How to be independent in a relationship is an interesting and maybe even controversial question. Pop culture often tells us that romance is all about togetherness. The concept of how to be independent in a relationship doesn’t really come up, at least at first. You yearn for your significant other when you’re apart and want to spend every minute together.
Sure, that’s part of it. But, what about individuality and independence? What does independence in a relationship mean, and how do you assert your unique self without alienating your partner?
No doubt these are questions that come to mind to most people involved in romantic relationships. But, it’s not always easy to maintain your own personhood in the face of romantic love. Learning how to be independent in a relationship can be tough since we’re constantly told that our partners should take precedence over almost everything else. You may even be accused of being too independent in a relationship.
To shed some light on these questions, we talked to emotional wellness and mindfulness coach Pooja Priyamvada (certified in Psychological and Mental Health First Aid from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Sydney), who specializes in counseling for extramarital affairs, for insights on how to be independent in a relationship. So, whether you’re looking to be an independent man in a relationship or a strong independent woman in a relationship, we’ve got you covered.
What Does Independence In A Relationship Mean?
According to Pooja, independence in a relationship can mean remaining your own person even when you are partnered. “Having individual goals, likes and dislikes, friend circles, hobbies and a life, along with having another set of all of these that one might share with a partner – that’s what independence in a romantic relationship is all about.
“One need not look and behave like the mirror image of a partner; rather, the variety being the spice of life – or as they say, opposites attract – maintaining one’s uniqueness and difference sustains a relationship,” she says.
In other words, maintaining a strong sense of self doesn’t mean you negate your relationship or reject the idea of togetherness. In fact, nurturing yourself as an individual can help you become emotionally independent in a relationship, and thus strengthen your bond with your partner. Still wondering how to be independent in a relationship? Read on, and find out.
9 Ways To Be Independent In A Relationship
It’s all very well to say “be independent in a romantic relationship”. However, as with most things, implementation is far harder than the theory. To bring you some actionable insights, we’ve rounded up some ways you can actually work toward being independent in a relationship:
1. Assert your own opinions and feelings
As Pooja points out, how you think, feel, and express yourself doesn’t need to mirror how your partner thinks and feels. We don’t recommend being at loggerheads over everything (if you are, please seek professional help or rethink your relationship), but it’s absolutely fine to have and express yourself independently.
Related Reading: 11 Reasons Why You Must Date Your Polar Opposite
“When we first got married, I sort of thought it was nice how alike we were,” says Janine. “But then, I realized I didn’t like sports, and we liked different genres of music and rarely agreed on the TV volume. And that was okay too. Initially, we were both awkward about marring our ‘perfect’ romance with disagreements, but we realized it was a healthier alternative to pretending to agree over everything.”
‘Respectfully disagree’ is the motto here. You needn’t diminish or mock your partner’s opinions to assert your own. But neither do you need to brush your own sense of self under the rug to make room for theirs. Maybe you like Marvel and they like DC. Maybe you think dishes need to be washed right after a meal and they would rather leave them till the next morning.
No doubt these have been grounds for marriage separation in many cases, but if you’re wondering how to be independent in a relationship, we do strongly recommend learning to express and live with your differences. And the dishes will get washed, eventually.
2. Make sure you cultivate your own hobbies
My partner’s a biker. I don’t just mean he rides motorbikes; I mean he eats, sleeps, works on and breathes them. And simply by virtue of this passion, he’s always on the move. Me, I’m trying to break the world record for being a couch potato. That’s just us, and it’s not changing, and after almost a decade, we still like each other.
Doing everything together sounds like the perfect relationship, but honestly, having your own hobbies is a boon and needs to be nurtured. If you’re learning how to be independent in a relationship, you need to engage in activities independent of your significant other.
“Being independent in a relationship will manifest in each partner being their own person, remaining two separate individuals while still remaining a couple,” Pooja points out, adding that this means doing things separately. It doesn’t mean you do everything separately, just that you space out your hobbies in such a way that you have time for your own.
