There’s a lot to be said for the sense of closeness and understanding that can develop in a good relationship. However, it’s wise to keep an eye on whether you’re becoming so close that you’ve almost fused into one person. Not only is your unique identity a precious thing that’s worth preserving, but some psychologists even believe that romantic passion depends on retaining a degree of independence.
The process by which you retain your own individuality while nonetheless engaging in your partner is called differentiation, and it is linked to higher relationship quality as well as a more intense sexual spark. Here are seven ways to approach maintaining your independence at the same time as being in a committed partnership.
1. Nurture your friendships
Many people slowly start to drift away from their own social circle once they find a long-term partner, and you’ll often hear about how important it is to hold onto good friendships after falling in love. Typically, it is suggested that you otherwise run the risk of being left with no one if the relationship goes south. However, it’s worth reiterating this advice about friendship in the more positive context of discussing independence.
Everyone has subtly different sides that emerge in the company of different people, and nurturing your close friendships helps you to stay in touch with the diverse sides of your personality. In addition, a good network of friends ensures that you don’t exclusively rely on your partner for emotional support or guidance, reducing the pressure on them to meet every one of your needs.
2. Keep a journal
Just as friendships help you hold on to parts of yourself that might fade if you fuse with your partner, writing in a journal provides an opportunity to be utterly honest about how you and feel. There is no judgment if you chronicle cognitive dissonance or experience shifts in mood from day to day, and the blank pages give you the space to explore all of your questions, experiences, and fantasies. In sum, you can get to know yourself better, moving your focus beyond the role you play as a romantic partner. Further, journals represent maintaining a certain amount of (appropriate) privacy in your relationship, and a partner who doesn’t object to this privacy is clearly displaying a healthy attitude to independence.
3. Avoid defining yourself in terms of the relationship
While it’s wonderful and deeply satisfying to feel like your relationship is so good that it’s one of the best things in your life, remember that it isn’t all there is to your life. You are not just defined in terms of your bond with your partner, but also by your rich history, your unique talents, your passions, and your other human connections.
4. Hold onto your own values
Whether you experience explicit pressure from your partner or merely internal pressure related to a desire to conform, try to hold onto our own convictions in the face of disagreement. As alluded to above, the difference is required for sustained excitement and interest in a relationship, and your partnership will actually benefit from your firm decision to assert your own set of values. The same goes for your personal goals, as long as they’re not infringing on your partner’s rights.
5. Learn how to enjoy your own company
Some people find themselves feeling lonely, anxious or even angry when their partner isn’t around. If this sounds familiar, learning how to enjoy your own company more effectively can help you move further along the path to increased independence. There are plenty of ways to spend quality time alone—from soaking in a hot bath to reading a good book, learning a new skill or engaging in a marathon session of watching your favorite “guilty pleasure” TV show, you don’t need your partner around in order to have a good time.
6. Work on self-soothing
As well as learning how to respond to your partner’s absence in a productive way, it’s vital to cultivate the slightly different skill of dealing with negative emotions without always having to run to your partner. While it’s a great sign if your partner can provide you with support and comfort, you need to know that you can comfort yourself if necessary. Even if you do go to your partner most of the time when you are anxious or upset, the important thing for your independence is the knowledge that you don’t need to do this—in other words, you know that you have your own toolkit for self-soothing.
7. Draw on multiple sources of validation
Finally, it can be very tempting to rely on your partner for validation, as their opinion naturally matters a great deal. However, healthy differentiation depends on being confident about your own thoughts, feelings, and worth without seeking your partner’s approval. Obviously, this idea isn’t meant to extend so far that you actively discount your partner’s feelings or act in ways that hurt them.
Rather, the key though is that self-esteem should come from within, or least from more than one source. Look to your job performances, social life, familial bonds, and solo hobbies to feel good about yourself—not just your romantic relationship.