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:
- 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.
- Strive for a balance between together time and time alone. Recognize that your need for independence might vary.
- 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.
- 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
- Don’t give up your independence. Be yourself. Hold onto the things you believe in and the ideals you value in your life.