Are You Co-dependent, Independent, or INTER-dependent?

29 Comments
September 27, 2013

The essence of our lives can be boiled down to relationship.  Relationship with God, and with one another.  For this reason, the nature and health of our relationships are of the utmost importance.  Most of the problems that we face in the Western world are a result of dysfunctional relationships, and most of the problems that we face when being joined with other brothers and sisters in organic church life are rooted in confusion about the nature of co-dependent, independent, and INTER-dependent relationships. 

A couple of weeks ago, I conducted an interview on the blog with my wife. (you can read that interview by clicking HERE)  In that interview, she shared a snapshot of life in the church community that we are part of.  In response to that interview, someone asked a very insightful question about the potential pitfalls of dysfunctional relationships that can occur in this type of a community.  I thought this question deserved some more attention.      

While I do not claim to be an expert on relationships, I have experienced co-dependent, independent, and INTER-dependent relationships in the course of my life.  In today’s post, I’d like to share some of the personal discoveries that I have made in all three types of relationships.  I am convinced that knowing the differences between these kinds of relationships are essential if we’re going to move forward with seeing the Lord’s eternal purpose truly carried out in community.  

Co-dependent

Co-dependent relationships are built upon brokenness and lack.  Its foundation is a vacuum.  People who operate from brokenness and lack tend to desperately look for life and wholeness externally in another person.  When people who operate from lack or brokenness find one another,  a seemingly strong bond can emerge pretty quickly.  This relational bond usually results in a drug like euphoric sense of fulfillment at the beginning of the relationship.  While this can seem like legitimate intimacy, it is a cheap counterfeit.  

Co-dependent relationships are unhealthy and eventually self destruct because they are based on taking, not giving.  Like a drug, the participant unintentionally uses the other to meet a perceived need.  Eventually, the need can no longer be met by the other, and this often leads to a series of destructive behaviors.  

Co-dependent relationships often have a possessive and controlling element to them.  Because the security and identity of the person is tied to the relationship, anything that seems to threaten or rival the relationship is seen as an enemy.  Like an addict, there is a sense of continually needing to demand more from the other person in the relationship in the attempt to fill their void.  This often leads to immorality or various sorts of fleshly engagements in the attempt to connect and fulfill their perceived need.    

Those who are involved in co-dependent relationships often drain the life out of and suffocate one another.  Because of this, and the possessive quality of the co-dependent relationship, other longstanding relationships suffer neglect and break down leading to further isolation.    

Independent

While co-dependent relationships are widely understood to be unhealthy, independent relationships are often seen as healthy and responsible in our Western culture.  This is a tragedy.  For me personally, the heartache of co-dependent relationships also led me into independent relationships as a reaction.  

In my opinion, the term independent relationship is an oxymoron.  There isn’t much relating that can occur with this kind of a mindset.  Because of the fear of co-dependency, an excessive emphasis on boundaries and walls keep relationships shallow, segregated, and independent.  For those with this type of a mindset, the bulk of time and energy in life is rooted in daily living and simply functioning as an independent unit among other independent units.  

Those who have been deeply assaulted by the performance based religious system also tend to gravitate toward independence as a way of life.  Independence is a way to operate in life at a safe distance from those who may evaluate and condemn us.  

Those who operate from an independent mindset can also tend to function as spiritual ‘supermen’, dropping in to correct another, or to share some needed insight without the context of a real shared life relationship.  While some of the qualities and boundaries seen in independent relationships can be a legitimate correction from co-dependency, the heart of the Lord beats for so much more relational depth.  If co-dependency is one side of the coin, the independent mentality is the other side of the same fleshly coin.  

INTER-dependent

INTER-dependent relationships, however, are rooted in wholeness, life, and love.  While co-dependent and inter-dependent relationships both seek to deeply relate with others, the foundations of those desires are fundamentally different.  Inter-dependent folks have a strong desire to love others by giving and serving with the treasure & abundance of life that is inside of them.  It comes from a place of wholeness.

Inter-dependent relationships can be deeply intimate.  While inter-dependent relationships will take on different expressions based on the specific type of relationship that it is, each inter-dependent relationship is governed and defined by indwelling love (Christ).  Its only boundary is love (Christ).  Its only limit is love (Christ), who is limitless.  Unlike co-dependent relationships, however, inter-dependent relationships do not lead to isolation and relational breakdown in the lives of those involved.  They are not possessive and suffocating, but liberating.

