You made it through 2020 as a couple. And considering, well, everything—see: distance learning, sheltering in place, risky essential work and endless financial and emotional stress—that’s no small feat. So how do you make your marriage even stronger in 2021? Jordan Green, a licensed clinical therapist who works with both individuals and couples (and also curates an exceptional educational and inspirational feed about relationships on her Instagram @the.love.therapist), told us the one word she has on her mind for the new year: interdependence. Here’s why.
Per Green, as we inch toward living in nearly a full year of COVID-mode, so many couples who have been with their partners 24/7 are struggling to find independence. On the contrary, there are also couples in long-distance situations who are struggling to feel close. Green’s advice? “Find a balance of interdependence in your relationship.”
So what exactly is “interdependence”?
“In relationships, there is ME, YOU, and US. In healthy relationships, there is a balance between all of those parts,” Green explains. This is interdependence, which allows you to express love without sacrificing yourself; it allows you to receive love without being dependent on it for your self-worth, says Green. TLDR? Couples must learn to find a balance between a healthy “I” and a collaborative “We.”
How can you tell if you’re too dependent vs. interdependent?
Per Green: “Too much dependence in a relationship looks like your entire identity is defined by the relationship. You over-sacrifice your needs for your partners. You blur boundaries and you over-rely on your partner, having few interests or hobbies outside of the relationship.” This is a form of de-selfing, where a person compromises other relationships, activities and interests in service of their partner’s needs. “If you’re too dependent, there is little to no individuality and you form almost a host-parasite-like relationship,” says Green.
But independence in a relationship is good, right?
Theoretically, independence is great! But Green warns that if you’re too independent, you begin to lack connection and become emotionally distant. “This manifests in having difficulty relying on your partner or asking for help, not allowing or accepting support, valuing freedom over togetherness and lack of intimacy,” she explains. This is why interdependence is the goal.
How do you know if you’re practicing interdependence?
“Interdependence looks like having a healthy individual and a couple identity,” Green shares. It’s like the golden mean of all of the above. From Green’s experience, interdependence means there is good cooperation, communication, compromise and healthy boundaries, which creates emotional safety. That means that hobbies and friendships are maintained outside of the relationship—that’s right, your fiancée doesn’t need to feign interest in Baby Yoda and you don’t have to take that painting class if you absolutely hate it. On the flip side, Green stresses that there is mutual reliance while maintaining responsibility for self—aka, do your Star Wars-ing and art class on your own and come home and open a bottle of wine to talk about your days—and cheers to the relationship word of 2021: interdependence.