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How to Create Balanced Relationships

by Dr. Ilona L. Tobin

“I love you. You…you complete me.” From the film Jerry Maguire.

Whether this quote melts your heart at the thought of such commitment or makes you cringe at the idea of a power imbalance, the fact is, we all relate to people in different ways.

Most people would say they want (or have) a balanced relationship with their significant other. But what does a balanced relationship look like and how do you maintain it?

First, people tend to relate to one another in one of three ways: Dependently (or codependently), Independently and Interdependently.

Dependent/codependent: In these relationships one person sets aside his or her personal welfare to maintain the relationship. This dynamic implies that the codependent person in the relationship can’t survive independently of the other person.

Independent: In this configuration, the couple lives mostly separate lives. For example, they have different friends, are rarely together and make decisions autonomously. They may live separately as well and they are fine with that arrangement.

Interdependent: In this type of relationship, two people are intimate with one another but don’t compromise or sacrifice themselves or their values. This dynamic is about collaboration and cooperation. Each person is self-reliant (physically, emotionally, financially, etc.) and, simultaneously, responsible to the other.

While it’s possible to find happiness, at least temporarily, in all three types of relationships, the Interdependent relationship is generally considered the model for a balanced relationship.

What do you do if you don’t consider your relationship to be balanced? Take heart. With a little information and effort it’s possible to attain a balanced relationship. Try starting with this approach:

1. Find Inner Balance by:

  • Focusing on what you can control (your thoughts, feelings and actions) not what you can’t (others’ thoughts, feelings and actions).
  • Noticing how you feel and, as clearly as you can, communicating those feelings.
  • Recognizing and owning your issues, which will help you recognize your partner’s as well. You can be empathic and supportive without having to “fix” everything.

2. Create and Maintain a Balanced Relationship by:

  • Staying present and empathic even when your partner is upset.
  • Stepping back from conflicts to avoid escalation, assess the problem and make positive changes.
  • Reframing the actions/reactions of your partner. For example, seeing a loved one as anxious and fearful, instead of cruel and controlling, paves the way for a more sympathetic, less confrontational approach.
  • Being a good listener and focusing on the only person you can change—yourself.

Keep in mind that balance, like a relationship, is dynamic not static. It’s impossible to keep balance 100% of the time in every situation. Even a balanced relationship can, at times, feel like more work than play.

Remember, sometimes the focus will be more on you, other times more on your partner, and still other times when what’s best for “us” needs the focus rather than either individual.

Like a wave, there is an ebb and flow to relationships. But once we are aware of what balanced relationships look like we can better manage that dynamic.

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Ilona Tobin has been a psychologist and a marriage and family therapist for more than 25 years in Birmingham, Michigan. For more information, please visit her listing on the Therapist Directory.

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