As we attempt to change our culturally-approved, ubiquitous co-dependent relationships we are often confused. Change them to what? What is a healthy relationship, anyhow? Few of us understand that relationships move in cycles repeating the pattern of our earliest relationships with our parents.

In healthy families, dependent children struggle and are encouraged to become independent people. If we missed doing this when we are growing up, we try to do it in our relationships.


The necessary dependence of a young child on a parent is distorted to become the co-dependent relationship we have learned to believe is normal. We give up our separate identities and become unnecessarily dependent on each other.

We seem to become incapable of doing certain things we used to do quite well. Sometimes one person forgets how to cook, another forgets how to manage money. A competition develops about who gets to have fun and who gets to work. When we recognize this co-dependent pattern we may try to change it.

Power Struggle

Often one partner tries to change and the other tries to keep it the same. Each partner may try to change the other. Each is sure he or she is right and the other is wrong. A power struggle ensues with each one blaming the other because the relationship no longer works for either of them.

Neither takes responsibility for their own life. A common refrain is ” If it weren’t for you, I could do what I want to do.” This struggle can continue for years, especially if we never resolved it with our parents.


If both partners work hard and establish separate independent existences, they may panic: “What’s the use of being together if I’m not needed? I need to be needed.” This is an important stage for each person to establish their own individuality.

In co-dependency people stay together because they need each other. During the independent stage of the cycle it becomes clear that we don’t need each other, that we can survive on our own. It may seem like there’s no reason to stay together even though we now admire and respect each other. The relationship seems very dull.


If a couple manages to stay together they may enter into the mature phase of their relationship, called interdependence. They each know that they can be independent, but it’s more fun and rewarding to be together. We learn to cooperate instead of compete, and become full partners in the relationship, staying by choice rather than by necessity.

Sometimes relationships go through this cycle many times about different issues like money, sex, food, childcare and work. Relationships also go through this cycle when important life changes occur. Cycling is normal and healthy. Getting stuck in any stage, as you did in growing up, is what causes the problem.

Each time the cycle is repeated successfully a relationship becomes stronger and more stable. Don’t hesitate to get help if you need it.

An excellent resource to learn more about creating healthy relationships is Being Happy Together: How to Create a Fabulous Relationship With Your Life Partner in Less Than an Hour a Week.

[tags]self-improvement, personal growth, self-help, relationship[/tags]