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How to be more independent in your relationship

It might seem like making a commitment has to mean letting go of some of your independence. But, couples who retain a sense of personal independence may be quicker at resolving arguments and better able to invest in the relationship [1].

There’s something fun about merging your life with a partner, particularly in the early stages, but it’s important to hold onto the qualities that make you who you are as an individual – after all, that’s what your partner fell in love with in the first place.

Having an independent streak doesn’t mean you’re afraid of commitment – people with a strong sense of personal identity can actually be better communicators. They are less defensive, more honest, and more flexible. They find it easier to be open and to put things into perspective [2].

A strong sense of individuality, then, can mean you have stronger relationships. When you and your partner support and nurture each other’s need for independence, you can start to find a balance that means you’re also happier and more confident in the relationship [3].

If you’d like to reclaim a bit of independence as a way of strengthening your relationship, you might want to try the following tips.

1. Spend some time alone 

Alone time gives you a chance to recharge and refresh. We all need a bit of solitude and it’s easy to forget this when we get into relationships. Spend some time reading, exercising, catching up on emails, or just watching something your partner might not be into.

It’s also important to keep in touch with your friends, and do some of the things you did when you were single. If you’ve got a group of friends you used to hang out with, message them arrange something. An evening away from your partner will broaden your experiences and give you more to talk about when you next see each other.

2. Keep your online lives separate 

Social media plays a big part in how we present ourselves to the world, and how we interact with our friends and families. Being in a relationship can mean our online lives also intermingle with our real lives.

For some couples, declaring your love online can make you feel closer and more connected. For others, it can feel like a bit of a threat to privacy and independence, knowing that a partner can check up on what we’re doing and who we’re talking to [4].

Don’t go snooping, or trying to work out who they’ve been chatting to – maybe even disconnect your profiles, or mute your partner’s feed. Give each other some online space as well as real space.

3. Plan your own future 

Life is full of big decisions. Your decisions around what to do with your life – like where to study, and where to work - may be influenced by many factors, including what you can afford. If you are in a long-term relationship, you may need consider whether to factor your partner into those decisions [3].

Co-ordinating our life plans with those of our partner can mean having to be flexible and make a few compromises, so think carefully about what’s most important to you and make sure your decisions suit you as an individual as well as you as a couple.

These days, many people are choosing to wait until a bit later in life before settling into long-term relationships [3]. This can provide an opportunity to figure out what you want as an individual before making decisions about what you want from your romantic relationship.

4. Try living apart together 

One solution to the issue of combining a committed relationship with personal independence is the increasingly popular practice of living apart together. Couples are described as living apart together when they are in a monogamous relationship but have chosen to maintain separate homes [5].

For many younger adults, living apart together might be a necessity, based on working or studying arrangements, or finances [6], but it could also be an attractive option for couples who want to be together while enjoying their own independence.

Living apart together means you can have more control over your daily life, your home arrangements, and even your finances. If these are the kinds of things you tend to argue about, then living apart together might also reduce the risk of conflict in your relationship [6].

You don’t necessarily have to go as far as living apart together but, if you’re the kind of person who falls in deep, you might want to take a moment to remind yourself who you are outside of your relationship with your partner, and to support your partner in doing the same. It might just help you get along a little better with one another.


[1] Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist55(1), 68.

[2] Hodgins, H. S., & Knee, C. R. (2002). The integrating self and conscious experience. Handbook of self-determination research, 87-100.

[3] Shulman, S., & Connolly, J. (2013). The challenge of romantic relationships in emerging adulthood reconceptualization of the field. Emerging Adulthood,1(1), 27-39.

[4] Fox, J., Osborn, J. L., & Warber, K. M. (2014). Relational dialectics and social networking sites: The role of Facebook in romantic relationship escalation, maintenance, conflict, and dissolution. Computers in Human Behavior35, 527-534.

[5] Levin, I. (2004). Living apart together: A new family form. Current sociology,52(2), 223-240.

[6] Benson, J. J., & Coleman, M. (2016). Older Adults Developing a Preference for Living Apart Together. Journal of Marriage and Family78(3), 797-812.

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