What is healthy dependence in a relationship?
In consultation I meet people who cannot say why they are with their partner. “I guess I love him”, “he makes me feel safe”, “what will he do if I’m not there”… It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between a dependency on that person and love.
It is important to emphasize that the main objective within a relationship is not to be completely independent , as we have always been taught. Of course, we are independent beings with our personality, our traits, our tastes or hobbies.
Once we find ourselves in a relationship, if we function completely independently what will happen is that we will find ourselves in a dysfunctional relationship. There will be no room for communication, for leisure etc. Therefore, we are going to discard the idea that it is important to be only independent and we are going to relate through a healthy dependency .
Healthy dependence in relationships
What does it mean? Human beings are social beings, that is, we need contact with others . If we are totally independent we are within a dysfunctional bonding pattern.
On the contrary, this healthy bonding or dependence with others occurs when we are able to manage our own emotions and are also able to regulate the emotions of the other person and feel comfortable and confident in the relationship with others .
In the case of being an independent person, the second factor would not be fulfilled. These people are not comfortable in intimacy; in this case there is going to be a great need for self-regulation. On the contrary, a dependent person will feel very good within this intimacy but not autonomously , there will be a need for confusion with the other person.
Asymmetries in the couple
In consultation, it is very common to find couples in which one of the members is more dependent and the other more independent . What will happen in these cases?
The most dependent person will provide all the care he or she considers necessary for his or her partner, without the latter having requested it. He will leave aside everything he needs and wants. Through this care they will get the reinforcement they need for their well-being, as they will normally be people with damaged self-esteem. They will also need the other’s opinion when making decisions and normally do not set limits on others as a way of protecting themselves.
These types of patients feel that their relationship with their partner gives them security and stability. This is the first differentiation I would like to make.
What these people feel is security in being accompanied , thinking about loneliness is very scary and they prefer this type of relationship, in which they feel a lot of discomfort, to ending it. The discomfort is due to this constant fear of losing the other person and to avoid this happening they put all their care into it, giving themselves mistrust. And the first premise we talk about for a healthy relationship is trust in intimacy with the other. In this case we are not in a horizontal relationship, that is, in a relationship of equals.
In more dependent people we find a more submissive profile , so the person will never feel secure. They will only feel secure when their partner reassures them how well they have done something, or how well they have made a decision. This is when it can be confusing for a person to feel safe in the relationship. But if you realize the basis of this type of relationship is fear and therefore insecurity.
How can we identify if we are in a healthy relationship?
First of all, it is important to feel confident with ourselves , to keep in mind that well-being depends on oneself and not on one’s partner. If we look for well-being in the other person and our emotions depend on it, we are in a dysfunctional relationship, we would not be regulating our own emotions and we are putting the responsibility externally.
It is also important that we know what our needs are , as well as those of our partner. Once we have identified them, it is important that we express them and move in that direction to get what we want. Normally, it is complicated for caregivers to identify what their needs are. I propose that you do a work of reflection and focus on what generates your well-being or what you need to feel good.
Let’s imagine a piece of land where we’re going to build a house. The first thing we will have to build is the foundations, without these our house will not resist and probably with the slightest movement it will collapse. Relationships are like houses, they need to have a solid foundation. These are communication, trust, respect and equality . If these premises are not given, what will happen is that we are not in a healthy relationship, and it is then that the different dysfunctional bonding patterns of what we saw before will be set in motion.
It is important to keep in mind that a healthy and accepting relationship with ourselves is required to have functional relationships. Otherwise we will be depositing our discomfort and experiences in the relationship added to those of the other person, thus allowing us to understand the different relationships in which we have found ourselves.