Autonomy and Interdependence


We need each other to get by. From the day we are born to the day we die, we depend on each other for our survival and well-being. Yet we must also take care of ourselves, as we are each ultimately responsible for our own lives. The life puzzle each of us must solve is how to be both autonomous and interdependent, for healthy intimacy requires both.

Achieving autonomous interdependence requires that we first get healthy and whole. We renounce all addictions and work on repair and integration through treatment and recovery.

We fortify our autonomy by taking accountability for our lives. This includes accountability for our actions and for managing our attitudes. Importantly, we take accountability for getting help for our disabilities and for naming, claiming, and taming our character defects. With accountability for our own well-being, we take good care of ourselves, with the help of others as needed.

When we are autonomous, we can then fulfill our need for intimate connection without making someone else responsible for our lives. This enables others to act freely without feeling an obligation to take care of us. Then, their love is freely given, without coercion. It becomes a gift rather than a ransom.

With healthy autonomy, we become capable of entering into healthy interdependence. We do so for the joys of loving and being loved.

Healthy interdependence can be described as respectfully authentic, loving mutuality.

By authentic, we mean that we are real. What you see is what you get. We are not false. We honor the truth of who we are and allow who we are to be. We are honest, true, and appropriately transparent.

By respectful, we mean that we cultivate the practice of being simultaneously spontaneous and appropriate. This requires an intentional commitment to not saying or doing anything that is harmful. What we say may be painful to hear, but if it is necessary, we say it in a way (such as with kindness), that minimizes harm.

By loving mutuality, we mean that we engage in a relational process in which both parties are dedicated to the well-being of the other.

When we experience respectfully authentic, loving mutuality, we feel both at ease and at home with each other.

Healthy interdependence in an intimate relationship is shaped by several parameters that constitute skillful loving:

  1. Recovery: we both work to renounce our addictions.
  2. Authenticity: we are each honest and transparent with each other.
  3. Benevolence: we both commit to not harming each other.
  4. Consideration: we are mindful of each other’s feelings and needs.
  5. Accountability: we both own our actions. We take responsibility for our behavior.
  6. Investment: in the well-being of each other. We commit to caring for each other.
  7. Respect: We both respect each other’s personhood and autonomy. We do not abuse, manipulate, or control.
  8. Assertiveness: we each share how we feel and ask for what we need.
  9. Attending: we listen carefully to each other, each of us working to understand the other. We work to stay tuned into each other.
  10. Time: we each invest time into the relationship as part of a balanced life of work, love, and play.
  11. Appreciation: we intentionally take time to value each other and the relationship. We consciously remind ourselves of the sacredness of each other.
  12. Forgiveness: with accountability given and received, we forgive each other for our mistakes.

Healthy interdependence requires that we commit to cultivating these qualities in our loving relationships, intentionally, on purpose, every day, moment by moment. Relationships require effort.

Healthy interdependence also requires boundaries and assertiveness. Since our healthy autonomy allows us to hold others lightly, we free ourselves to ask for what we need, observe what we get, and modify our engagement accordingly. With good boundaries, we take responsibility only for our obligation to engage in respectfully authentic, loving mutuality. We do not let others make us responsible for either their actions or their feelings. With autonomy, boundaries, and assertiveness, we transition from acting out of fear and need in our intimate relationships to acting our of love and abundance.