Independent behavior in relationships can be healthy or unhealthy. People in very healthy relationships demonstrate balance. It’s neither dependence nor independence. The goal is interdependence. People in healthy relationships are free of codependent tendencies. After all, few people are attracted to someone who is clingy. People in healthy relationships can act independently, but consistently choose to put their significant other first, making time for them and considering their impact on their partner with every decision. Acting independently, healthy people are reliably dependable.
A healthy relationship balances interdependency. We’ve all experienced couples who seem enmeshed; the definition of which is “trapped, caught, tangled”. We should all be aware that codependence is a sign of dynamics that are detrimental in serious ways. One definition of codependence is “taking on responsibilities that really belong to someone else”. To be in healthy relationship, we must be able to trust that our partner is willing and able to be responsible and make decisions with both their needs AND our needs in mind.
It requires independence for a partner to exhibit dependability. Having a balanced level of independence within a relationship establishes trust, an element crucial to happy and whole relationships. This is not an easy thing to do, demonstrated in the high percentage of relationships that end in breakups
Most of us know that happiness must ultimately be found within ourselves. We can’t look to a romantic partner to fill gaps in our stability. Independence is healthy and wise to a great extent. So when is independence detrimental to your relationship? Healthy relationships are about finding and living in balance. In this post, we’ll consider several warning signs that you or your partner’s independent actions are out of balance and pointing to an unhealthy relationship.
In some unhealthy relationships, one partner has discovered that they can take advantage of an uneven partnership. They know if they let something go, their significant other will take up the extra slack. This might be emotional, financial, social, or focused somewhere else. Maybe one partner does all the work in the house or out, paying bills, cooking, cleaning, working. Or maybe one partner never focuses on the emotional needs of the other. Every conversation is focused on themselves. Every purchase is based on their needs and not their partners. This kind of selfish independence is a major red flag for relationships and is simply not sustainable. It’s a form of manipulation. No one should spend their time and emotions on an inconsiderate jerk. After all, who wants to expect their significant other to spend a significant amount of their time thinking only of themselves? If we want to nurture a relationship, we cannot continue to behave as if our partner doesn’t exist. Independence as selfishness is bad in relationships because it doesn’t leave space for another person. Ignore your partner’s feelings and perspective and they will likely stop sharing their inner world with you and even eventually leave the relationship entirely. Wouldn’t you?
Independent behavior turns into selfishness when it fails to pay careful attention to the impact it has on someone important in your life, someone that you may not want to leave you. It is sometimes helpful to consider aspects of relationships from a different perspective. Let’s consider relationships from the viewpoint of work. Have you ever been adversely impacted by someone in the workplace? At work, if we are not careful about our impact on others, it could cost us our jobs. If we are in a supervisory position, the unintended negative impact of neglecting excellent employees could cause them to look for other opportunities. As an employee, if we speak up and our opinions and feelings are not heard or cared about, we often give up. The result is that we feel hopeless and stop trying. Worse yet, some folks just leave. Relationships aren’t all that different. Even if someone is at a job or in a relationship they like, if they go unnoticed for too long, then when another job or another person shows interest in all that unsung skill & ability and gives them a better offer, leaving eventually becomes an attractive option.
It is a major mistake to not integrate our lives and decision making with the one we love. Though it is good and right to make some decisions alone and schedule time for friends, hobbies, and leisure time independent of your partner, no relationship that is completely uncoordinated between partners has much of a chance at lasting for the long haul. If we never consult our partners in the decisions we make, we are guaranteeing integration cannot happen. We force our partners or potential partners to be just as independent. They will eventually begin to live without considering our feelings, just as we did not consider theirs. It’s also important to watch out for things that can cause unnecessary distance in relationships. Too much time with hobbies, friends, video games, and television are some examples. These are also known as “exits” in a relationship. An exit is an activity or a place of focus a partner routinely chooses over their significant other as a disconnect from intimacy, connection, and ultimately passion.
Another area with a big impact on partners or potential partners is decisions about finances. Though it can take a lot of trust, being open with finances is crucial for building and maintaining healthy relationships. If your partner has multiple credit cards maxed out, that’s bad. But if your partner isn’t honest with their financial irresponsibility, that only further breaks trust. The degree to which you or your partner are able to be transparent with a financial situation is a direct reflection on how open you will be with your emotions and thoughts. Misunderstandings and Neglect Occasion More Mischief in the World than Even Malice and Wickedness. – Goethe We may never have intended to leave our romantic partners, but, over time, neglect can end any relationship. In contrast, independence, personal space, and having personal goals is healthy and attractive. What’s not attractive is justifying selfishness or lack of caring about someone else’s feelings and needs. Everyone needs and deserves to be heard. Feelings and perspectives should and can be validated, even when they differ widely. Be aware though, this does not mean we have to agree with other people’s positions, and it doesn’t mean that other people have to agree with our views. We may legitimately disagree. Different perspectives need not mean we have to leave or demand our own way. But giving our energy to hear and knowing that we are heard creates a space for relationships to grow. Caring is the water and sunlight for relationships. Empathizing with and validating other people’s perspectives in love are powerful tools that must be learned to maintain healthy, long-term relationships. If we are to be effective in love, we must learn to hear feedback and understand our impact on others.
Abusers and addicts act independently of others, doing whatever it takes to satisfy themselves. Be warned, this is the worst sort of independent action. Some of the most extreme inconsiderate behaviors center around addiction and abuse. These present serious damage and deserve more attention than can be addressed in this post. Most require a healthy distance so the offender can begin to take responsibility for her/his impact and the injury that has and is being inflicted. If you or your partner struggles with any of these behaviors, contact LeeAnn for help to get back on track.