“Single? No, I am just in a relationship with freedom!”
I read this witty one-liner at a store selling décor quotes and couldn’t help but be amused at the not-so-subtle dig at the supposed loss of freedom in relationships. While singles often face embarrassing questions from society on their (lack of) love lives, their much-married friends and acquaintances can be heard complaining about feeling restricted in a relationship or marriage.
It is almost as if being married or committed is akin to giving away your joys of life to someone else. The freedom-loving, spontaneous man or woman who is not willing to be tied down for the fear of feeling restricted in a relationship has almost become a pop-culture cliché. (Think the lovely ladies of Sex and the City, the Bold Type, Bridget Jones and the like!).
Similarly, the image of unhappily married, squabbling couples who yearn to find freedom in a relationship has also gained a lot of traction over the last couple of decades. But how true are these portrayals and assumptions? Does being married always mean sacrificing your independence and your happiness?
Does a happy relationship always entail compromises and unnecessary adjustments? Do you have to give up your needs and desires at the altar of your partner’s? Is a single person truly free and footloose? Can you never find freedom in relationships in a way that fulfills all your needs without making you feel stifled?
The answer to these questions, as with all issues in life, lies somewhere in between. No doubt embracing a life partner will require certain commitments which you need to accommodate and accept. However, the question lies in the boundaries you draw to define freedom in a relationship. These boundaries may differ from person to person which is why it is essential to define what it is to feel liberated in a relationship and what is bondage!
What Is Freedom In A Relationship?
“Freedom in a relationship is all about finding happiness,” says Nisha Menon, 46, a finance professional. “If I am as happy being in a commitment as I am being single, it means I have freedom in a relationship.
“I would not want any of my desires to be compromised upon and if I do need to compromise, it should be out of choice, not compulsion. Unfortunately, there is so much societal and cultural pressure to be married or at least have a partner in life that no one understands the importance of freedom in a relationship,” she affirms.
Being free and being committed are not two mutually exclusive concepts. A lot of singletons suffer from commitment phobia, resulting in them jumping from one relationship to another primarily because they are wary of being tied down.
The biggest fear: being restricted in a relationship that makes them uncomfortable or denies them their full rights. Mariya Shabbir, an executive, has stayed defiantly single primarily because of this fear.
“As an independent career woman leading a rather carefree lifestyle, I dread to think of devoting hours of my day to one person. I realize the importance of finding freedom in relationships only because I see my married friends struggling to find the balance, having to constantly put their interest behind that of their families’. Why lead such a life? Isn’t it better to be single and date casually (for the sake of companionship) rather than commit to someone and feel trapped and miserable?” she asks.
However, this rhetoric does not hold if you understand the true meaning of being free in a relationship. At its very core, love is supposed to give you the feeling of being free in a relationship. Being liberated in a relationship also is all about being your authentic self and not having to put on any shade.
While in the early stages of dating, there is always a bit of façade (you are trying to impress each other, after all), the more comfortable you feel with your partner, the more you shed those outer layers and come closer to your true self. A partner who supports you and brings out the best in you can be said to know how to give freedom in a relationship.
Freedom In Relationships – 10 Things It Means
Love is a beautiful but complex emotion but the moot point is: You can never think of finding freedom in a relationship if you are self-centered in matters of the heart. It takes two to tango and a lopsided deal where one of the partners constantly has to give in to keep the partnership going cannot be considered a proper relationship. A healthy partnership cannot take root in the midst of a constant power struggle in relationships.
So how should we define what is good to sustain a healthy sense of freedom? Perhaps the best way to understand if you are truly experiencing freedom in a relationship is to go through this checklist and gauge if it applies to you and your better half:
1. A sense of give and take
As mentioned above, the first rule of finding freedom in relationships is a willingness to treat your partner as an equal in every way. Be it matters relating to finance, family or career, what’s right for the goose should be right for the gander as well. Finding freedom in relationships becomes increasingly challenging where only one partner has his or her say all the time.
For example, if you love to spend time with your friends every now and then, do not frown if your partner wants to do the same with their friends as well. More importantly, there should be an awareness about what you both bring to the table.
Related Reading: 9 Tips To Build Harmonious Relationships
2. Being accepted
Mariya says one of her relationships didn’t work out because her then-boyfriend just could not handle her extroverted personality. “I love going out, traveling and socializing. His idea of a good time was to sit at home and watch TV.”
“After a point, we started arguing and that’s when it hit me that he wasn’t willing to accept me for what I am,” she says. In other words, freedom or feeling liberated in a relationship means understanding and accepting your partner’s personality traits especially if those traits define the core of that person.
3. Expressing yourself freely
“I can’t think of being free in a relationship where I can’t express myself,” says Harshita Dakoju, an operations manager. “I am realistic enough to expect that there will be differences of opinion if I am sharing a life with someone but there also needs to be freedom to be heard.”
This is why counselors emphasize the importance of frank communication. If you can give your opinion without being judged (even if it runs contrary to the expectation of your partner), you have freedom in your relationship.
4. Having space
Now, ‘space’ in a relationship is a contentious concept for most people. But the liberty to have space is one of the most important freedoms in a relationship. There is a thin line between having space and driving away your partner with your demands but that’s another story!
But basically, it means you have the right to ask for space from your partner. “More than physical space, it’s the emotional space that is important,” says Nisha. “I do not want that space to be invaded even by the person I love the most. I want to be with a person who makes me feel liberated in a relationship with him.”
