How to Be Independent and Still Have an Amazing Relationship
Back in May, an old friend emailed me to invite me to a private island he co-owned with some other guys. They were planning to meet up on the island and take on a few carpentry projects to make it more habitable.
What a cool opportunity, I thought – I could learn some useful handyman skills and connect with interesting people. Maybe make some new friends.
I wanted to reply immediately and say, “I’m already there!” The only problem was…
My wedding was three weeks after the date of the trip. There was still so much to do and I didn’t want to leave my fiancée alone for eight days to fend for herself.
Anyone in their right mind would say, “Don’t even think about it, Nick. It’s way too close to the wedding date. Brides freak out about this kind of stuff.”
And of course, I always want to support and help my partner, that’s what a relationship’s about. But it wasn’t so easy to just pass up an experience like this. Still, I was prepared to compromise because I knew the wedding was something we had worked on together, every step of the way.
So I sat down and told my fiancée about the invitation. Before I could really get into detail, she said, “You have to go.”
I knew we had an understanding relationship, but even I was shocked at her reaction.
She continued, “It’s an incredible opportunity. You’re going to have so much fun and meet really awesome people. I know it’s going to be tough without you here but I’ll be fine.”
She supported me because despite how important our day was, she knew this trip was important, too. She knew that nurturing my own happiness was not only beneficial for me, but for our relationship. And so when she also got the opportunity to attend a five-day teaching conference that ended the day before the wedding, I excitedly said yes.
People thought we were crazy.
Many couples struggle to build a healthy foundation because they don’t make each other’s happiness independent of the relationship, a priority.
Balance leads to healthy independence
A lot of people claim relationships are the death of independence. That’s why so many men are terrified of commitment: they believe that a “relationship” means they have to give up their hobbies, friends, and alone time.
Well…that just means you’re doing it all wrong.
Independence within relationships is achieved when both parties work towards a balance. (Note: I said BOTH — the partner you choose should want this, too). However, it’s reasonable to say that you can’t expect to do anything you want without your partner and still maintain a healthy, passionate connection.
A balanced relationship not only provides fulfillment in the life you build together, but in your individual lives as well. Having unconditional support can even facilitate personal development better than when you’re single.
This balance can only be found when all the connections in a relationship are taken care of. What most people don’t realize is that there isn’t just one connection in a relationship, there are three. And if you fail to nurture any one of those, the relationship starts to topple. Those connections are…
Your relationship with yourself. Your partner’s relationship with herself. And the relationship you share together.
Think of those connections like the legs of a tripod. If they’re all almost equally extended, the camera (or a relationship in this case) is stable. If one of those legs starts to collapse, it’ll still hold up for a little while, but eventually…the whole thing will come falling down.
The three types of unbalanced relationships
Here are three of the most common unbalanced relationships I see:
The detached relationship (no investment in the connection together). This is where one or both partners primarily focus on themselves. This often leads to poor communication, lack of feeling appreciated, and a constant uncertainty of how the other person actually feels. Due to that, some people may pull away to protect themselves and act distant in return.
Some people can coast in these relationships for a while. Inevitably, life gets complicated and they face hardships. When the stakes get high, that’s when they realize they’re not capable or strong enough to deal with the issues. Or that their partner isn’t willing to carry their weight. This leads to high tension, fights, and people leaving because they can’t handle the pressure.
The controlling relationship (not allowing your partner to have their independence). This is when an insecure person tries to force their partner to only invest in the relationship. They often do this because they’re scared that if they don’t, their partner will find someone better. Also, they can be jealous if their partner finds happiness in something without them.
And ironically, this behavior leads to their worst fear coming true. When the infatuation wears off, control issues become much more apparent and lead the oppressed partner to resentment and seeking fulfillment elsewhere.
The co-dependent relationship (no investment in themselves, only in the relationship). This is where one or both parties seek happiness only through the other person. They may do this at first because they’re so excited about the new relationship or because don’t feel they can be happy alone. They cling onto their significant others and expect to do everything (or almost everything) together. While this may seem adorable, it leads to a host of relationship struggles.
Often one person will start to feel smothered and then distance themselves. Other times, someone may feel like they’re missing out on their independence and start to resent their partner and relationships in general. And then of course, when you rely on your partner for your fulfillment, you’re acting needy — and even other needy people get turned off by that.
How to build a balanced, independent relationship
Set your expectations for independence from the start. The sooner you understand and express your own needs, the better. If you need occasional alone time or guys’/girls’ nights — make it clear that it’s important to you. Too many people make the mistake of trying to avoid any potential conflict early in a relationship. So instead, they don’t make any time for themselves and just do whatever makes their partner happy.
