Relationships: Independence, Interdependence, & Intimacy

With significant others, in friendships, and with colleagues, quality-of-relationship is a vitally important factor. Each person has needs to feel known and respected in their individuality. We also need to learn how to live and work together in ways that produce a practiced ease. And to deepen and sustain our connections over time, we must achieve a level of relational intimacy.  

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Psycho-Social Dynamics

This all implies needs to see one another in our independence as persons, in our interdependencies, and in our capacities for relational intimacy.  

  • Independence. Being respected, heard, and understood as a person produces feelings that “I am seen and valued as a unique individual” – it yields a sense of dignity.

  • Interdependence. Learning how to be there for one another, to collaborate with one another, helps us experience a true state of “we-ness” – it yields a sense of solidarity.

  • Intimacy. Growing openness, trust, and emotional safety allow us to reveal our vulnerabilities, to support and encourage one another – it yields an abiding sense of mutual concern. 

There is a stage-like progression to how these dimensions of relationship evolve. First, we must feel known as an “I” or subjective center of action, and as a “me” whose identity is achieved through action. A “we-ness” then emerges from our practiced ways of being, acting, and interacting, which produces a shared sense of power, recognition, and rewards over time. And from our joint action, deeper levels of trust grow to make many if not all our feelings discussable.  

Relationships and the psycho-social dynamics through which they develop are situated in a social-historical context. It’s more than a mere stage upon which we act out our lives. It includes frameworks of value and meaning in terms of which we orient ourselves. They cue our behavior and remind us that we are not alone. There exist common normative expectations that govern us as people.    

Moral Frameworks

The sense of dignity that accompanies our experience of being recognized and valued as a unique person singles us out. Our intrinsic worth and independent standing as a free moral agent are affirmed. This standing indicates that we’re entitled to make choices, but we also bear responsibility to keep our commitments. Implied in this felt independence is a sense of relatedness. None of us is intended to be totally independent and self-reliant. We’re social beings. 

Our identities are grounded in relatedness to frameworks of meaning and value that are always already there: One is the awareness that we are of a kind, a natural embodied species, each of us being one among other fellow human beings, sentient and vulnerable, with common needs to thrive, to belong, to be esteemed and cared for by others. A second kind of framework is that of moral meaning, which defines standards of virtue – what is good, proper and right.  

There are other frameworks too, social-economic structures that define roles, norms, and cultural practices that guide patterns of interaction and exchange in everyday life. Thus, our choices and pursuits in role-taking, at work and in our personal lives, also make claims on us. And the happiest among us are those who find ways to reconcile the claims of the moral and non-moral frameworks of meaning and value that define our world. In the best case, we do so in ways that feel authentic. 

But what about the times when we feel stuck, unable to sort all this out? Whether the issues be related to life at work or life at home, their pervasive impacts imply needs for holistic development. It goes to who we are and what we want to be as a person. 

Holistic Means Personal

We cannot entrust this kind of development to merely psychologically-based methods. For at its core, it calls for more than raising consciousness; it also requires awakening one’s moral sense. Nor can it be relegated to the tutelage of a preacher or teacher. In a dialogical style of engagement, the person must encounter her direct experience (affective, cognitive, practical, and social) and its resonance. She must speak its meaning with attunement to her moral sense.   

This provides the “I” with a holding space in which external frameworks of meaning and value, her inner voice of subjective experience, and her moral intuitions of what seems good, right, and proper co-mingle. It’s here, then, in this intimate dialogue, that a person is able to rediscover the truth of her experience – her freedom and her responsibilities. She’s able to reconcile her moral and non-moral aspirations with a grounded appraisal of what she owes to others.  

It does not happen all at once. Progress in personal development is achieved incrementally. And as her clarified sense of self and her gains in moral and emotional freedom register with greater and greater force, she takes this state of well-being into all her relationships. It often causes other to notice a difference, a difference in her and difference in being with her, a positive difference that spawns deeper levels of interdependence and intimacy.