Enlightened Living

Meaning and mindfulness in everyday life

Understanding the Continuum of Relationship Style

What is your relationship style?

Relationship style comes in several different distinct flavors -- independent, dependent, interdependent, co-dependent and counter-dependent. Bearing this in mind, if we consider one of the prime tenets of forensic psychology - the way that people do one thing is the way that they do everything - we can begin to reveal the consistencies, and, by association, the repeated patterns of behavior, in the vast majority, if not all, of our relationships.

The independent style of relationship is exactly as it sounds. It suggests a superficial investment in interpersonal interaction that is superseded by self-interest. This does not always portend a narcissistic relationship or relationship style, but does suggest a style where true investment is lacking.

The dependent style of relationship is exactly the opposite of the independent style. It suggests a profound overinvestment in interpersonal interaction to the point where the one doing the investing is ostensibly lost to the other. This loss can be so extreme - as with the borderline relationship -- that the dependent person "cannot live without" the other person, or at least feels that this is the case.

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The co-dependent style of relationship is an unhealthy balance of need and support. While co-dependence is a natural aspect of most relationship, when the demands of one person consume the support of the other, we head in a direction typically associated with addiction and dependence.

The counter-dependent relationship is a sort of reactionary relationship. It is a situation where one partner starts out reacting to the behavior of the other partner and then begins to be so consumed by the behavior of the other that the reacting partner begins behaving in parallel to that other. This is very common when one partner in a relationship has borderline tendencies.

Finally, the interdependent relationship is that which is most healthy. It suggests balance, cooperation and a mutual interplay of need and support that feeds both partners in a way that is generative, not destructive.

Although, in general, relationships are not so clear cut and compartmentalized, attention to the overarching style present in our relationships can lead us to a deeper understanding of how we relate to the world and how we perceive the world as relating to us. This then leads us right down the path of self-valuation, as it leads us to consider our self-worth. Self-worth is a more complex and subtle interpretation of the ubiquitous concept of self-esteem, as it considers the transactional nature of social relationship, while self-esteem is more self-centered in nature.

Our degree of self-worth is often compensated by the nature of our relationships. The less confident we are in our own social value, the more toward dependent our relationships tend to run. Plainly put, the less that you think of yourself, the more you try to get others to be invested in your value.

Understanding the manner in which we set up relationships is helpful in understanding ourselves. Often we don't see ourselves as we are, so having a social point of reference for our choices makes envisioning ourselves much easier.

© 2009 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.

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