Inter-dependent relationships are deeply healing.  Because the parties involved in inter-dependent relationships serve one another from the abundance of life within them, these kinds of relationships have an unlocking effect on those involved.  The inter-dependent relationship tends to cause the other to discover and thrive in their true identity.  The relationships that Jesus had described in the gospels are a perfect example of this.

Jesus did not need or trust the flesh of others.  He operated from His Father’s indwelling life and approached others from this place of wholeness.  He was certainly not co-dependent.  

Jesus was also not independent, however.  

He was not a spiritual superman who dropped in as a wise sage quoting proverbs all the time. He made Himself accessable through real, shared life relationship. Jesus shared His everyday life with those who had been given to Him in relationship.  He had deeply intimate relationships that were unlocking and liberating.  The relationships he had with His mother, with John, and with Mary of Bethany are powerful examples of this.  

While much more could be said about all of this, I believe understanding the nature of relationship is key to grasping the very mission of God. The ekklesia that He is building is not a collection of co-dependent relationships, nor is it a collection of independent individuals. His community is a collection of intimate inter-dependent relationships rooted in, and fueled by, His indwelling life.

Love!

Jamal Jivanjee               

Jamal Jivanjee

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29 responses to Are You Co-dependent, Independent, or INTER-dependent?

  1. This speaks to my heart on so many levels. The abundance of co-dependant relationships I’ve have suffered in my life lead to independance…maybe not visibly, but spiritually and in my heart. It’s only been the last couple years that the freedom of interdependance has revealed itself to me through the love and grace of Christ. Unfortunately there’s only a handful of people in my life to which this revelation has come to as well…but those relationships are the strongest and most trustworthy of any I have experienced. Even my marriage relationship went through each of these types of dangers. And again was not healed until it started to change and mirror the relationship Christ was building with each of us through his grace and love. Such a beautiful thing.

    • Brianna,

      What you have shared is very valuable. I appreciate what you said about your marriage as well. It is very possible for marriages to be ‘co-dependent’ or ‘independent’ as well. I’m convinced that being inter-dependent is the Lord’s desire for His expression. Those are the relationships that have longevity. Thanks for sharing!

      • Interestingly enough those strong relationships don’t necessarily “look” like it outwardly. In fact one lives across the US, and within that circle we rarely see each other. Yet they’re the “community” with which my “life” is living.

        I was just reading this from Tozer today. It fits this idea and struck me this morning.

        “He (God) communicates with us through the avenues of our minds, our wills and our emotions. The continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the soul of the redeemer man is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion.This intercourse between God and the soul is known to us in conscious personal awareness. It is personal: that is, it does not come through the body of believers, as such, but is known to the individual, and, to the body through the individuals which compose it. And it is conscious: that is, it does not stay below the threshold of consciousness and work there unknown to the soul (as, for instance, infant baptism is though by some to do), but comes within the field of awareness where the man can “know” it as he knows any other fact of experienced.”

  2. Thnx Jamal, Very timely as today I am moving towards interdependent relationships and away from some unhealthy Co-dependent relationships that have caused me to function independently.
    As a L I T ( Lover in training) I look forward to learn how to OneAnother in the way our Heavenly Father wants us to. As a Disciple of Jesus I love the school of Christ ! :-D God help me.

  3. Thanks, Jamal, for these very important thoughts! As I read the first point on co-dependency, I thought of Henri Nouwen’s penetrating words:

    “It is sad to see how sometimes people suffering from loneliness search for a final solution for their pains and look at a new friend, a new lover or a new community with Messianic expectations. Their hearts keep saying, ‘Maybe this time I have found what I have been knowingly or unknowingly searching for.’ It is amazing that men and women who have had such distressing relationships can throw themselves blindly into relationships with far-reaching consequences in the hope that from now on things will be totally different.”

    Don’t you think, Jamal, that a high number of people entering organic life together are in a state of lack, and often have a history of co-dependent relationships? If that is the case, then it would seem that the community must exercise discernment and caution, lest such needy people seek fulfillment in another person, or even in the community itself. Obviously, to move toward wholeness in Christ they must enter into inter-dependent relationships, but that may often take time.

    Nouwen makes another observation, and I’m not sure I understand the depths of what what he articulates, but I know it is extremely important. He says:

    “But real openness to each other also means a real closedness, because only he who can hold a secret can safely share his knowledge. When we do not protect with care our own inner mystery, we will never be able to form community. It is this inner mystery that attracts us to each other, and allows us to establish friendship and develop lasting relationships of love. An intimate relationship between people not only asks for mutual openness, but also for mutual respectful protection of each other’s uniqueness.”

