Maintaining independence in a relationship does not mean leading separate lives. The truly independent couple shares an understanding that allows each person to develop and grow within the framework of the partnership.
Keeping your independence in a relationship is more a state of mind than a way of behaviour. A couple who spend every minute of their free time together may each have independence, while the couple who never discuss anything may actually be completely dependent on each other.
Perhaps the highest compliment and proof of love that you can show someone is that you stay with them because you choose to – not because you could not manage without them.
A change of perspective
When a new partner comes on the scene, many men and women lose contact with their friends. Often they confine their friendships to other couples. The assumption seems to be that if you really love someone individually, you are not going to need other companions outside of the relationship.
Both sexes may view outside friendships, especially when the friend is single, as a threat to their own position in a relationship. And they may fear that if the partner’s friendship continues, he or she will want the freedom of a single existence such as the friend seems to enjoy. The friend may also be seen as a rival, sharing experiences with the partner and taking up time that should be spent within the relationship.
The sad part of these fears is that they are frequently wrong. Single people – both men and women – are just as likely to envy the security of a couple’s life.
We tend to assume, wrongly, that if two people love each other, their tastes must be the same in everything. No one is showing disloyalty, or indicating there is anything at fault with a relationship, by having friends and interests outside it.
Giving up activities and friendships that you enjoyed before you met your partner is unlikely to benefit a relationship. You may resent your partner for asking you to make this sacrifice, or assuming you will. Without realising, they too might regret it.
Some people complain bitterly that their partner is not the same person they first met or married. This is hardly surprising if the partner has changed his or her way of life. Our personalities are influenced by the people we know and the things we do.
Naturally, a woman who is expected to stay at home and concentrate on looking after the family is going to be a very different person from the girl who once had a wide circle of friends and range of interests.
The man who met his friends to play football every Sunday or darts twice a week is going to be very different if he spends every free hour at home.
If the only people a couple talk to are each other, both may find their lives and ideas become stale and boring. Having your own friends and pursuing independent interests outside the family can be beneficial to everyone concerned. Not only will you bring back new and fresh ideas to your partner and family, you will also give yourself and them the chance to learn and grow.
Completely at a loss
The results of being totally dependent on a partner become most obvious when one partner is left on their own. This can be a temporary state of affairs, when one person is away because of illness – their own or that of another member of the family – or it can be permanent, due to separation, divorce or even death.
The plight of someone unable to boil an egg or iron a shirt, or being incapable of managing money or dealing with officials, can seem comic to an outsider. But it is far from funny when you find yourself in this situation. Worse still is the loneliness of a person, male or female, who has forgotten how to make friends and talk to anyone other than their own partner.
Search for independence
The search for independence begins in the teenage years. In the transition from childhood to adulthood, you learn to make your own choices, which may differ radically from those of your parents. Young people whose parents refuse to let go or to recognize their child’s developing maturity often find this a particularly difficult time.
Often, young people are made to feel that the signs of their growing away from their family are signs of disobedience or ingratitude, or just plain selfishness. But there is nothing selfish in having your own needs and wanting to express them. To gain this all-important independence in your relationship, you must first take your independence from family ties. This does not mean you should cut yourself off from, or stop loving your parents, brothers or sisters. But it does mean that for your own good and future happiness you may need to recognize that you have your own life to live as well.
You should try not to be constantly at your family’s beck and call; neither should you put off making new friends or taking up a particular career because you feel that your parents might disapprove.
Many people fail to establish an equal give-and-take relationship because they lack confidence – both in their own abilities and qualities and in their partner’s love for them. Women, especially, often feel that they need to do everything they think their partner wants or they will forfeit his love.
Such feelings often arise from a strong need for approval, as well as from a lack of confidence. But by agreeing with everything your partner wants, you may lose his or her approval and, ultimately, his or her respect and love as well.
The foundations of independence often depend on you building up your self-confidence. Put yourself in a positive state of mind and think about the good points of your personality.
The growth of confidence in your personal qualities and abilities will bring with it the confidence to express your opinions and follow your interests without looking for approval. Once you have got out of the habit of agreeing with your partner, you will be able to acknowledge that they have a right to their own point of view.
Independence and sexuality
Sexual independence is probably one of the most important aspects of emotional self-confidence. To be sexually independent, you do not need to be a ‘swinger’ or have extra-marital affairs. On the contrary, people who are sexually independent are often the most faithful.
Being sexually independent means acknowledging that your sexuality is something within you – not a gift from your partner – and that sexual satisfaction comes not only from being with a skilful and experienced lover, but also from being at home in your own body and its sensations.
If you had little sexual experience before you began your relationship, it is easy to imagine that sex with someone else might be different, more exciting and possibly more satisfying. If you have an affair in this frame of mind you might prove yourself right – but this might be because you expected it and were prepared to make more effort. The same amount of effort within your existing relationship would produce the same response.
It is you and your embracing of your own sexual potential and your conviction of your right to a full and happy sex life that will give you this.
Arguments about money are as common in a relationship as they are in most government departments. Yet financial independence can make an enormous contribution to self-confidence. How can you achieve such a situation?
To begin with, you and your partner should discuss whether you think status and a feeling of being worthwhile are based on the size of your pay packet or salary. If both of you work, is the contribution of the partner who makes less really only pin money, or is it just as important as the salary of the one who makes more?
One wage earner
If you do not work, and your partner does, it can be very easy to feel that you are not pulling your weight and are thus beholden to the wage-earner in the household.
A useful way to resolve this is to work out how successful your wage-earner partner would be without you. If you run the home and give them emotional support, you are enabling them to do their job just as a fully paid colleague aids them in the office or other workplace. If you have children and are responsible for housework, you are doing a job in your own right anyway. If you have a joint bank account with your partner, it should be understood that a certain amount is earmarked for your personal use. If you have separate accounts, the same amount should be transferred at regular intervals, in addition to the housekeeping. If anyone is unconvinced that you earn it, why not try going on strike for a day or two? A partner left to cope with the numerous problems involved in running a home will soon see sense.