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What is a codependent relationship? And how do I transition to an interdependent relationship?

Today’s episode of the podcast addresses this question. Therapists Dawn Larson and James Buchanan sit down with me to discuss their newish relationship.

They bring the wisdom of more than 40 years as professional therapists, and then they get personal. You’ll hear about the codependent relationships they both exited and how they’ve created new, interdependent, habits as they begin their married life together.

I’m excited for you to hear how they have integrated and applied all that they’ve learned professionally into their private marriage.


What is borrowed functioning in a relationship?

When you are not feeling capable, you might borrow functioning from your partner by expecting your partner to “fix your bad mood.”

Couples who are locked in a codependent relationship trade off borrowing functioning from each other.

James compares this borrowed functioning to two jagged puzzle pieces who fit together in a trauma bond. Each partner trades off who is functional, and trauma is running the show in your relationship.


In a codependent relationship, nobody gets stronger

The expectation for an interdependent relationship is that each partner in the relationship takes responsibility for their own emotional regulation.

That means if you’re having a rough day, you take yourself out for a bike ride, or you talk to yourself until you feel more in control emotionally.

Then you can return to your partner, eager to receive support and love from the relationship. When you’re not feeling whole, your partner can remind you that you are always whole.

Key take away: You are in charge of your own emotional well-being inside your relationship. Your partner isn’t responsible to fix your bad mood.


Like attracts like in a relationship

You might find someone who’s similarly abused. Your relationship will have an abusive or disordered quality.

When you get healthier, however, you attract something different: a healthy relationship.

Key take-away: the healthier you get, the more you’ll be able to attract a healthy partner. Then, together, you can form healthy habits for your relationship.


You each need to own what’s yours emotionally

Non-violent communication can help you each own what is emotionally your own. This fosters interdependence.

“I statements” are facilitative. “You statements” cause blame and foster the codependent trap.  Instead of saying, “You make me feel bad,” a healthy relationship partner can say, “I feel bad because I am triggered.”

When you can identify the things that trigger your pain, you don’t blame your partner. When you take responsibility for your feelings, you become interdependent rather than codependent.


How to avoid repeating the same mistakes in relationships

You’re not broken. You might be wounded. Until you can offer healing to yourself, you will continue to attract the same dysfunctional person, thus creating a codependent relationship.

Healing takes place when you work on yourself. Find autonomy, self-forgiveness, and boundaries.

Codependence is very comforting, but it’s also turbulent and toxic. When you don’t heal your wounded edges, you simply attract another partner with similarly codependent needs to comfort and soothe.


You need to be in relationship to heal your relationship style

You can work on yourself alone, and that is helpful for healing. But you only face the trigger of relationship bumps inside of relationship.

When you each care about your partner’s independence, and you’re willing to stand in the fire of relationship challenges, you both grow. You become interdependent.


Healing the “kid part” inside you helps you become a whole person

Dawn uses Gestalt and Internal Family Systems therapeutic models to help clients access the little kid inside each person.

When you pass off your kid part to your partner—like shoving a pillow at them to hold and nurture—you abdicate responsibility for your emotional health and you foster codependent patterns.


Your partner can hold you while you hold your inner child

In therapy, Dawn will advise a wife to hold her inner child, then she’ll invite the husband to hold the wife.

In this way, there is no passing off the emotional responsibility and two people become more whole: more interdependent.


How do you hold your inner child to support your relationship?

James and Dawn suggest making it physical: hold a pillow. Give your inner child a name the way James calls his inner child “Jimmy.”

As you hold that pillow/inner child, talk to it. Describe the feelings your inner child is having. “You got strong because your father hurt you.” This is grown-up-you caring for child-you. Healing comes from this care.

Describe the strong, powerful person you’ve become as a grown-up. Promise that inner child that you will never abandon that inner child.

You can write to your inner-child. On one side of the page grown-up you asks a question. On the other side of the page your inner-child can write back. This conversation allows you to remember what that child inside you needs.

You were loved and wounded into existence.


Non-violent communication helps heal your relationship

There are 4 steps of non-violent communication that will help to foster your interdependent relationship:

  • Observe situation
  • Describe emotion
  • State needs
  • Make requests

First observe the situation: I notice you are struggling. Your voice sounds young.

Secondly, describe your emotions about the situation: I’m feeling scared and I don’t want to get into a big fight.

Third, state your need: I need a little space so we can both process our own feelings.

Lastly, make a request: How about I go workout and you take some time for yourself. Then we can come back together later and talk about why you’re struggling.

Try this relationship habit: 

Process Time. Keep a list on your phone of issues you need to process in your relationship. Discuss this list at a dedicated time and place.

Dawn and James keep a list on their phones of issues they need to process in order to keep their relationship clean and healthy.

They recommend having a predictable time for your relationship process time. For them, it’s Saturday morning over coffee. When you bring up issues in this framework of safety, it avoids the punch of unpredictable rants and fights.

You and your partner learn to expect the more challenging topics in your relationship at this time. But, because it’s predictable and not surprising, you each bring your grow-up selves to the discussion.

Eventually, you’ll notice there are fewer and fewer topics to address.

I’d love to hear what happens when you try the four steps of non-violent communication. Please text me and let me know how your conversation changes when you use these four steps of non-violent communication: 970-210-4480.

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