    Wow!

  4. Lots of valuable wisdom and insight here, bro! I was thinking of movies that might illustrate each, and came up with:

    Co-dependent – Fatal Attraction
    Independent – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
    Inter-dependent – 42 (Jackie & Rachel Robinson’s marriage)

    • Trevor,

      Now you’re speaking my language brother:) For me, co-dependent would totally be Fatal Attraction, Independent would be Rambo, and inter-dependent would be the relationship between the two main characters in Shaw Shank Redemption.

  5. Jamal,

    I have a few thoughts to share regarding this amazing post.

    Co-dependency is not a relationship. It is a fake, a fleshly replacement of our true relationship, and is merely a cat-and-mouse game of controls and manipulations. It is a self-server. This quackery is death, not Life. It is an Identity thief of who we are in Christ.

    Independence is not a relationship. We cannot have a relationship with ourselves. the focus of Independence is on the self and cannot see Christ in others, therefore, Independence cannot see Christ. It is stagnate waters. This quackery is death, not Life. It is an Identity thief of who we are in Christ.

    Inter-dependence is our oneness in Christ. However, many view our oneness, this Inter-dependence, as an Identity thief that will leave them empty and cause them to disappear entirety, but this delusional thought is born out from the world’s mind of fear. Without the wholeness of intimate relationships, spirit and body, we cannot live in the oneness that we possess in Christ. The interrelation and interaction of His Love and Life through the one anothers in the body of Christ is the touchstone of the reality of His oneness; our true identity is Christ our Life. Our Life is mutual, our Love is interactive, and our Life is shared. His expression is not Co-Dependent, nor Independent, but Inter-dependent. When we attempt to focus on the self, when cannot see Christ; we cannot see that our oneness is His Life in us and through us. Have we yet come to realize that our identity is Christ, and that the bond of Love is our shared life? Our identity in Christ is inextricably bound in Love within the freedom of His shared life. When you hurt, do I not feel pain? When you rejoice, do I not rejoice with you? When you grieve, does not my heart cry? There is no and in one, yet, I am.

    • I have gotten emails regarding my last sentence in my above comment, and so, I would like to briefly clarify this statement: “There is no and in one, yet, I am.”

      There is no AND in one, YET I am. So then, though there is no AND in one, yet I as a part of Christ, do not lose my identity in His oneness but rather gain my true identity. The fear that presents itself as we consider the inter-dependence of the oneness of Christ’s body is, in fact, an illusion in the mind of the world.

      Thanks!

    • Thx Kat!

  6. Spot on brother! This is so true. Succinct and well written. Thinking if every brother and sister had a grasp of how we are relating to one another, including me to others, how much better we would enjoy life together in Christ. I have seen all three of these types of relationships before, sadly I too often see codependent and independent relationships versus the interdependent relationships. Guessing as brothers and sisters under the influence of Christ’s apostolic workers to help them live by Christ we would see more of this kind of flesh being put off to see more of the life of Christ expressed by His people. Great read!

  7. I’d like to comment on something Jon said/asked above,

    “Obviously, to move toward wholeness in Christ they must enter into inter-dependent relationships, but that may often take time.”

    I see his point – the challenges are real. We have a mixture within our fellowships – and also even in our own selves! When I examine myself, I find in my flesh a natural tendency toward ANTI-inter-dependency :-)

    Where is the answer to such mixture within and without?

    At the foot of the cross. This is where we must come to for wholeness and healing. It is not found anywhere else. Too often, however, we not only put our trust in someone (or ourselves) for validation, healing and restoration, but we also can think we are this for someone else, instead of pointing the gaze in the direction where the source of all life is.

    Perhaps a good pre-cross picture of a truly interdependant relationship (or one that formed) is Jesus’ mother Mary, and John, standing at the foot of the cross. Gazing at Him. It is *here* that Jesus turns their attention on each other, saying, “Woman behold your son, and son, behold your mother”. From that day on, John took Mary into his house. A healthy relationship that started with a mutual gaze.

    Many were not there at the foot of the Cross – and came later. Most of the other disciples were filled with fear, and grief. Most of the rest of the world was disinterested. Yes, it is a process, and it’s instant at the same time. It is at the cross that we find all wholeness and healing. And it is here in this place that truly interdependant relationships are formed and maintained. It is the only place where we can receive the love that truly makes us free to love and be loved as we are intended to.

    I hope all that made sense and was correct. This was a great post, Jamal. And all the comments coming in are wonderful!

