How to Be Independent in a Relationship, Plus 3 Signs You Are
Whether you're in a long-term relationship or a brand-new one, you and your partner are navigating life as a team. You're in it together—the ups, the downs and everything in between. Although you can rely on each other, it's essential that you maintain your independence. Learning how to be independent in a relationship is not only important, it's vital for having a strong, healthy relationship, not to mention it's crucial for each partner's overall well-being.
Independence in a relationship can look like carving out alone time, having your own hobbies, spending time with your own friends or setting healthy boundaries that cultivate a strong sense of self outside of the relationship.
To dive deeper into how to be independent in a relationship, why it's important and signs of a healthy independent relationship, we speed-dialed Judy Ho, a licensed clinical and forensic neuropsychologist. Keep scrolling for more.
Why Maintaining Independence in a Relationship Is Important
"It's very important for people to retain their own identity in a romantic relationship and not lose themselves," Ho says. "When one loses their identity in a relationship, it completely changes the relationship dynamic, which can actually be detrimental to a satisfying relationship for both partners."
When one or both partners don't maintain their independence in a relationship, that turns into codependency. "Your life becomes all about making your partner happy, and people find that their own self-esteem starts to depend on how their partner is feeling or doing every day," Ho says of codependent relationships. "It also blurs the boundaries for what is acceptable in a romantic relationship, and makes it increasingly difficult to hold good boundaries in future relationships."
3 Benefits of Being Independent in a Relationship
1. You have more to share.
When you individually partake in separate activities, Ho says you and your partner will have more to talk about when you do spend time together, which enriches your partnership. In other words, being independent adds value to the relationship rather than detracting from it.
2. You can make your own decisions.
When you're in a relationship, life decisions are often made together, but it's still important to check in with how you truly feel and what you really want as an individual. Ho says being able to separate your decisions and ideas from your partner prevents you from harboring resentment that you've sacrificed too much.
Being independent also empowers you to make good decisions within the relationship. "You can decide if the relationship is still working for you, and you can feel confident that you can separate yourself from it if things get really bad and not lose a significant chunk of your life and who you are," Ho says.
3. You can fulfill your own needs.
Maintaining independence in a relationship also cultivates respect from one another because your lives aren't solely focused on each other. "You have your own friends, hobbies and work, and you don't rely on your partner to fulfill your every need," Ho says.
3 Signs You Have an Independent Relationship
So, what does maintaining your independence in a romantic relationship actually look like? Ho says there are three main signs.
1. You are fine spending time apart.
Although you enjoy spending time together, in a romantic relationship where both partners are independent, you'll still be fine spending time apart. Yes, you'll miss each other during that time, but, Ho says, both partners, "can still function well on their own doing what they need to do and feeling joy and positive feelings. And they are excited to reunite and share what happened when they were apart."
2. You communicate your needs.
Partners who are independent in their relationship will feel comfortable communicating their needs and wants to one another without feeling afraid of their partner's reaction or worrying that it may hurt the relationship. Ho says never having disagreements is actually a sign of an unhealthy relationship because concerns aren't being communicated or worked out.
3. You are happy for each other.
Independent couples feel happy that their partner has hobbies, interests and friends outside of them. They are supportive of them spending time doing the things they enjoy, even if it doesn't involve them. Plus, they're open to joining in on the fun if they're invited, Ho says.
How to Be Independent in a Relationship
To ensure you're maintaining your independence in a relationship, Ho recommends scheduling time to engage with best friends and family members without your partner on a weekly basis. Even though scheduling that time in your calendar may feel very official, it's important to do because, as Ho notes, if you rely on letting it happen naturally, it's easy to slip into codependency without noticing it.
Another piece of relationship advice: Remember that cultivating a sense of independence in your relationship is not something you have to do alone. Consider seeking professional support from a family therapist if you need additional guidance.
How to Regain Independence in a Romantic Relationship
If you've been in a relationship for some time and have noticed that you're exhibiting signs of codependency, Ho says it's possible to regain your independence. It just requires some intention and practice. She recommends starting off by spending quality time with just yourself. Use this time to think about what you enjoy doing, and get used to spending time alone.
"Flex the muscle that helps you acclimate to being without your partner, and experience that feeling of missing your partner when you're away," Ho says. "And then look forward to reuniting with them, but not feeling like you can't live without them when you aren't together."
Some ideas Ho offers for what to do with your alone time include taking yourself out on a lunch date or exploring a new hobby. Remember: If exercising independence in your relationship is not something you're accustomed to, it will take some practice before it becomes second nature. Be patient with yourself.