (I live with my husband and on-and-off with a second man who is the father of my second child), I feel I am in an interdependent relationship with my husband, but have not reached that stage in the second relationship — I find myself very needy in the second relationship, for a whole range of reasons (e.g. I think the interdependence in a relationship comes from building a solid foundation and takes time to achieve, my second relationship has been somewhat unstable, I get exhausted from childcare and not having enough ‘me’ time when the second man is not around and sometimes feel quite desperate about it (my husband is supportive in rearing both my children, but i am cautious about relying too much on his good will), and with the second man we are still exploring how our dependence, independence and interdependence can be a comfortable fit for both of us).

    Therefore, achieving interdependent relationships is not something you do and then are finished doing — like everything else in life, it is a process, a journey, not a destination. None of us will ever be defined by entirely one state or another, because we are not final and stable products. And nor, I believe, would we want to be — half the fun of life is growing, confronting and embracing change, taking on the challenges of new relationships (including relationships with lovers, relationships with friends and relationships with family and children). There is no perfect stasis in life, and at different times we may be better or worse at rolling with the punches.

    Reply
  4. Hope

    Very good article. Thanks for posting it.

    I have been independent, dependent, and have had other people dependent on me in a relationship, so I’ve seen more than one side of this. One of the most difficult things I’ve had to do is acknowledge that sometimes I am dependent on others whether I like it or not when I am struggling with illness. It’s very humbling, and I want to be more independent, but my circumstances sometimes make greater independence an impossibility.

    Reply

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