Freedom In Relationships – What It Means And What It Doesn’t

“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 about 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 person 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 and 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? Let’s take a look at what freedom in relationships looks like, what it means, and what it doesn’t look like.

What Is Freedom In A Relationship?

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 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’s like is to feel liberated in a relationship and what bondage entails.

“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 singles suffer from commitment phobia, resulting in them jumping from one relationship to another 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.

Related Reading: The 7 Fundamentals Of Support In A Relationship

“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 interests 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 make you feel free. Being liberated in a relationship is all about being your authentic self and not having to put on any masks.

While in the early stages of dating, there is always a bit of a 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 clearly knows how to give freedom in a relationship to their loved one. This is why it’s important to choose someone who values being free in a relationship for themselves too.

At the end of the day, a healthy relationship doesn’t tie you down. It doesn’t make you feel like your rights and wants are being restricted, and it doesn’t make you think you’re compelled to spend hours of your day with a person. Once you find yourself in a relationship that you truly wanted for yourself, you find yourself cherishing the hours you spend with a partner. Moreover, feeling free in a relationship has a lot to do with the subjective perception of freedom.

That being said, let’s take a look at what freedom in relationships means so partners don’t end up having a jilted image of what it looks like. Once you understand what a loss of freedom in relationships really looks like, you might just realize you have a lot to be thankful for.

Freedom In Relationships – 10 Things It Means

Love is a beautiful and 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 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 their 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. More importantly, there should be an awareness about what you both bring to the table. Freedom in marriage can only flourish if both partners are willing to treat each other the way they want to be treated.

Related Reading: 9 Tips To Build Harmonious Relationships

2. Being accepted can establish emotional freedom in relationships

Mariya says one of her relationships didn’t work out because she was dating an introvert and 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: he wasn’t willing to accept me for who I am.” 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.

If your partner constantly has a problem with the way you approach certain situations, and they frown upon your reactions, it will dissuade you from following your instinct. As a result, you’ll experience a major loss of freedom in relationship, which might just get the alarm bells ringing.

Being free in your relationship
Not accepting your partner for who they are will lead to no freedom in relationships

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 overcoming communication problems in relationships. If you can give your opinion without being judged (even if it runs contrary to the expectations of your partner), you have freedom in your relationship. What most people don’t realize is that emotional freedom in relationships means being able to present yourself truly and fully to your partner.

Think about it, if you had to constantly rethink the way you acted in front of your significant other, wouldn’t that violate your personal freedom in relationships?

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.

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.”

At the end of the day, space and freedom in relationships go hand in hand. If you can make your own plans with friends without thinking, “Should I ask my partner before I make this decision for myself?”, you have what’s known as freedom in relationships. You’re your own person, and the fact that you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean that you can’t decide how you want to spend your time.

Of course, there’s a flipside to this. Under the guise of “space,” you can’t blatantly avoid your partner for days on end. When it comes to space and freedom in relationships, the right balance has to be struck.

5. Being able to hold an opinion depicts personal freedom in relationships

This is closely related to point three. 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 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,” 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.

infographic on freedom in relationships
Freedom in relationships – what it is and isn’t

8. Being yourself

While accepting that a marriage or a committed relationship automatically brings changes to your lifestyle and future plans, what is non-negotiable is the sanctity of your inner self. Your partner has fallen in love with you – with the good and the bad.

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 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 the 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.

Relationships, where you feel incapable of walking out, can often be abusive ones, since you’re being forced against your will to stay in them. By now, you have probably realized the importance of freedom in a relationship and how it signifies the health of your bond.

Now that you know what freedom in relationships looks like, you can probably judge yours quite well too. You might learn that you have a lot to be grateful for, or that you and your partner need to work on a few things. Whatever it is, it’s important to understand that having no freedom in a relationship is basically guaranteeing an unhappy marriage. On that note, let’s take a look at what liberty in your bond does not look like.

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 person of their dreams but it takes a lot of understanding and faith to make it a success.

The presence of “freedom” in your marriage does not give you the right to do as you please. If your actions hurt your partner, defending them by simply claiming that you are free to make your own decisions is a gross act of selfishness. As we mentioned, each relationship comes with expectations, and to disregard them completely signifies a lack of respect.

When it comes to personal freedom in relationships, the right balance must be struck between upholding the values of your bond as well as feeling liberated in the process. That delicate balance is only struck by having conversations around the subject. In the meantime, 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 someone and giving complete control of choices to them. “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 them for every decision or choice. The tendency to cling to your partner robs you of your agency. Your partner, on the other hand, might feel emotionally burdened which is 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. In such cases, yours might end up looking like a codependent relationship, where it rarely feels like you’re both equal in the dynamic.

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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.

Though the importance of freedom in a relationship cannot be disregarded, it doesn’t give you the liberty to hurt your partner. Establishing clear boundaries and letting each other know what’s expected can help make sure such a situation never takes place.

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. Once again, this is why healthy communication is important. When your partner tells you that they will not take your disrespectful tone, it doesn’t mean that you have no freedom in the relationship, it means they’re striving to be at a place of mutual respect.

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 only be nurtured if you pay attention to it and make efforts to ensure there is equality, respect, and love. Freedom in relationships means we have the power to exercise choices. 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 their needs while you make your own decisions. 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 feeling free in a relationship 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.

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