Independence is a natural human need that arises since childhood and is one of the most important pillars of one’s self-esteem. To be independent in a relationship means to have your own identity, to be able to do things on your own, to enjoy what your partner has to offer you and to be able to offer in turn, without losing yourself in that relationship.
There are many compromises and sacrifices that people make because they want their relationship to go well, because they don’t want to upset or lose their partner, because they feel pressured or guilty (because they are being emotionally blackmailed and manipulated), and the effect turns out to be totally opposite to their expectations.
It's very easy to lose yourself in your couple relationship if you slowly start to think that the things that defined you or that you used to like before aren't so important now - in fact, if you lie to yourself by telling yourself that it's not a big deal to give this up today and give that up tomorrow and so on.
In fact, it’s a big deal because with every compromise and sacrifice you make, you give up a part of yourself and you start to gain frustration and, sooner or later, resentment. If you compromise your values, dreams, wishes, needs, passions or your identity for your partner, it’s natural that at a certain point you will no longer recognize yourself, you will no longer know who you are, you will feel lost, depressed or anxious.
It’s natural for us to change in relationships (we change even if we don’t have a relationship) because the passage of time and our new life experiences make an impression on us whether we like it or not. If you remember the way you were like ten or twenty years ago and if you think about how you are now, you can certainly notice the changes you’ve been through, the way you evolved. You're not exactly the same person anymore, are you? But, despite all the changes inherent in life, you can recognize yourself if you look in the mirror or if you simply "look" within yourself.
The problem arises when you no longer honor your needs and desires, when you no longer value yourself, when you do everything for your partner, when you become dependent on them or when you try to be what you think your partner wants you to be.
When you are independent, neither your happiness nor your survival depends on your partner. You rejoice and appreciate what your partner offers you, but you don't need these things, because you are perfectly capable of getting them on your own. You enjoy the other person's company, but you also enjoy the time you spend away from them (you don't need to be with him/her all the time, you also find meaning, purpose and pleasure outside of your relationship). In a relationship where both partners are autonomous and independent, there is equality, not submission and domination.
First of all, it’s important for you to know who you are and who you want to be. You choose how you want to be, not your partner, not other people. They don’t know better than you what is best for you. It’s up to you to design your own path in life as you want it, otherwise you will be influenced by others and you will live a life as they want you to live, not as you want to live.
What are your wishes? What are your aspirations? What do you want to achieve in this life? How do you really want to live your life? How don’t you want to live? It’s important to realize, to discover what gives you meaning, beyond happiness. Because, yes, happiness is fleeting, it comes and goes, it comes and goes, while meaning is the one that fills your life. Be curious to know yourself, to know, at least in general terms, what you want from life and how you can get what you want.
Set goals and act to achieve them - you are the only one responsible for your life, don’t put your fate in your partner’s hands and don’t expect him/her to decide for you. Fight for what you want!
Don't compromise your values - values compatibility is very important, so identify your core values and see if they are compatible with your partner's values before investing too much in that relationship.
Maintaining or regaining your independence in a relationship requires that you consciously make certain decisions and respect them. It may be tempting to be told "You don't have to worry about anything, I'll take care of everything," but this "I'll take care of everything" actually does a lot more harm than good and it’s about your partner’s need for domination and control - it destroys your will, motivation, autonomy and inner strength. You become passive and your confidence decreases. That’s why it’s good to know what you want from yourself and to make decisions according to these desires; not to compromise your desires for some promises as tempting as they may seem at first glance or for your partner's expectations. Ultimately, he/she should accept you for who you are, in your authenticity.
Being independent in a relationship also involves:
- having your own passions and hobbies – it’s not healthy to give up your passions and interests for those of your partner (and vice versa) or because he/she doesn’t like you doing certain things that don’t involve him/her. A couple relationship shouldn’t be a prison, a symbiosis, but a space where both partners can express their individuality with all that it represents. How can you discover yourself as a human being, how can you evolve and how can you enjoy life if you don't do anything you want, you like, if you can't explore your interests?
