Marriage is Codependence

Playful couple enjoying outdoorsMy boyfriend – Brad – came across this article recently about how to restore passion to your marriage by overcoming codependency. He seemed excited about it, as if it could be the solution to all of our problems.

Interdependence – not codependence – is the key to a happy, lasting marriage, says the psychologist author of the book Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch.

lovers_foreverIn order to achieve interdependence Schnarch says, couples must learn the skill of differentiation – the acknowledgment that you are two different people with different desires, needs and perspectives. It’s the opposite of the state of enmeshment – a prolonged period of oneness – in which couples attempt to eliminate or deny differences between them. Enmeshment often leads to codependence.

“The best marital brew is neither dependence nor independence, but a balanced state of interdependence,” the article states.

The problem is nowhere in the article does it say how to achieve this “balanced state of interdependence.” It gives tips for maintaining “a sense of self” while simultaneously maintaining “closeness and intimacy” with your partner – like opening your eyes during sex and keeping up with your own hobbies – but it doesn’t give any real life examples of interdependent and passionate monogamous marriages, and I know I haven’t seen any examples in my personal experience.

The ironic part about Brad coming across this article is that my “internet boyfriend” – Clark – had just told me about Schnarch’s book “Passionate Marriage” a couple of weeks earlier.

“Passionate marriage??” I said. “Sounds like an oxymoron.”

Clark said he liked the concepts of interdependence and differentiation, but he couldn’t figure out how to apply them to his two-decades-old monogamous marriage.

Interdependent monogamy?

happy-couple-2To me, the idea of interdependent monogamy – like passionate marriage – sounds like a contradiction in terms. And since marriages – as they are legally defined in this country – are all monogamous, so does the phrase “interdependent marriage.”

Let’s look at Wikipedia’s definition of interdependence:

Interdependence is the mutual reliance between two or more groups. In relationships, interdependence is the degree to which members of the group are mutually dependent on the others. This concept differs from a dependent relationship, where some members are dependent and some are not.

In an interdependent relationship, participants may be emotionally, economically, ecologically and/or morally reliant on and responsible to each other. An interdependent relationship can arise between two or more cooperative autonomous participants (e.g. a co-op). Some people advocate freedom or independence as the ultimate good; others do the same with devotion to one’s family, community, or society.

happy-coupleIt says all it takes is two or more “cooperative autonomous” participants for interdependence – or mutual reliance – to take place, and I suppose that is possible. But it seems much more plausible, to me, for a network of several people to function healthily – or better yet, thrive – in a state of mutual reliance than it does for two people – who’ve created artificial boundaries around themselves – to do so.

Schnarch almost admits this sentiment himself in his metaphor of interdependent individuals functioning “somewhat like the cells of an organism. Each cell functions individually, but they thrive best by relating to other cells in the context of the whole.”

Note he doesn’t say cells thrive by relating to another singular cell. He says they thrive by relating to other cells – plural – in the context of the whole. I like to think of “the whole organism” as the whole of humanity, and the individual cells as fragments of the whole – individual humans. None of the cells’ existence really make sense, when separated into isolation. Individual cells are systems unto themselves, but their purpose becomes more clear in relation to other cells. The more cells you put together – the wider you “zoom out” on the microscope lens – the more you see the full picture, the full organism, the whole of humanity, the whole of the universe, universal interdependence, a giant system, in which each tiny cell is reliant on every other tiny cell, and proton and neutron and electron, and so on.

liang_z01pThe Native Americans understood this – and it’s time we did too. I’m not saying I want to marry a frog and a bird and worm and a tree and a rock in order to understand the fullness of who I am – I’m saying I don’t want to limit my connections – whether emotional, physical, intellectual or spiritual – to other human beings based on the superstition that being romantically intimate with more than one person is somehow damaging to the intimacy with one’s original partner.

Choose Your Dependence

“But we shouldn’t be dependent on anyone, should we?” Brad asked. “Isn’t the goal to be independent?”

But there’s really no such thing as independence, we concluded, after going round and round about it.

Imagine what total independence – from other human beings – would look like. Man versus wild? People have attempted it. It never turns out well. Christoper McCandless of “Into the Wild” comes to mind.

hunter-gatherersAside from the fact that people would go emotionally insane from  loneliness – which is why isolation is the worst form of punishment – they would hardly be able to provide for their own physical needs. How does one have division of labor in an economy of one? Would you like to make your own shoes and clothes, build your own home, haul your own water, hunt your own animals, gather your own nuts and berries, bury your own dead body with no friends or family to attend your funeral?

I’m being extreme, but seriously – there’s no such thing as total independence. You’re either attempting to be dependent on yourself, codependent on one other person, or interdependent with several other people… one way or the other, you’re dependent.

What the institution of monogamous marriage has asked us to do is only slightly better than trying to be dependent on only one’s self. It has asked us to rely on only one other person to meet all of our complex needs – economic/financial, emotional, intellectual, sexual/spiritual, etc.

Traditionally, it has asked a woman to let her husband meet her “needs” for protection, food, housing, clothing and romance. It has asked the man to remain passionate and loyal to her while providing all of these things, and the woman to remain passionate about him while ironing his laundry, doing his dishes and changing shitty diapers.

To many Native American groups – like many other ancient cultures documented in the book Sex at Dawn – our modern monogamous lifestyle must’ve seemed like the definition of slavery – bondage to one other human being. To them, the main function of sex was to create a tightly knit social network – a tribe – a big family – a support system – of individuals whose bond and loyalty to each other was strengthened by the web of sexual interconnections between them.

100427gatherersI like to imagine their love and passion for each other was not burdened by being the sole, pair-bonded caretakers of one another… that they were free to come and go into each others’ tents as they pleased – to feel their spirits fuse and burst into flame – and then to go their separate ways. Maybe they would unite again, and again, maybe they wouldn’t, but they’d maintain their sense of separateness from other individuals and unity with the whole.

This is not to disparage the rare individuals who may have figured out a way to preserve a sense of self and interdependence while committing to a lifetime of sexual and romantic monogamy. It’s just to say, I cannot imagine myself doing so. For me, it feels like a rut and a trap and a path that – by it’s very nature – leads to codependence.

“Marriage basically means that you are not able yet to be alone; you need the other. Without the other you feel meaningless and with the other you feel miserable … It teaches you your reality, that something deep inside you needs transformation so that you can be blissful alone and you can be blissful together. Then marriage is no more marriage because then it is no more bondage. Then it is sharing, then it is love.” ~ Osho

“The ordinary marriage is an unconscious bondage: you cannot live alone so you become dependent on the other; the other cannot live alone so he or she becomes dependent on you. And we hate the person on which we are dependent; nobody likes to depend on anybody. Our deepest desire is to have freedom, total freedom – and dependence is against freedom … Everybody hates dependence, and that’s why couples are continuously fighting, not knowing why they are fighting.” ~ Osho

RELATED: The Death of Marriage

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  1. […] as “attacking monogamy,” I see monogamy as attacking me. I see myself as a former slave to the institution/system/CULTure of monogamy/marriage – one who didn’t even know she had another choice, until recently. I couldn’t […]

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