Welcome to the archived web site of
Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. Psychologist (1950-2013)
California License No. PSY 10092
Specializing in Presence-Centered Therapy
balancing mind and heart, body and spirit

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Transforming Entangled Involvements into Genuine Relationships:

A-Frame & II-Frame Involvements ->H-Frame Relationships

From Leaning Dependence or Hyper-Independence to Reciprocal Interdependence
By Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.

© 2011 by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Everywhere you go you hear about how someone's relationship is going…going well, going badly, going crazy, going bizarrely, going wonderfully, going, going, gone! What in the world is being spoken of when people use this term "relationship?" Sometimes it looks like leaning dependency or co-dependency, as if the couple is joined together at the hip like Siamese twins. Here, if one is unhappy, the other is equally unhappy; if one is happy, the other tends to be happy too. Each is in a leaning dependency on the other emotionally speaking, thus co-dependent on each other throughout life. Alternatively, sometimes it looks like two highly independent people crossing paths occasionally, almost like checking in to arrange schedules and moments of being together, all within a context of each living quite separate lives. Sometimes this hyper-independence takes the form of a bi-coastal association, with each living on different coasts of the continental United States separated by 3000 miles. Does either form of connection qualify as a genuine relationship? Is either healthy, adaptive or expresses reciprocal interdependency?

To involve is a verb from the late Middle English meaning to "wrap, surround, enfold, envelop," and to "make obscure or difficult to understand; complicate, entangle" according to The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. The same source informs us that an involvement is a noun from the early 19th century meaning "an involved condition, manner, or style; an entanglement, a confused or complicated state of affairs." In other words, involvements can be understood as associations people have that are entanglements and enmeshments as well as confused or complicated interactions. It often looks like a form of mutual using for each to meet each other's needs at the other's expense in a mutually defeating way. It is proposed that involvements, that often masquerade and "pass" for being relationships, typically take two forms: (1) "A-Frame" co-dependency; and, (2) "II-Frame" hyper-independence.

A-Frame Involvements

You know you are co-dependent if you are dying
and someone else's life flashes in front of you.
—Author Unknown

Being able to identify an A-Frame involvement can serve as a model for understanding entanglements and be helpful for their transformation. Consider an "A-Frame involvement" as two people appearing to be together in a mutual using, entangled and enmeshed way, reacting off each others emotional upsets, and with one or both people experiencing almost being swallowed up by the neediness and demands, and/or complaints and criticisms, of the other. On the other hand, involvements also take the opposite form of one or both people investing quite little in the other in order to protect him or her. Little invested, equals little at risk, and equals little to lose.

It has been estimated by psychological professionals that approximately 98 percent of all Americans have symptoms of co-dependency and that less than 1 percent of them are fully conscious of the impact of co-dependency has on their lives. Co-dependency has been defined as "a failure to complete the essential developmental process of secure bonding and the developmental tasks associated with it." The major symptoms usually attributed to co-dependency include: low self-esteem, poor undefined psychological limits or boundaries, people-pleasing, blockage from being able to experience true love and intimacy, needing outside stimulation and distraction (e.g., alcohol, street drugs, work, sex, entertainment) to not feel one's feelings, powerless and helplessness in coping with and transforming unhealthy associations, a need for other's support and approval to feel better about oneself, acting and feeling like a victim or martyr, and "using" or being "addicted" to other people.

Consider the flip side of the same co-dependent coin is acting the role of the counter-dependent controller, the perfect foil to the role of the co-dependent victim. Actually, it is not all that unusual to see the two people playing these roles reverse them from time to time. The counter-dependent person often shows the following behaviors: controlling, self-centered, cut off from feeling, is distant and avoids closeness, acts secure and strong, inflated self-esteem, looks invulnerable, hurt others before they can hurt him or her, and blames others. Make no mistake about it, both roles are equally co-dependent whether from a weak, one-down, neglected, people pleaser role, or from the seemingly strong, one-up, abused, people-controller role.

The origin of co-dependency may lie in a developmental trauma during an infant's first six months of life given disconnections between children and their mothers that disrupt and prevent essential secure bonding. Adult co-dependency can be a way the body and psyche are attempting to be whole and healed, without resorting to blame of anyone. 1 This view is congruent within the context of the rightfulness (e.g., purposefulness and fittingness) of all human behavior, no matter how unworkable or dysfunctional the pattern of behavior, thought, feeling and attitude are. While the estimate of 98 percent it may be a bit of an exaggeration, it also is my experience in doing full-time private practice for over three decades that clearly an overwhelming majority of my clients do express many of these feelings, attitudes and behaviors.

