Clark Counseling Solutions | Indianapolis, Carmel, Zionsville
Founded by Sarah E. Clark, LMFT, LMHC, CVRT

Maintaining Independence in Relationships

Autonomy in Relationships

 

Are you struggling to maintain your independence within your relationship?

A topic that comes up often in couples counseling and premarital therapy is how to know what level of independence should be present in a marriage or relationship. Most of us have seen plenty of examples of what not to do, but very rarely can we identify what a healthy relationship looks like. We frequently struggle with defining the lines of where we end and our partner begins. There is often an ambiguous, fluctuating boundary that determines how much separateness and togetherness a couple has in their relationship. This struggle leads to numerous problems.

 

What happens when there’s not enough independence?

When you do not maintain your independence and autonomy in your partnership, often times a codependent relationship will develop. A person can lose their identity and forget who they are without their mate. They focus on the relationship, the family, or their partner to the extent that they don’t take care of themselves. Here are a few signs that you are not maintaining your independence: 

  • You put your partner’s wants and needs first.
  • You don’t do activities with friends unless your partner is with you.
  • You often forget to take care of yourself.
  • You’ve given up the hobbies and interests you had before you were together.
  • You feel lonely or neglected when your partner does things without you.
  • You feel guilty when you have to travel for work or spend time apart.
  • You have trouble making decisions without your partner.
  • You don’t feel like there is any part of your life that is separate from your relationship. 

If you identified with any of these statements, then you probably are struggling with setting boundaries and maintaining your independence. This can have some problematic effects on your relationship, your self-image, and other areas of your life.

What happens when there is too much distance?

Just as many people struggle to maintain independence within a relationship, others take it to the opposite extreme, and resist the connection and closeness that a relationship needs to thrive. These people are fiercely independent, and act out of concern that they will lose their autonomy. When you are at this end of the spectrum, you may notice: 

  • You don’t consult your partner about plans or big decisions.
  • You do what is best for you without regard for the relationship or your partner.
  • You spend most of your free time doing independent activities.
  • You maintain a firm line of what’s yours and what’s your partners.
  • You resist attempts for more connection, intimacy, or closeness. 
  • You feel that you have to defend your space and autonomy. 

Maintaining this high level of independence in relationships is difficult, so it makes it difficult to maintain the relationship. Most often, couples develop a dynamic where one gives up their independence so their partner can keep the level of separation that they need.  If this resonates with you, and you feel like you and/or your partner may be having this problem, make sure to address it before it damages your relationship.



What does a balanced, healthy relationship look like?

As in most areas of life, it’s all about finding the right balance. Healthy couples know who they are and what their relationship adds to their life. They have comfortable levels of separateness and togetherness that they find fulfilling. They support each other’s independence and self-care. They consult each other on the big decisions or plans that effect them both, but feel comfortable making the majority of their day-to-day personal decisions independently. They enjoy each other’s company and value each other’s opinions, but don’t feel like they need them. They have a clear line of where they end and the relationship begins. Independent, healthy couples feel secure in their bond and their partner, and don’t have anxious feelings about needing to get closer or push away. These kinds of relationships work long-term because both partners truly love, and want to be with their mate, but don’t feel like they need to be with them to be happy.

How do we redefine our independence?

This is something that you can work on individually or in couples therapy. You have to start by determining what is and is not working in your relationship currently. Even if it seems that your relationship is falling apart or a total mess, there are still some things that are working; otherwise you wouldn’t still be together. Once you have determined what areas need to be changed, we will work together to determine what would be a healthy goal for each of those areas. This way you know exactly what your relationship will look and feel like when you meet your goals. It helps to keep you focused and motivated for change. We will work together to achieve those goals and eliminate anything that is getting in your way. Many times, this includes education on boundaries and healthy levels of independence, cognitive behavioral therapy to address distorted thoughts, learning relationship problem solving skills, and practicing methods for repair and maintenance. Redefining and maintaining healthy boundaries and levels of independence is not a complicated process; it just takes consistent work. So, make the decision to value yourself and your relationship enough to make the necessary changes.