Healthy romantic relationships involve commitment from both partners who presumably enjoy each other’s company. Obviously, spending time with one another, learning, growing, and experiencing life as a couple, supports a fulfilling relationship. Yet despite the common interests we share and the desire to spend time together, we must also acknowledge our need for independence. Independence creates a sense of security. It helps us balance our desire to be in a relationship versus our need to be in one, concepts I discuss at length in Chapter II.
What does independence mean to each of us in our romantic relationships? For some, it means time alone to read, listen to music, or reflect upon our thoughts in solitude. For others, it involves a shopping spree with girlfriends or enjoying a guys’ fishing weekend. Independence does not necessarily imply solitude, so much as time away from our relationship, which begs the question: how can we maintain our independence and still be in a serious relationship when these choices appear contradictory? We can have one without the other, but we can’t remain independent and attached to a meaningful romance at the same time. Or can we?
To answer this question for yourself, reflect on your own need for independence. Some of us are fiercely independent; others not so much. I cook, clean, and do my own laundry. I pay my bills on time. I care for my children when they’re in my custody. So by all accounts, I consider myself independent. That said, I enjoy a woman’s company. I also appreciate, respect, and enjoy the value of a meaningful and lasting romance. Like most things in life, I strive for a balance between my need for independence—which involves a lot of time to write, exercise, and enjoy a variety of hobbies—and my desire for a healthy relationship, which involves chemistry, communication, compromise, and commitment. For me, the need for independence and togetherness fit less of a mutually exclusive model and more of a Yin/Yang paradigm where the two halves intertwine. I prefer regular, consistent time alone in modest doses rather than long bouts of solitude away from my partner. I also try to communicate this up front. My need to spend time alone doesn’t mean I don’t value my romantic relationship. On the contrary, my time alone helps me recharge my senses, clear my head, and maintain a positive perspective on life—all of which helps make me a better person, a better friend, and a better partner overall.
I encourage you to look inward and ask yourself how you define your independence. What are some things you need time to do for yourself? And when? And how often? There are no right or wrong answers here, only truth. Strive for a balance in your romantic relationship. Whether you’re inclined to need more or less independence, make sure you communicate this need to your partner.
For those of us who require lots of independence, be careful about spending too little time with your partner. People who make themselves unavailable physically and/or emotionally, risk serious, and sometimes irreparable harm to their relationship. A meaningful and lasting romance implies physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual togetherness—not two people leading completely separate lives. Then again, some people in healthy romantic relationships prefer lots of time apart because for them it simply works.
The polar opposites of those who require lots of independence, are those who require almost none. Those without a sense of independence crave constant reassurance. In my experience, individuals who lack a sense of independence have not learned how to enjoy spending time alone. They also tend to expend energy doing things to please other people instead of trying to please themselves.
According to a February 2011 USA Today article, which cited a national survey of more than five thousand single men and women across age groups from twenty-one to over sixty-five, women want more independence than men in their relationships. According to the national survey, touted as the largest and most comprehensive study of single adults to date, seventy-seven percent of women stated having their personal space was “very important” compared to fifty-eight percent for men. I don’t pretend to understand all the reasons behind these figures, but it’s interesting to note how the women in this survey appear to crave their independence more than men. Perhaps women tend to socialize more than men with visits to their favorite spa, shopping destinations, nail salons, or just hanging out on the beach with friends. Apparently, modern men require less independence. Or perhaps guys simply need to find more things to do.
Independence doesn’t exclusively apply to a physical separation of partners. In other words, you can still spend time together and maintain some independence at the same time. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and express your thoughts or concerns. You are who you are, a unique individual capable of making your own decisions and enjoying your own interests, whether or not they coincide with your partner’s. If you don’t like red meat, don’t let your partner convince you to eat it. If you don’t like horror movies, speak up and suggest an alternative. Perhaps your definition of independence includes pumping your own gas, carrying your own groceries to the car, making your own decisions about when and where to eat out. Regardless of how you define your need for independence, make it clear, but don’t go overboard. Sometimes there’s a fine line between independent and stubborn—or independent and confrontational. Having everything your way all the time won’t work well either.