In these three A-Frame involvements, see the co-dependent and counter-dependent roles:

1. A male or female is extremely needy for attention, anxious and fearful of loss. He or she uses fear-driven upsets, criticism and contempt to manipulate their mate, who escapes, acts defensively or behaves in a passive-aggressive way to strike back and seemingly stay in control. The mate often feels resentment over being so emotionally smothered, manipulated, and misused.

2. Being critical of each other's personalities fuels on-going arguments over utilitarian matters like money, meal planning, seeing television programs and in-laws. This creates bitter animosity and dissatisfaction with both members as well as a hostile atmosphere. They stay together in this devitalized "marital coma" out of familiarity, loyalty, and lack of alternatives.

3. Each couple member have less than clean motives for being in the marriage and are mutually using each other for their own selfish ends, such as one wanting a very comfortable, luxurious lifestyle and the other person desires a very attractive mate. Neither one remembers anything good from their courtship and marriage. Neither is really interested or knows the inner workings of their spouse.

People in A-Frame involvements share an unspoken agreement and matching behavior patterns to prop the other up and prevent both falling, much like a pup tent or A-frame roof of a house in the mountains in form. You might recall noticing houses high in the mountains that have roofs in the shape of an A to help bear the weight of Winter snowfalls, and later with the aid of gravity to have the snow melt and drain off. Similarly, A-Frame involvements are two or more people bearing each other's weight in propping each other up, holding tightly to each other to prevent either one falling. Unfortunately, such clinging equally prevents either from growing.

The great fear of people in A-Frame involvements is that their counterpart will someday no longer hold them up, and they will be left alone, having been betrayed, rejected and abandoned. One way this fear is played out is for one member to enact a preemptive strike by leaving, fully believing that the other was about to do the same to them, teach them a lesson, or let them cool off and come back to reason. This approach is to "do unto others before they do unto you!" Out of the certitude of his or her fears, these people can teach and even unconsciously invite their counterparts to behaviorally act out their worst case scenarios, like a self-fulfilling prophesy. Two people existing inside of this form allows precious little space for exercising any real personal power, choice, or life, along with healthy individual and social maturation.

II-Frame Involvements

Independence? That's middle class blasphemy.
We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.
—George Bernard Shaw

A much less recognized form of involvement is II-Frame involvements or hyper-independent unions. Extreme independence in a couple can be characterized by each person wanting and even demanding to be autonomous and not subject to any control, authority or even significant influence of another person, including their spouse. These individualists follow their own paths without any agreement or commitment to depend on their mate. A fear of being controlled, abused, manipulated or strongly influenced by anyone, including their mate, can act as a unaware rationale, reason or excuse for being hyper-independent in II-Frame involvements.

Perceive hyper-independent couples as expressing a high level of compatriot commitment in sharing similar life values and goals. Some call this having a wonderful, if periodic, roommate, but not a life partner. Hyper-independent couples tend to be less than willing to risk healthy emotional dependence and vulnerability in taking influence from each other. They miss out on the depth, maturity and integrity of a partnering relationship. Such couples may steer well clear of having children since this would demand greater connection, communication and responsibility, threaten their living their own lives, their space, sense of adventure and self-esteem, and place them in a position of great vulnerability to take influence in a mature way.

A common form involvement takes is to actively seek to control the other person through the use of manipulation, guilt and intimidation, especially when one person is threatened by their mate's maturation and growth. In all these forms of involvement there is precious little room for exercising any real personal power, being your own authority, making healthy choices and maturing individuation, including times of healthy independence and all-too-human dependence.

George Demont Otis     Autumnal


Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.
—Swedish Proverb

In stark contrast, and clearly not the same, what exactly are relationships? A Relationship, using the same English language authority, is a mid-18th century noun meaning, "the state or fact of being related; a connection, an association, spec. an emotional (esp. sexual) association between two people." Consider a relationship as a state of being emotionally and intimately related, like the kinship of brothers and sisters in warmly bonded, loving connection, just as all true faiths proclaim. Relationships are creations of the participants, ultimately each one and God.

For developmental psychologist Margaret Mahler and her associates, growing through co-dependency means to not be dependent upon other people or things that are outside of themselves. Mahler describes the successful development of psychological autonomy in having grown through co-dependency patterns as shown by someone being solid in knowing who they are, being able to be close with others without loss of being themselves, having the ability to meet their own needs and reach out for others when needing help, and maintain good feelings about themselves (i.e., healthy self-esteem) even when others criticize them. 2

What you could call H-Frame relationships can serve as an alternative model for understanding deeply bonded kinship as well as how to create relationships. H-Frame relationships are characterized by each person being able to assertively stand as independent beings and hold the roof of their own lives (the sides of the H). At the same time, each can extend to regularly connect and solidly depend on their partner (the middle of the H). The strength of two strong whole people holding up their togetherness as bonded loving partners, while equally supportive of each other in a healthy rooted depending upon each other, describes genuine relationships. Not only do each partner get to share their sorrows and find a willing, interested ear as well as congruent actions showing heartfelt feeling empathy, compassion, and forgiveness, each also gives and receives the great gift and blessing of sharing their joys and successes, dreams and visions, celebrations and sheer wonder of being alive in each moment.

