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Co-dependency and Autarky in Emotional Relationships

A man carrying a woman on his back.

In a world where the longing for deep emotional connection and the pursuit of personal happiness are central themes, it’s tempting to believe that another person can complete us. Yet, the thought “he/she makes me happy” carries potentially toxic traits that can fundamentally affect our relationships and self-perception. In this article, we take a scientific look at the concept of co-dependency and the importance of autarky in emotional relationships, supported by research suggesting why a healthy level of independence and mutual interdependence are essential for growth and well-being in partnerships.

Co-dependency: A Scientific Perspective

Co-dependency is often described in the psychological literature as a pattern of excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner. This form of relationship can lead individuals to place their well-being, decisions, and emotional equilibrium in the hands of another person. According to Melody Beattie, author of the book “Codependent No More,” co-dependent relationships are characterized by an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the happiness and needs of the partner, often at the expense of one’s health and autonomy.

The Importance of Autarky

Autarky, defined as the ability to be independent and self-sufficient, is a key aspect for the development of a healthy self and mature, balanced relationships. Scientific studies, such as those by Deci and Ryan (2000) on Self-Determination Theory, emphasize that true happiness and satisfaction come from fulfilling intrinsic needs for competence, autonomy, and social connectedness. The authors argue that relationships that support these needs contribute to personal development, while relationships marked by co-dependency can inhibit this growth.

Mutual Interdependence as an Ideal

Contrasting with co-dependency is the concept of mutual interdependence, where both partners maintain their independence while fostering a supportive and committed relationship. This form of relationship acknowledges the importance of individual growth within the partnership and promotes a healthy balance between closeness and distance. Research by Dr. Sue Johnson, a leading expert in the field of Emotionally Focused Therapy, underscores that secure emotional attachment allows partners to be both connected and autonomous.


The notion that our happiness depends on another person can entangle us in patterns of co-dependency that impair our emotional well-being and relationship capability in the long run. Scientific insights suggest that promoting autarky and striving for mutual interdependence in relationships represent a healthier, more fulfilling path. By learning to understand and respect our own needs and feelings, we can build relationships based on mutual respect, support, and genuine connection, without sacrificing our independence.



Beattie, M. (1987). Codependent No More. Hazelden Publishing. Beschreibt das Konzept der Co-Abhängigkeit.

Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (2000). "The 'What' and 'Why' of Goal Pursuits". Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), S. 227-268. Diskutiert die Selbstbestimmungstheorie und die Bedeutung von Autonomie.

Johnson, S. (2008). Hold Me Tight. Little, Brown Spark. Erkundet sichere emotionale Bindung in erwachsenen Beziehungen.

Image by Sergey Romanenko


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