Maybe you’re both into hiking, but they’re not into poetry readings as much as you are. So you can do your hikes over weekends, and then make sure you attend a poetry reading a couple of times a month. Balance is key when you’re being independent in a relationship.
3. Spend time with friends and family on your own
I always maintain that my romantic relationship wouldn’t exist at all if I didn’t go out with my girls to drink cocktails and complain about my partner. Sure, you probably hang out with each other’s friends and families together all the time, maybe you’re even living in a joint family, and hopefully, you all like each other. But, what about spending time with your friends on your own?
“I’m lucky that I get along very well with my partner’s parents and he gets along with mine. Our respective friend circles frequently merge and we all go out together. But there are times when I want to be with my friends and family just by myself,” says Rachel. She adds, “There’s something deeply authentic about just being with people who knew you before you were in a relationship.”
It’s easy to put romance at the top of the relationship ladder, but let’s not forget the friendships and family (both biological and chosen) who have shaped your personality and life beyond romantic relationships. Nurturing and nourishing relationships outside of your romance allow you to tap into the non-romantic-partner parts of yourself, and those are just as integral to your life.
4. Travel on your own
My partner and I love traveling, and some of our most precious memories are of trips we’ve taken together. At the same time, one of my most favorite and memorable times remains a solo trip I took to Vietnam. There were questions and puzzled looks, because why would you venture on a solo trip when you have a lovely and willing partner?
Related Reading: Married? 5 Reasons Why You Should Still Travel Solo
Pooja emphasizes that travel is a great way to expand your horizons, and solo travel is an excellent path to testing yourself and spending time with you. Traveling alone means you’re completely responsible for yourself – from your flights and hotel arrangements to ensuring your own safety even while you explore a new place.
The thing is, when traveling with your partner, it’s easy to share the load, to let them be in charge of certain things. When you’re on your own, you need to take care of everything, and there’s truly no greater sense of personal power. You’re in a new place, taking care of yourself and planning your days exactly how you want. So, pack your sunglasses and your suitcase, and embark on a solo adventure. You’ll return full of new stories and a renewed love for your partner.
5. Have your own physical space
A favorite story of mine is how former celebrity couple Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter lived in the same house, but in separate wings, connected by a common area. Each guarded their own space fiercely, but there was always somewhere they could meet in the middle.
Now, it’s difficult for most of us to find a house with different wings, but it doesn’t have to be that elaborate. It could be the guest room for a few hours every week, or simply a reading nook that you go to when you want some time to yourself and away from everyone else. Space in a relationship is a good idea.
“We converted our basement into an office-study space,” says Frances. “But it’s also where I go when I just want to be on my own. I’m someone who needs a lot of me-time and that space is sacred to me, and really helps me not get entangled in my relationship in an unhealthy way.”
Even if you and your partner don’t share a living space, it’s a good idea to have a place you can go to when you need to be alone. It could be your favorite bookstore or a spot at your local park. Just a space that’s yours and yours alone.
6. Choose interdependence over codependency
Codependent relationships rarely allow either partner to have rich, fulfilling lives outside the relationship. Codependence is all about constantly putting your partner first, and feeling responsible for their happiness and moods.
Interdependence, on the other hand, would mean you are creating and nurturing a strong and balanced relationship while ensuring that your individuality remains intact.
Related Reading: 11 Signs You’re In A Codependent Marriage
To become emotionally independent in a relationship is a major factor in interdependence, says Pooja. “Emotional independence would mean being emotionally attached and yet having one’s own rich emotional life and freedom. Having the freedom to express oneself emotionally safely in a relationship even if some of the things shared could be contrary to what the partner feels.
“It also means lack of unhealthy emotional codependency where one gets emotionally overwhelmed by a partner all the time,” she adds.