Partners in relationships have the ability to both stand independently on their own two feet and, simultaneously, to build healthy dependent linkages of communication, intimacy, meaning, dependability and vision all held in here-and-now awake presence. A defining attribute of relationships is mutual interdependency—having the ability to be independent at times and equally dependent at other times given the practicalities realities faced in fully living life now.

Transforming Involvements Into Relationships

I didn't cause it,
I can't control it,
I'm not to blame for it,
And I don't have to fix it!
—Barbara Johnson

The opportunity for every one of us is to face, identify and accept the patterns we've learned that take the form of A-Frame and II-Frame involvements, see through them to their roots in environmental/social conditioning as well as genetic predisposition if applicable, and find therapeutic avenues to have emotionally healing and completing experiences that help free us of such self-defeating and unsatisfying interpersonal patterns.

Each one of us continually stand at the crossroads of life moment by moment. Will we "settle" for involvements, staying asleep in the earthly dream state, or will we "stretch" for relationships, being awake and present in an awakened state of realizing and ever more embodying who you truly are, the True Self? The leading or cutting edge of our true lives is to take the risk to be your own person, count and rely upon yourself as your own authority by standing up and not unduly leaning, the very essence and meaning of true empowerment.

As risky as this appears to be, standing strong, tall and up as a bonafide human being, including sometimes being depending upon trusted others and sometimes being an independent person (i.e., interdependence) in relying upon your own skills, intelligences, abilities and talents, is to know that you can start fully counting on yourself. In being "able to respond," that is, to be "responsible" for yourself and fully engaged in actively being there for people, you learn that all the tantrums, intimidations, manipulations and guilt-laden stratagems can't make you return to you being someone else's lean-to, and they yours. It's gutsy to learn to shed fear and bear love, to stand up in the face of having leaned as well as let go of control in the face of having controlled.

The healing process certainly includes learning a whole new set of life skills, strategies and behaviors, including the ability to simply recognize co-dependent attitudes and patterns along with gaining a deeper understanding of co-dependency, its roots and causes. Taking back all projections, and even seeing through who creates all the projections (i.e., the ego-mind), along with freeing yourself and others from dishing out or taking on blame in any form is an essential milestone.

Recognizing, "buying out" and freely releasing all self-hatred, games, manipulations, and paying attention to what you think of others and what others think of you (i.e., "nobody's business"), along with a growing awareness and assertiveness to know and ask for what you want, helps break the chain of co-dependency. As root traumas are truly looked at and cleared (EMDR is a mind-body approach that is remarkably helpful in this regard) along with deconstructing beliefs, roles, identities and non-constructive behavior patterns (inquiry approaches can offer powerful support in this regard), one is free to risk real intimacy and building genuine relationships. Ultimately, true empowerment is being your own authority in life, now free from the ego-mind's claim of authority and authorship, once it is clearly seen as false.

The opening is to learn to create, hone and give your self to "H-Frame relationships." As the brave soul no longer allows out-of-balance leaning upon another or another unduly leaning upon him or her, and further stands up with some growing independence, their compatriot in interpersonal crime has limited choices. Within the old game, their mate can simply fall over and feign being a victim, or give up and get quite depressed over the prospect of really changing, or find someone else to reenter into an "A-Frame involvement" or "II-Frame involvement."

The other option or evolving alternative that is outside of the old game is for the mate to really grow into being a partner and begin to stand up and develop a balanced, adaptive dependence coupled with a healthy, flexible independence. This pattern of behavior is called a mutual or reciprocal interdependence, a term that commonly is neither spoken nor written. When each person chooses to assertively stand as an independent being, then each can extend their hearts and limbs to respectfully greet the other and choose to risk intimacy and feeling connection as well as dependence on another at necessary times. The "H-Frame relationship" expresses as two people acting as their own authority and choosing to build healthy linkages of caring and communication in an authentic, liberated relationship—a reciprocal interdependency.

George Demont Otis     A Creek Near Santa Barbara


1. Janie B. Weinhold & Barry K. Weinhold, Breaking Free of the Co-Dependency Trap (Second Edition). Novato, California: New World Library, 2008, pages 3-11, quote: page 6.

2. Margaret S. Mahler, Fred Pine & Anni Bergman, The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant: Symbiosis and Individuation. New York: Basic Books, 1975.

© Copyright 2013 by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.

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