It is very easy in the first few weeks and months of a new relationship to find excuses to spend time with this amazing new person. You may find that you duck out of meetings with friends and family and perhaps even forgo events that in the past would have been a priority.
You spend time looking for the things you have in common, the similarities and the habits, likes and dislikes, and even the types of food you both enjoy. You may even find yourself agreeing you like some things that the other partner does simply to make that connection. However, retaining your own identity and independence is critical in a healthy relationship.
A healthy relationship is strong enough for both partners to have their own sense of self and interests. In fact, it is an unhealthy relationship that requires one person to give up their sense of self and to become a mirror image of their partner’s interests, opinions, and desires.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of giving up a bit of yourself to make the relationship work. If this is not reciprocated, and you are the one doing all the giving, it is a red flag that you are in an unhealthy relationship that will only continue to be more and more demanding.
Tips for Staying Independent in a Healthy Relationship
It is important to note that staying independent means respecting, supporting, and encouraging your partner to be independent as well. While it may not be common, one of the best ways to maintain your independence is to have a discussion with your partner about what that looks like, what it means, and why it is important.
Having this discussion early in the relationship helps to set healthy boundaries. It is also the most effective way to find out if your partner is equally focused on maintaining independence and respecting your choices to have a strong sense of yourself and your independence.
· Prioritize self-care – self-care is not selfish. Self-care is about doing the things that you need to do to keep you emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy and balanced. Some of these things, such as taking a yoga class or going for a walk, can be things you do as a couple, but they can also be things you do on your own. Many couples combine some elements of their self-care while keeping others as things they do on their own or with others.
· Do something you love – even partners that share a number of common interests, hobbies, and passions have a few things that are uniquely their own. In healthy relationships, partners encourage each other to pursue these individual interests and see it as a part of finding ways to be uniquely themselves.
· Find ways to celebrate each other – finding ways to celebrate each other’s accomplishments, successes, and achievements while giving them the credit is a great way to support independence. Celebrating each other’s independent achievements is a strong indication of respect for who each other is as a person.
· Have your own friends – while it is nice to have “couple friends” it is also nice to get away with your own group. This could be a girls’ or guys’ night out on a regular basis, or it could be a group activity you do on your own. To be comfortable with this, trust must exist between the partners. If there is jealousy or distrust, this type of independence will be a source of conflict in the relationship.
· Set your own goals – having goals as a couple is a great way to ensure you are moving towards the same objectives in your life together. However, it does not mean giving up on your own personal goals. Set personal goals for yourself and also support your partner’s individual goals.
Independence provides a strong foundation for a healthy relationship. Recognizing and celebrating your differences and your joint accomplishments helps to maintain your sense of self-worth and independence throughout your life together.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW and Transformation Coach: Author of Love Smacked:How to Stop the Cycle of Relationship Addiction and Codependency to find Everlasting Love