Some key points to remember about the core value of independence include:
1. Look inward and define your own need for independence. Be honest with yourself. If you’re not, you may jeopardize the success of your existing or future romantic relationships.
2. Strive for a balance between together time and time alone. Recognize that your need for independence might vary.
3. There will always be activities you enjoy sharing with your partner and those you prefer to enjoy alone. Embrace your differences; don’t reject them.
4. In a budding romantic relationship, communicate your expectations early on. If your expectations are grossly out of line with your partner’s—e.g., one of you requires significantly more alone time than the other—then you might have an issue to address.
5. Don’t give up your independence. Be yourself. Hold onto the things you believe in and the ideals you value in your life.
With everything we do in life, we are accountable to someone; to the bank that holds our car note; to our boss at work; to our children who look to us for guidance and support; to our friends, our family, and our significant others; to ourselves; and for some of us, to God. But what does accountability really mean? For starters, it begins with honesty. Accountability is closely coupled with the trust people place in us. Accountability also means learning to say we’re sorry and taking responsibility for our actions; learning to accept the blame when our deeds cause harm to others.
The law holds us accountable if we defy the formal statutes governing acceptable behavior in our society. Employers hold us accountable for our productivity and our behavior in the work place. Our romantic partners hold us accountable for our words and actions in our relationships. But what about ourselves? Shouldn’t we hold ourselves accountable for our own actions? Absolutely!
Then why is it so easy to be accountable in various facets of our lives and then jettison this notion the instant we’re in a romantic relationship that doesn’t work? I’m talking about guys who say they’ll call and then never do. I’m also talking about women who argue they are tired of the dating games while they continue to perpetuate the same dating games themselves.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” In other words, it’s always easy to blame others for mistakes—and hard to look inward, to self-reflect on our own bad habits and occasionally inappropriate behaviors. I’m not proposing everyone should overanalyze every relationship they’ve ever been in, but I feel it’s important to understand where we’ve been before we forge ahead and try to figure out where we’re going. Only after we’ve spent time reflecting on our virtues and our flaws, can we begin to apply these lessons learned to our romantic relationships.
Accountability makes us vulnerable by exposing our flaws and forcing us to see things for what they really are. In the words of the late Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, “He who gains a victory over other men is strong; but he who gains a victory over himself is all–powerful.” We gain victory over ourselves by being accountable for our actions.
If you’re serious about wanting to engage in a meaningful and lasting romance, or if you’re already involved in one, be open and honest. Don’t step out on your responsibilities. Step up and do the right thing. Look inward and identify the things that bother you or cause discomfort in your relationship. If you’re lucky enough to be perfectly happy twenty-four-seven and content with every aspect of your life, I applaud you. For those of us who live in the real world, it’s never a bad idea to examine ourselves and make small course corrections, especially if we’re not content with certain aspects of our lives. Or as Joyce Meyer lectures, “You can suffer the pain of change or suffer remaining the way you are.” Change isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Ditto for accountability, which can, at times, force us to modify our behavior patterns and come to terms with our shortcomings.
Some key points to remember about the core value of accountability:
1. Be cognizant of the way you treat people.
2. If you don’t like what you see inside yourself, work to make a change for the better.
3. Accountability should be something we strive for, not something we hide from.
4. It’s better to become accountable than pass the blame.
5. Accountability allows for positive change in ourselves and in our romantic relationships.
Self discipline serves a great purpose in our lives and especially in our romantic relationships. Self discipline acts like a forcing function to keep our other core values in check. Think of self discipline as the skeleton in our bodies. Without it, we would be nothing more than a blob of tissue and muscle mass. From a psychological perspective, self discipline drives us to set higher standards for ourselves, to achieve our goals, to overcome addictions or other negative influences, to persevere in times of need, and to thrive in times of comfort. Without self discipline, we shed our inner strength, our confidence, and esteem; we see problems and not solutions. Instead of rising toward success, we fall upon failure.
