Mature, Healthy Relationships
By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.
Despite the fact we are "social creatures," most of us grow up completely ignorant of the nature of healthy interpersonal relationships. As adults, we often remain untaught and unskilled about how to create happy and satisfying personal relationships. We leave undeveloped our own skills at building quality relationships.
Yet, our happiness with life is powerfully impacted by the nature and quality of our relationships to others.
Just like the people who form them, relationships grow, change and mature. Interpersonal relationships begin at birth. Early childhood is characterized by dependence, wherein the child is completely dependent on the parents for survival and care.
Dependent relationships grow into co-dependent relationships.
Co-dependent relationships are formed when both parties depend on each other for care, need fulfillment, and quality of lifestyle. They are made up of two dependent individuals who lean on each other, rather than standing on their own two feet.
Co-dependence evolves into independence during adolescence. The nature of this transition is determined by how skilled parents have been at encouraging independence within their children. Most of us are aware of how psychologically difficult the shift can be from co-dependence to individual autonomy. Independent adults are self-caring and self-supportive. They create their own lifestyle.
Healthy, independent adults form inter-dependent relationships with mates, peers, co-workers, friends and colleagues. Teamwork, cooperation and collaboration characterize the inter-dependent relationship.
It is virtually impossible to successfully move through these phases of relationship-growth out of sequence. You cannot create an inter-dependent relationship if you have never gone through an independent stage of development. Likewise, when childhood co-dependence is unsatisfactory, the evolution to independence proves difficult at best, impossible at worst. After all, we don't expect a plant to flower before it has matured. And it rarely blossoms, if it has been stunted in its early growth. It never grows to its full potential when crushed as a sprout.
There is another phase of interpersonal relationships which is rarely noticed or acknowledged. This kind of relationship is the most mature of human interpersonal relations, and evolves only after we have successfully completed the first four phases: dependence, co-dependence, independence and inter-dependence. It is called the "inter-developmental" relationship.
An inter-developmental relationship is created by two individuals who have matured through the inter-dependent phase of relationship growth. Both people are self-dependent and get their needs met by themselves or in other relationships. They realize that the outcome of their relating is bigger or greater than either one could create alone. The quality of the relationship is more important to each individual than is the con-joint result. Both parties share a common vision which gives purpose and direction to their relationship. They trust themselves, each other and the relationship. They know that the sum of their energy (synergy) is greater than their individual effort.
They "synergize" when interacting with one another. Neither party is dependent on the other for anything. They take the position of "side-by-side" facing the future with individual confidence and assurance that what they create as independent grown-ups is more important than their individual goals. They view problems and challenges as mutual opportunities to grow as individuals with no need to change the other or modify the other's agenda. They usually enjoy the relationship and have fun within their interaction. As individuals, they have resolved personal issues of pettiness, conflict, ego, self-promotion, striving, power, etc.
If we learn and practice the skills necessary to form inter-developmental relationships, we blossom into the psychologically mature people we were meant to be. We are more likely to create a lifestyle of delight, satisfaction and happiness. When we practice inter-developmental relationship skills, we manifest our greatest human potential.
Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach. He serves on the faculty of the International University of Professional Studies.To subscribe yourself to Practical Life Coaching, click on the following line (or copy and paste the address below into your web browser): http://lists.webvalence.com/listmgr/subscribe?lists=practical_life_coaching