  8. This is collasal bro! Some Shiggy on this one for sure ;) Yaaaa Hooo!! I remember talking about this at the bless fest and I was really diggin what you Kaye’s down there. Thanx for unpacking it a bit more!

    Id love to hear your thoughts about something. It’s kinda in line with what Jon Zens wrote on. Lets say in your church fam you have a new Jesus sibling come and start to make a home with you all, but this person has only learned relationships rooted in co-dependency, and independence. As a body You and your group bring this person in and share life from a inter-dependent way being full with life (Christ). What have you all done out there in Nashville to navigate through the relationship as this person either latches on in co-dependency or stays at arms length in independence? Like you said both of those learned styles don’t breed intimacy or deep life sharing as Dad has desired. Out here in So Cal we have had to deal with this a lot.

    Love you bro!

    • Seth,

      So glad that you liked the post. Great question as well. I think we’re all still learning to walk this out right now. I think for co-dependent relationships, resisting their attempts to put pressure on you or the community to ‘be’ something specific is important. It can seem cold and unloving, but it is a loving redirection toward Christ.

      Regarding those who are stuck in an independent way of life, patience is required. Giving the Lord room to work and overcome their fears of intimacy is very important. I hope that makes sense. We’ll keep the dialogue going as we continue to walk this out. Love and miss you all out there in Cali!

  9. Jamal,

    Thank you for this post clarifying what you’ve been talking about: Healthy inter-dependent relationships governed and defined by Christ’s indwelling love! It was the explanation that I needed to hear, and that is an understanding I can get behind. What Jon said about people in organic life who have a background of co-dependent relationships is where some of my concern was coming from, and I agree with him “that the community must exercise discernment and caution.” The healing and wholeness these people need will take time and will come as they see the beauty of healthy inter-dependent relationships formed entirely out of the indwelling love of Christ and lived out in the organic community and then begin to experience it for themselves.

    I doubt you were losing any sleep over it, but I think we’re pretty much back on the same page. ;-)

    • Thx Catherine. Again, I appreciate your willingness to engage in this discussion. Your questions on the blog interview were very important for the dialogue. Love you:)

  10. This is soooo good, Jamal. Perhaps moving into living by Christ’s life together with others illuminates the unhealthiness of non-inter-dependent relationships. I had similar thoughts as others about walking this out in community life, and I appreciate yours and others’ comments. And I’m still trying to figure out the quote Jon posted. :-) It often takes a looooong time to even begin to understand how much pain some people have lived through and is affecting their current relationships. I agree with others; this takes much patience and a willingness to embrace the cross for others’ sake, as well as realizing that we all may still fall into the unhealthy patterns at times.

  11. as usual your articles are boss–lately I have been focused on the subject of relationship so this was timely–I came to the conclusion that from birth until death while we live on this planet we are involved in relationships and we go through times of good ones and bad ones–I have been saved for 38 years and I have failed in this area too many times but lets face it that’s what life is all about–im just glad that our god is so merciful and I have learned that by depending on his control of me by his spirit being inside of me I will get past these failures even if the folks that I failed with don’t.

