How To Be In A Relationship When You Love Being Independent
For anyone who loves being a free agent—independent and in control of their own lives—it can be challenging to try to share your life with another person, no matter how much you might love or care about them. Enjoying someone's occasional company can feel vastly different from trying to "be in a relationship," a phrase that carries with it all sorts of connotations and assumptions.
We assume by default that all relationships are domestic, monogamous, and involve a complete union of two separate souls (hence the phrase "my other half"). The two people live together, spend a lot of time together, share their finances, and make all their big decisions together. For many people, that sounds like a blessing—to be able to share so much of one's life with a committed partner who's always at your side. For many others, the idea of being tethered to someone this way can feel absolutely suffocating.
First of all, recognize that you're not alone—no matter what the romance-obsessed media narratives will tell you. Many people, as they learn to love themselves and take responsibility for their own happiness, find it difficult to live with another and want nothing to do with marriage. Pew Research Center data shows Americans are staying single longer, and the number of unmarried adults has been on the rise for the last several years.
But our culture's newfound celebration of self-love can sometimes be framed as a replacement for other kinds of love. The big question is: Does enjoying independence mean that relationships are impossible and out of the cards for you?
Not at all.
Enjoying independence doesn't mean you can't also enjoy companionship.
I often get clients who seem to be worried that if they learn to be happy on their own, they may end up living their entire lives alone. That fear stems from a perceived tension between wanting to love oneself and also wanting to love (and be loved by) another. The truth is, that tension is completely fabricated.
We are social beings, and most of us enjoy being in a loving relationship. The more we learn to love ourselves and make ourselves happy, the more we desire to share our love with others. Sharing love with another person doesn't take away from our ability to love ourselves, though oftentimes our experiences with unhealthy relationships can make us believe that. When we are abandoning ourselves instead of loving ourselves, then we are needy for another's love and spend a lot of energy trying to get love. But when we learn to make ourselves happy, we receive great joy from sharing love, and we have a much better chance of attracting a similarly strong, loving partner—rather than a needy one.
Yes, all relationships do involve time, energy, and effort—but we can seek out relationships that give us a lot without asking us to sacrifice the keys to our own personal happiness. For example, many people enjoy a loving relationship with a partner they don't live with. They don't have to deal with the things that really bug them about the person, such as messiness or over-neatness, money issues, or parenting issues—but they can still enjoy going out to dinner and a movie together, taking a vacation together, sex, and learning and growing together. They create a balance between being alone and being together that works for them. This kind of relationship has worked very well for many of my clients, especially those who either don't want children or have already raised their children and are happy to experience the freedom that living alone gives to them.
This lifestyle might be especially important to you if you tend to be a very empathic person who picks up others' feelings. It can be exhausting to live with a partner when you are constantly feeling their feelings along with your own. Sometimes it takes a lot of energy to not be affected by others' feelings or to not take responsibility for them, so having your alone time is especially important for you if that is what you want.
And don't forget: True personal growth often requires external stimuli.
Oftentimes our affinity for independence and alone time is partially fueled by a desire to keep conflict at a minimum—but if we really want to love ourselves and grow, we need to be willing to come into contact with other people, situations, and experiences that will push us out of our comfort zones and force us to really explore ourselves. Relationships offer us a wonderful arena to learn more about loving ourselves and one another because they often trigger unhealed inner issues—especially when there is conflict.
Find what's right for you.
You may know on a deep level that you want to live your entire life enjoying singlehood, focusing on loving yourself, and taking pleasure in the company of others without the implications of romantic relationships. Excellent—do it.
But if you feel yourself constantly worrying about how your self-love journey might affect your ability to be happy in a relationship, recognize that you're creating a tension where there doesn't need to be one. A relationship can take many different forms other than the mainstream one we most typically see in the movies. Some of my couple clients live with each other in a duplex; others live next door to each other, while others might live in different cities.
There is no one "right" way of having a loving relationship, so it's up to you to tune into what works for you. As long as you're both aware of each other's needs and are confident defining what "being in a relationship" means on your own terms, you can certainly enjoy being in a committed relationship while still prioritizing the most important person in your life: you.
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Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, relationship expert, and Inner Bonding® facilitator. She has counseled individuals and couples since 1968. She is the author/co-author of nine books, including the internationally best-selling Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You?, Healing Your Aloneness, Inner Bonding, and Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by God? and her recently published book, Diet For Divine Connection. She is the co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah, as well as on the unique and popular website Inner Bonding.