5. Holding an opinion
This is closely related to point 3. An equal relationship is where both partners have firm opinions on different subjects and the freedom to express them. This does not mean that you need to agree on everything.
On the contrary, it means having a healthy space for dissent. A lot depends on how your opinions influence the relationship but just the fact that you have an active independent mind of your own, which is not curtailed, indicates freedom in a relationship.
6. Managing expectations realistically
Let’s be clear, there can be NO relationship without expectations. It is most natural to have some realistic expectations in a relationship and when they are not met, it is equally natural to be disappointed as well.
How you react when your partner behaves contrary to your expectations depends on you but you should have the freedom to hold your partner and the entire relationship in general to certain standards. It’s best to spell these out clearly early on so that your partner does not later accuse you of not realizing the importance of freedom in a relationship.
Related Reading: Expectations In Relationships: The Right Way To Manage Them
7. Giving freedom to your partner
Z. Sajita, a finance professional, ended her relationship when she felt the freedom she was giving to her boyfriend of seven years was not being returned. “I used to never question his decisions or his activities while I was always expected to provide answers for mine,” she recalls.
“It was only much later that I realized I was being shortchanged emotionally and decided to call it off though we didn’t have any other problems as such,” she adds. You need to give freedom to expect it in return. Learning how to give freedom in a relationship is the first step toward building a strong foundation.
8. Being yourself
While accepting that a marriage or a committed relationship automatically brings changes to your lifestyle or future plans, what is non-negotiable is your inner self. Your partner has fallen in love with you – with the good and the bad side.
Accepting your flaws is as essential as lauding your strengths. When you can’t be yourself and you constantly find yourself doing things that run contrary to who you are as a person, it leads to stress and resentment. The future of such relationships is easy to guess – it will be one where either of the partners feels stifled instead of being liberated in a relationship.
9. Financial independence
When it comes to freedom in a relationship, a lot of times we equate it to intangibles like thoughts, feelings, desires and so on. But financial freedom is extremely important to feel truly at peace and liberated in a relationship.
In traditional cultures, women rarely have a say when it comes to managing money in a household. However, it’s crucial to recognize that the freedom to handle finances the way you want and have your own financial dealings independent of your partner are all important aspects of freedom in a relationship.
10. Freedom to walk out
Perhaps this is the most important freedom. You and your partner should have the choice to walk out and end a relationship or marriage if it is not working out. Of course, it’s never going to be easy and separation comes with its challenges.
However, nothing can be worse than the feeling of being trapped in an unhappy, meaningless relationship. A bond between two individuals need not be forever even if you want it to be. Life has its way of dashing your hopes but it does not mean that you need to suffer because of it.
These Do NOT Mean Freedom In Relationships
Unfortunately ‘freedom’ is a word that is used rather loosely. We often find frivolous ways to escape responsibility and then attribute it to our quest for freedom. Everyone dreams of having a beautiful, rosy and healthy relationship with the man or woman of their dreams but it takes a lot of understanding and faith to make it a success.
Here is a list of elements that are often confused with freedom, space, acceptance and so on (yes, all that we said was necessary for a healthy relationship) but effectively mean the opposite of freedom:
Related Reading: Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships – 10 Characteristics
1. Excessive emotional dependence
There is a thin line between being emotionally dependent on each other and giving complete control of choices to someone else. “In one of my relationships, I was not even aware of how much my partner was controlling me,” says Nisha. “It only struck me when I was out of it. During my time with him, it felt all hunky-dory.”
It is wonderful to be in a relationship with a person who is emotionally available to you but that does not mean you turn to him or her for every decision or choice. The tendency to cling on to your partner robs you of your agency.
Your partner, on the other hand, might feel emotionally manipulated – definitely not a healthy sign. Neither of you will experience freedom in the relationship if there is too much emotional dependence on the part of one person.
2. Cheating in a relationship
Once you commit to someone, there are certain non-negotiables, one of which is fidelity. Unless a couple is in an open relationship – which is a choice exercised by both partners to be sexually non-exclusive to each other – sexual loyalty is expected.
Being free in your relationship does not give you the license to experiment with other people or hurt your partner who may have different expectations. A relationship comes with certain boundaries and lines and freedom does not mean you can cross them recklessly. Infidelity is one such line that must not be breached.
3. Being disrespectful
Expressing yourself freely is a sign of freedom in a relationship but it does not mean a person has the right to be abrasive or argumentative and rude. Once again, this is why healthy communication is important.
Learning to disagree with respect, dissent with a sense of responsibility and expressing oneself without being rude are all hallmarks of a healthy personality. And a healthy person has healthy relationships.
4. Taking your partner for granted
A relationship can be nurtured only if you pay attention to it and make efforts to ensure there is equality, respect and love. Freedom in relationships means we can have the power to exercise choices we wish to make. But that power should not be misused.
As responsible adults, you must consider the consequences of acting on all your choices too. Do not take your partner for granted or fail to consider his or her needs too while you make your own choices. That’s not freedom, that would be considered being self-centered.
Being in love and being loved in return is a dream for most people. But a committed relationship is as much about responsibility as it is about freedom. Everyone desires freedom and the definition of these freedoms varies from person to person. But the way you negotiate the freedoms you get while taking into account the feelings and emotions of the person you share your life with is what makes all the difference between a successful and unsuccessful relationship.