Jean Huber, LCSW

The Dependency Paradox: Why Dependence Leads to Independence

Handle it on your own.

You can’t count on anybody but yourself.

Don’t get too close to your partner.

I’ll bet you’ve heard these phrases before. They’re a deeply rooted part of the American social ethic. We value rugged individualism so much that we think it’s risky to trust others. Even our closest relationships should include a degree of independence. We’re told that letting others get too close could sabotage our success.

But have you ever stopped to question whether that’s actually true? It turns out that it’s not. Having a very close relationship with your partner can form a base of stability that frees you to be more independent and empowered to pursue your goals. Call it the dependency paradox.

Forming Interdependent Relationships

We’re told that we must be independent in our relationships. The last thing we want is to be seen as needy. But it turns out that independence may not even be possible. According to new research, couples form an interdependent partnership at very deep levels.

Researchers Amir Levine and Rachel Heller found that far from being separate entities, couples actually form one physiological unit. Their partners regulate their blood pressure, hormones, and heart rate. You have a significant impact on each other, even on a biological level.

The Inevitability of Dependence

Should we all avoid relationships and go it alone, since true independence isn’t possible? Quite the opposite. Our brains are hardwired to seek out these connections. The dependency paradox is that the stronger our link to our partner, the more free and independent we become.

Studies of the most successful people in society bear this out to be true. In his classic book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill reported that women were always the motivation that inspired men to become successful.

This is the way we’re designed: we crave being in close relationships. Being in relationships changes us, but almost always for the better.

The Benefits of Partnership

It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female: having a partner is still a good thing. We get so many benefits out of being in a relationship with someone else, especially when that relationship is a marriage.

Studies show that marriage has a long list of positive effects on your life. Married people are happier, healthier and live longer. They even make 10 to 50 percent more than their single peers, even after accounting for other factors like age, race and educational attainment.

Having a partner who supports you gives you the safe, stable background that allows you to pursue your dreams and maximize your potential. When your partner is your best friend, you can feel brave and bold enough to shoot for the moon. Why would anyone think independence was better than that? That, in a nutshell, is the Dependency Paradox.

What If Your Spouse Doesn’t Meet this Definition?

You may be saying: this all sounds very nice, but my spouse and I just don’t have that kind of relationship. I often feel like he (or she) is working against me, not driving me on to greater success. But that doesn’t mean you need to throw your partner overboard to find someone new and start over.

You can develop a deeper relationship with the combination of better communication skills and the help of a good therapist. Some people are lucky enough to find relationships that are supportive and nurturing from the start. But for most couples, it’s a work in progress. The advantage of long-term marriages is that you get a deep knowledge of your spouse.

But maybe you never learned the secrets of healthy communication, no matter how much you love your spouse. You might be making your partner feel unsupported instead of like you believe they can do anything they try. Or maybe you’ve hit a rough patch and need help getting past it. You’re not reaping the benefits of the dependency paradox, but you still can.

Give your marriage and your partner the strong foundation that will make both of you feel free. Learn the secrets of a good partnership in therapy.

Privacy Policy | 212-243-0707