Self discipline represents one of the most powerful tools we have in our cache of core values and plays an integral role in maintaining a meaningful and lasting romance. Self discipline helps us get out of bed; eat healthy—or as close to healthy as we can; stay fit; do our chores; maintain a budget; control our temper; avoid temptations; become better parents; provide for our spiritual growth and self-improvement; and in general, overcome the momentary failures and inevitable setbacks life throws our way. Self discipline helped me pay my way through college, earn a master’s degree, pursue a thriving career, author numerous books, maintain a physically and emotionally healthy lifestyle, and become a better father.
Self discipline equates to persistence and perseverance. The persistence to finish a task we start—no matter how trivial or significant—and the perseverance to endure the trials and tribulations along the way. It takes self discipline to train for a race or to write a book, and it takes self discipline to remain attentive to our partners’ needs and desires. Self discipline also helps foster better communication and stronger commitment, topics covered in detail in Chapters IV and VI respectively.
Growing up, I recall my father telling me, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” This was usually meant in jest when he proudly displayed his uncanny ability to find a front row parking space at a popular restaurant or some other impossible-to-get-to destination that required the Hubble telescope to find an open spot. I also remember him rebuilding various components from several cars we’d owned over the years, performing never-been-done before repairs with perfection.
On many occasions, I’d find him on a plywood creeper with his hands above his head, blindly fidgeting in the chassis as he calmly explained the nature of his task while his fingers worked their magic like a surgeon. Sometimes bolts wouldn’t turn, parts wouldn’t fit, a component was too long, his reach was too short, or nothing seemed to go together as expected. But in the end, and I mean always in the end, through some act of genius or the will of God, he’d find a way to make it work. Every time. Without fail. No matter how bleak the initial prognosis, I’d hear him say with a smile, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” Looking back on those days, his success at fixing cars, home appliances, computers, vacuum cleaners, guns, or anything else manmade, had less to do with luck and more to do with his tremendous self discipline. My father’s willingness to exercise patience, sound judgment, keen intellect, and a positive attitude derived largely from his aptitude for self discipline—the same self discipline that has helped my parents enjoy a meaningful and lasting romance for more than thirty years, raising five beautiful children and me along the way.
Self discipline doesn’t happen by accident. It takes time. It takes practice. Some people are seemingly born with it; others work hard to obtain it. If you’ve got it, hold onto it. If you lack self discipline, take baby steps to learn it. Get up on time. Make proper diet and exercise a priority in your life. Compliment your partner. Write a love note to him or her and hide it somewhere you know they’ll find it. Save what money you can for a rainy day. Even if it’s nothing more than spare change, the act of making a conscious decision to save money, no matter how minimal at first, will have a positive affect on you. The same holds for saving time. A little self discipline in the time management department goes a long way toward reducing stress in your life and in your romantic relationship.
To turn my dad’s phrase around, I’d rather be good than lucky. Unless we’re talking about the lottery, where being good has nothing to do with winning, it’s important to practice self discipline. If we strive to achieve self discipline for ourselves, we’ll achieve it in our romantic relationships. The late Jim Rohn, an American entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, once said, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.” Let self discipline help guide you to your next achievement. You don’t have to be the smartest or the fastest or the most well-off. You simply have to be the most determined.
Some key points to remember about the core value of self discipline:
1. Self discipline can’t be learned in a classroom. Much like learning to speak a new language, you have to exercise your mental muscles until your newfound skill becomes second nature.
2. Strive to be virtuous and stoic in your core values, as these represent the glue in your romantic relationship. Think of self discipline as the clamp that allows this glue to cure and tightly bond your relationship together.
3. A strong romantic relationship can survive a momentary lapse in trust, respect, honesty, or accountability—but only if you have the self discipline to overcome it.
4. Self discipline is what makes the impossible, possible.