  12. Jamal.
    Thanks for this wisdom from heaven. I’m forwarding it to several. Our family’s journey identifies with Jon’s first comment, which was enlarged upon by Kat, about new forms of gatherings being magnets for hurting people. Of the dozens of scattered families we know who have exited their (mostly) mainline churches, which seemed to all be suffering from some degree of dysfunction; most have reached the place in their own trajectory where they are seeking interdependence.
    And like us, most aren’t finding it in any one place or group.
    Too many re-constituted churches are comprised of folks seeking healing, who changed venues but brought their baggage with them.
    Our small, rural, youthful fellowship begun in the early 70’s, fits this description. When my family was finally forced out 12 yrs ago, after 30 yrs of close, intimate interdependence, albeit, in hindsight, pock marked by trends of deep co-dependence, we were in shock.
    How had we, who love the Lord in sincerity, done this to one another?
    We never had serious disagreement over money, leadership, gender identity, vices or doctrine, and yet when persecution arose, we failed.
    We knew early on reading Watchman Nee, Tozer, Chambers et al, the lessons of independence. We knew about co-dependence in the family; but we missed how our collective, spiritually proud idolatry of our wonderful little organic fellowship, in contrast to the dysfunction of the churches around us, became the Achilles heel that Satan aimed for, and hit. We were forced out because we spent our last 10 yrs there pointing this out in love and patience, which was rejected.
    We lost all of our family, friends and brethren in one day, and it’s been a difficult, lonely and at times confusing journey ever since.
    I believe Pam’s description of the working of the cross in our lives is the ‘one size fits all’ shoe we must wear if we are to escape the wiles of the devil, and overcome him, ourselves and the world.
    His best trick is if he can’t get us on our badness, to get us our goodness.
    The current move to reform the church into small organic fellowships is a refreshing start, but I’m afraid we’ll get sidetracked by the ‘good’ that is the enemy of the ‘best’ if men and women, broken from their own strengths as leaders, don’t become the ‘leaders’.
    Not many wise….
    The churches need homegrown, cross huggers, who demonstrate what dying daily looks like, so others don’t get easily fooled into following clever fables, concocted by cerebral teachers who mean well, but who have not gone thru the death of self.
    I believe the evidence that we are on track will be when whole churches, and even whole regions of churches, come under great persecution because they remind, and offend false brethren, of Jesus.
    We’re still trapped, and stunted by the old institutional paradigm of measuring growth and maturity to which Jesus asks “Who, by taking thought, can add one inch to his stature…..?”
    I think I understand a little also of Henri Nouwen’s comment about inner mystery of Christ, at least as it relates to corporate co-dependency among small intimate groups. Paul vaguely alludes to this in the mystery between husband and wife, saying this defines the church and Jesus. In a marriage, though we become one in flesh and soul, and one in Christ, we yet remain alone in our human spirit as Christ’s. Ultimately, as close and interdependent as we get in marriages and in fellowship, we must walk alone with Him now and stand on our own before Him at the end. In that sense, we must first live ourselves, and teach our young, to live in a deep personal love relationship with Jesus, learning to see ourselves as the Shunamite in Song of Solomon.
    Willing surrender to one another is a defining quality of a marriage and a church, as it is among the Trinity, but we are afraid of this because we haven’t seen its benefits among us for a long time.
    Kat Huff explained this very well.
    A modern tragedy is that because we have so few shining examples of wise, healthy and long lived Christian marriages, and the wonderful community that is born of that, we must try to glean wisdom from scripture, conferences and a few well written books by a few good authors.
    But we learn what we live, not live what we learn.
    Brokenness, humility, meekness and all the key components of a truly Godly and marriage, and by extension church relationship, are best caught, and then taught.
    Longstanding, widespread institutionalism in the church has robbed us corporately of family likeness of the Trinity, mirrored in our families and churches, and most of all, pointedly summed up in the testimony of millions of husbands loving their wives like Christ loves the church, and wives respecting their husbands as responders to his love.
    Oh boy, I just heard catcalls from the liberation gallery, where many suffering women are still afraid of God, because men have failed to reveal His beauty and goodness as brothers, fathers and sons.
    I believe this is a missing key ingredient in our corporate dialogue, and we can’t manufacture it into being thru books or conferences either, as badly as we need it.
    This maturity, wisdom and example must be grown slowly, painfully, from the blood stained earth beneath the cross of Christ, where we all sit together as one, laying down our own life for one another, identifying with Him as He identifies with God, who we are afraid of, because He is a consuming fire.
    The only way out of this is through it, obeying Him in all things He commanded us, laying aside our strategies and crowns of achievement, trusting Him to make us one in Him.
    I hope your writing creates a firestorm Jamal.
    The church landscape has so much dense forest we can’t see the trees.
    Blessings
    Greg

  13. Very good article. If we could all learn to live an inter-dependent life, allowing the life and love of Christ to flow out of us to all we meet each day.

  14. Jamal,

    Thanks for faithfully posting year after year to give these insights to the body of Christ. Relationship is certainly the foundation for the Christian life and is often very difficult to establish and maintain in light of the independent nature of our society. People live so far away from the church they attend and half of their friends are online or in other cities. It’s tough to establish the depth of community I think that Christ came to bring. Do you have any insights into this?

    • David,

      Great to hear from you. It’s my pleasure to write and post here. I am glad that you are enjoying the blog. Yes, it is difficult to find the depth of community (ekklesia) that Christ came to build and is building. It is definitely not on every corner. In my experience, it requires people who have awakened to a dream or vision of the Lord’s heart and eternal purpose. The Lord builds His house with people who are desperate and who have been ruined by His vision.

      I wrote an article about a reoccurring dream that I have had that I think you might be interested in. Here is the link: http://jamaljivanjee.com/?p=2697

      By the way, are you still in the Nashville area?

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