Then months or years down the line, they want to start investing in themselves. But by then, it’s too late. They are now fighting against the conventions set in the relationship. Their partner may feel like they’re changing or wanting these things as a sign that they’re unfulfilled. They may feel like they’re being abandoned. Their partner may try to stop them from being more independent because they’ve gotten used to being codependent.
When you don’t set expectations, you’re telling your partner they can treat you however they please. Convey expectations early and often and you’re more likely to have them met, including new ones in the future.
Encourage their independence. You can’t just expect to only have your independence, though. You have to want that same freedom for your significant other. More than that, you should be supportive and encouraging of it.
Tell your partner to have a night out with their friends. Buy them tickets to take a friend to the theater or a concert. Help them search for cool classes or events they’d be interested in. Even just tell them it’s okay to watch a show you don’t want to watch while you catch up on something else.
Give them the foundation to be self-reliant when necessary. Because there will be times in a relationship where you won’t be there and they still need to be happy when they’re alone.
Don’t expect your partner to fulfill everything. I hear people complain all the time about how their girlfriend or boyfriend doesn’t like all the same things they do. “She doesn’t want to watch the MMA fight.” “He doesn’t want to go to the ballet with me.” And your point is?
Listen, sometimes you just take one for the team and join your partner in an activity you may not love. But that’s not always realistic (and it shouldn’t be). You are two different people with individual tastes. You wouldn’t expect a friend to do every single thing you want, why should it be different in your relationship?
While it’s important to share commonalities, you shouldn’t want a clone of yourself. You can connect with friends, family members, and new people with similar interests. Don’t guilt trip your partner because their passions are different than yours; and certainly don’t emotionally manipulate them to like everything you do.
Don’t become your partner, either. You also shouldn’t try to like everything your girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse likes. It’s just not possible and it’s not endearing. A lot of men do this with women so they seem like the perfect guy. They don’t realize that it actually makes you more unattractive in the long run.
Women want leaders who carve their own path in life. They want strong men who know what they want and are unashamed of it. She knows you don’t love everything she does and by acting like you do, you’re being disingenuous. You’re showing that you’re desperate for her approval. When you’re always seeking validation, she’ll respect you less and you leave yourself vulnerable to being a complete doormat.
Push each other to discover new ventures and grow together. When you’re comfortable in a relationship, sometimes getting takeout and watching Netflix can be the most fun thing in the whole world. But when that’s the only thing you consistently do, it will get old.
Human nature is to seek fresh experiences and grow from them. We like variety, different challenges, and new knowledge. You don’t have to hit up clubs if that’s not your thing. There are unlimited events, activities, hobbies and classes to enjoy. I don’t believe that staying home every night is the most fulfilling way you could enjoy your time together.
Even if you’re shy or a hardcore introvert, you have a best friend who’s there to support you. Think about all the times you’ve avoided going out because you didn’t want to try something alone. Well, now you don’t have to — tackle things as a team!
People who claim relationships just hinder fun or make you boring aren’t trying hard enough to enjoy life with their partner. Or as I’ve said earlier, they’re with the wrong person for them.
Understand when to compromise and when not to. We all know that compromise can play a crucial role in any relationship. If everyone just did whatever they wanted, it would be like Mad Max out here. But I don’t like this notion that people are always automatically supposed to give in to please their partner.
For example, say your friend invites you to a football game. You’ve been spending time with your wife all week and supporting her. For one night, you want to enjoy the game with friends and let loose — maybe with a few beers. You have a designated driver home.
Your wife doesn’t want you to leave. She doesn’t want to be alone that night and tells you to stay with her.
Are you just supposed to stay at the expense of your own happiness? Unless there’s an actual emergency or you haven’t been paying any attention to your wife — I think you should go.
On the other hand, maybe you’ve been gone on business and then back working late all week. She’s been stuck taking care of your new puppy by herself. She’s been legitimately alone, over-stressed, and missing your connection together.
That’s an instance where you may want to compromise on this one football game and catch up with friends later.
Every situation is unique and I can’t give you the right answer 100% of the time. You need to critically evaluate where you need to compromise (if at all) in that moment. The best way I can help is to provide you with a list of questions to help think things through:
- Is my partner being reasonable? Are they acting irrational or jealous? Or do they have valid reasons and will be genuinely hurt?
- Have I been unwilling to compromise on other things lately? Am I giving as much as I’m taking?
- How important is this to me? If I compromised what I want, do I think I could still be happy? Or would I regret this?
- How important is this to them? Does it seem trivial or is compromising for them on this idea a major thing?
- Could we find a middle ground where we both compromise?
- If they asked me for something similar, would I let them do it?
- Is it worth the risks and consequences? If this is something really important to you, are you willing to deal with the potential fallout from your partner?
My point is this…
You shouldn’t just give up what’s important to you to please your partner. You shouldn’t always be completely selfish, either. You should try to make the best educated decision for yourself, your partner, and the relationship.