What is Co-Dependency?

You Complete You

What is Co-dependency?

If the title of this post makes you think of an oft-repeated movie line from the mid-nineties, it is supposed to! 

The quote you’re probably thinking of comes from the 1996 film, Jerry Maguire, starring Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger. With characteristic intensity, Tom Cruise looks into Zellweger’s eyes and says, “I love you, you complete me” and every heart in the movie theater melts to the floor, or at least that was the intention.

To this day I have never seen Jerry Maguire, but this quote got stuck in the cultural zeitgeist in such a way that even if you didn’t see the film you knew this line and were probably quoting it sarcastically with your friends, or romantic partners. You might recall that Dr. Evil hilariously borrowed this same line to express his love for Mini-me in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me while making the shape of a heart with his fingers. My wife and I got married in 2003, seven years after this movie was released, and the minister used this famous line as the theme of his sermon. 

What is Co-dependency?: Pop Culture

The point is, this line made a pretty big splash culturally. And the question I have is, why? Why do you think it connected the way that it did? 

Perhaps it connected because, on the surface, it appears to be a profoundly romantic moment and romance is something that most human beings are drawn to. We want to be desired, to be pursued by another, to find the one who completes us.

The dominant culture that we grow up in communicates to us through movies, television, social media, and in a thousand other subtle, but potent ways that we are not complete as human beings until we’ve found that one. The reality is that this idea causes the ruin of a great many relationships and a great many marriages.

The truth is that you are a complete person all on your own. Finding someone to love and who loves you is just about the most wonderful thing that a human can experience, but you don’t need anyone to complete you. You are a whole person, not half of one!

You complete you.

What is Co-dependency?: Psychology

This famous line made for a pretty amazing movie moment, but when applied to real-life relationships it reflects an unhealthy dynamic that we call co-dependency. An article from Psychology Today defines co-dependency as “…a dysfunctional relationship dynamic where one person assumes the role of the giver, sacrificing their own needs and well-being for the sake of the other, the taker.” In a co-dependent relationship, each partner’s sense of their own identity–their own completeness–gets completely lost in the relationship. At some point, this inevitably leads to a great deal of resentment. 

A relationship that reflects mutuality (rather than co-dependency) includes two people who are complete all on their own, with their own thoughts and feelings, interests and passions, likes and dislikes, but who nevertheless desire to share their lives with one another.

What is Co-dependency?: Mutuality

A colleague of mine, Marcella Maggio, created a handout that illustrates this kind of relationship. It’s very simple, there are two circles representing the two partners in the relationship. Each circle is representative of a whole person with all the things that make up their unique personhood. As in a Venn diagram the circles overlap each other and that overlapping space represents their relationship and the aspects of life that the couple freely and joyfully chooses to share with one another.

You complete you. You are a whole person, not a half! If you and your partner need professional help as you move toward a healthier relationship we are here for you at Connections Family Counseling. 

This post was written by counseling intern Tony Metz, If you would like to learn more about Tony’s approach to counseling please call 217-231-1413. If you would like to read more written by Tony please go here

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