- being able to make decisions on your own - if you are a dependent person, it’s most likely difficult for you to make decisions (because you are afraid and you don’t trust yourself) or you are waiting for your partner to decide for you. This makes you feel insecure and you constantly need your partner’s validation - you can't trust yourself, you can't rely on yourself, and if your partner fails to validate you, you start to question your own reasoning and intuition and most likely you remain stuck in your own emotions, being passive or just fearful waiting;
- taking responsibility for your own emotions and managing them - if you are emotional dependent on your partner, he/she becomes the "puppeteer" of your emotions. Because of him/her you feel a certain way - for example, his/her presence is the only thing that soothes you, if he/she makes plans that don’t include you, you feel betrayed, angry, upset, disappointed etc. But the truth is that no one can make us feel a certain way without our permission, because we choose the way we relate to what others say or do. Our emotions belong to us completely, and being independent in a relationship also means owning your own emotions and managing them, not blaming your partner for them or waiting for him/her to calm you down, temper you or behave in a certain way, depending on your expectations, because that's the only way you can be ok. It’s necessary to learn how to be ok on our own;
- expressing your feelings and point of view - if you are dependent on your partner, you tend to be obedient, that is you are afraid that what you say or do will cause an offense or a conflict. For this reason, you can repress or ignore your feelings, you can censor your words and, finally, yourself. This causes, sooner or later, suffering on both sides. Your feelings and thoughts are as valid as your partner's and through communication and consensus many problems can be solved. If your partner ignores or ridicules your opinions and feelings or becomes aggressive and tries to silence you, don't think that you are somehow wrong because you have expressed yourself. The question is - what does this kind of attitude say about your partner and about the love and respect he/she has for you?
- having your own friends and keeping in touch with them - a partner who really loves you and cares about your well-being would never force you to give up your friends or family for him/her. Often this imposition is not a direct one, but there are veiled threats, anger, sulking, jealousy, repeated comments that aim to make you feel guilty for talking or meeting with friends or family members. Distancing yourself from those close to you is also a strategy to make you more and more dependent on him/her. It’s also not normal for your partner to "ruin your plans", to intentionally do something that could make you give up your plans. It’s absolutely normal and healthy to have friends, to have a social circle outside the relationship, and if our partner doesn’t agree with this, a big red flag has just been activated, so let's not ignore it;
- to spend time apart - often, in relationships, “me time” becomes “we time”, meaning that the two partners no longer have time for themselves, to spend it as they want and feel. "Me time" can mean a few hours reading in the park, an hour of meditation, a walk where you try to organize your thoughts or simply try to detach yourself from your thoughts. "Me time" can mean anything else, after all. Everyone knows for themselves what they want and need. It would be normal for your partner to respect this desire of yours, but also for you to respect his/her personal time;
- having your own privacy and respecting your partner’s privacy - even if we are in a relationship, this doesn’t mean that we have the right to invade our partner’s privacy. Each person sets their own limits and boundaries in relation to what privacy means and it’s normal to respect them. And no, it's not "normal" to control our partner's phone, email or Facebook. These are also private matters. If we don't have our partner’s approval, we shouldn't do that. It can also be a question of privacy to have a space of our own - a room or a corner of a room where we can put only our things or where we can carry out certain activities related to our interests and hobbies.
Healthy and functional couple relationships are formed between independent and autonomous people who take responsibility for their own lives and don’t turn their partners into parents or "caregivers".
These relationships work precisely because everyone is able to take care of themselves in all aspects, because everyone honors their being, values, passions, interests and meaning, because everyone has the freedom to explore and enrich themselves and automatically offer out of their abundance.
Seek to become autonomous in all respects, rely on yourself first and foremost and thus you will have relationships because you want them, not because you need them, and in such relationships you will not compromise, but you will find fulfillment and harmony with your partner.
Dr. Ursula Sandner