Learning how to be independent in a relationship is all about walking that fine balance between attachment and personal freedom, feeling secure in your relationship rather than being a watchdog and keeping constant tabs on your partner. Being an independent man in a relationship, or a strong, independent woman in a relationship isn’t easy, but overcoming codependency is a good place to start.
7. Have independent finances
My motto for a happy relationship and healthy relationship boundaries is to have separate bathrooms, separate TVs and separate bank accounts. Of course, you can have a joint account from where you operate shared expenses, holidays, etc., but having your own independent space to keep your money is terribly empowering.
“When we were younger, my friends and I used to call it our ‘getaway fund’,” says Sabrina, “It meant it was money for when we wanted to escape. Escape our folks, a bad relationship, or just generally get away from things to do something just for us, completely on our own terms.”
As an adult, Sabrina maintained this fund even after marriage. “We’re both working, and we keep a joint account as well. But we also keep our own individual savings accounts. And we don’t question each other about how much money we keep in there, or what it’s spent on.
“If he wants to use it to go camping alone, he does. If I want to splurge on a beach holiday with my friends or blow it all on a shopping trip, I can. It’s not necessarily a getaway fund anymore, but it’s a sign that we’re still two separate people,” she adds.
8. Chase your own dreams
“We’d been married for three years when I got a job offer in another country,” says Elise. “It was a dream role, a brand I’d always wanted to work with. But my husband needed to stay where he was for his own job. So, we decided to give long-distance marriage a try. We would meet twice a month and kept in touch every day via calls and video chat.”
It’s easy to see this as being too independent in a relationship, especially as here it’s the wife flying off to pursue the job of her dreams. “The basic perception of freedom is different for men and women,” Pooja says.
“For men, freedom in relationships is more about decision-making, freedom to break rules and boundaries. For women, it is about being ‘allowed’ to do the same things that men do without thinking twice – like a solo trip or a vacation with same-gender friends without the partner and kids,” she adds.
It wasn’t easy, but Elise was determined to make it work. “I wasn’t going to give up my dreams for my marriage, and I certainly didn’t want to give my marriage for my dreams. It’s an unconventional arrangement, but it worked for us. I’m happy and successful and at the top of my game at my job and that sense of fulfillment makes me a better person and wife.”
9. Let your relationship breathe
As we’ve said, romance is so often seen as the single most significant relationship in our lives. Every movie, song and book made about romantic love tells us that this is the absolute, most important thing that could happen to us and we must cling to it even to the exclusion of all else.
However, if you want to become emotionally independent in a relationship, it’s a good idea to ease off a little. It’s a lot of pressure being someone’s significant other, and their listening post, and their family, and their best friend, etc. Your relationship needs room to breathe if it’s ever going to stand on its own two feet without constant vigilance from you and your partner.
When you have other relationships and passions to invest your time and feelings in, you give your partner and your relationship a little space to grow on their own terms. It is, of course, a tricky to balance independence in a relationship sometimes when you’re wondering how to be an independent man in a relationship or a strong independent woman in a relationship, and still be madly in love.
But space, trust and healthy relationship boundaries are integral to a great love affair, and there’s so much joy in watching your partner blossom as an individual within your relationship.
How to be independent in a relationship is a question that invites many raised eyebrows. And very often, you might be called out for being too independent in a relationship. But remember that your relationship and its levels of independence are no one else’s business but yours.
“In a healthy and secure relationship, each partner gets to be their own person, remaining two separate individuals while still remaining a couple. Each partner admires the diverse qualities of the other and often learns from them too, but it might prove to be disastrous if you have an insecure husband or wife who begins to compare and compete with a partner,” cautions Pooja.
To become emotionally independent in a relationship, or indeed to achieve any sort of independence in a romantic partnership needs both partners to have a strong sense of self, and a solid amount of faith in each other. Find yourself, explore your own horizons, even if they don’t always merge with your partner’s. Ultimately, love has to begin with you.