In honor of the fourth of July, here is my Love Essentially column, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press, about the importance of staying independent, even if you are in a relationship.
Independence in a Marriage: Not An Oxymoron by Jackie Pilossoph for Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press
As we grill burgers, play ball in the yard with our kids and spend time with friends and family on July 4, we will be celebrating our country’s independence; something that in 1776 took courage, hard work and relentless determination to fulfill our dream of being self-sufficient and free.
But while independence remains the essence of America, I think sometimes people lose sight of how important this characteristic is when it comes to romantic relationships and marriage. In other words, a good, healthy romantic relationship can benefit greatly from spending time apart and pursuing separate interests.
Telling a couple they need to be independent might sound like an oxymoron, since people get into committed relationships for companionship and because they are attracted to the idea of sharing a life with someone they love. But ironically, I think independent people end up having the best romantic relationships out there.
When I brought up the subject to one of my favorite life coaches, Lisa Kaplin, her immediate response was to bring up a quote from the 1996 megahit movie, “Jerry Maguire.”
“I always think of the line, ‘You complete me,’ which I find horrifying because the truth is, your partner is not responsible for completing you,” said Kaplin, a psychologist who has been in practice for 17 years. “We are responsible for our own development and happiness, and our partner should support us and help us, but not be responsible for us.”
Kaplin, who offers both individual and couples relationship coaching, said a lack of independence puts a strain on a committed relationship or a marriage.
“If a person feels like he or she has to take care of their spouse all the time or entertain that person, or is responsible for his or her happiness, that’s a lot of pressure,” she said.
That kind of pressure can lead to resentment, disappointment, a lack of respect and even boredom. On the flip side, being in a relationship with someone who is independent makes him or her very attractive, as it can reveal self-confidence, creativity and success. That’s the kind of stuff that makes someone pretty darn attractive, in my opinion.
“People think independence means ‘I don’t need you,’ but that’s not true,” Kaplin said. “It means ‘I don’t need you to survive, but I do need and want you in my life.'”
Here are five tips Kaplin and I came up with for being independent of your spouse:
1. It’s good to have common friends, but have some friends that are just yours. Spend time with them without your partner. Golf buddies and book club friends are good examples of friends who can be just your friends.
2. Have your own hobbies and interests, so you aren’t feeling like you are always doing things for him (or for her), but rather because you are finding true enjoyment from it.
3. Find and follow a passion. Don’t lose sight of dreams and long-term goals you had before you got married. If you become very successful at something you love doing, your spouse will benefit immensely from it too, possibly financially, but more importantly because you will be happy autonomously from him or her.
4. If you wish to take a girls trip or play poker with the guys, explain to your spouse how healthy it is to spend time apart, and make sure he or she is secure with it, and even feels good about it. Plan a date with him or her for a future weekend.
5. If you are the one whose spouse wants the girls trip or the poker night, let him or her have their freedom. Love them enough to trust them and make sure they are guilt-free, knowing you are happy they are going.
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