Our culture holds a lot of high ideals about relationships. Some of us still think that a relationship is two people becoming one. While this is a nice thought, it’s difficult to maintain and it doesn’t work. It is not a healthy goal. Truly healthy relationships need to be partnerships of separate, distinct people who each bring something unique to the relationship.
Here’s why maintaining your individuality can help make your relationship stronger:
The Importance of Your Own Needs in a Relationship
In the early days of a relationship, we may want to put our partner’s needs ahead of our own. After all, we enjoy their company and want them to be happy. While it’s good to be willing to compromise sometimes in a relationship, it can’t always be at the expense of yourself and meeting your own needs.
If you constantly put your partner’s needs before yours, you’ll eventually become resentful. That takes a harsh toll on a relationship. You and your partner are both important. Happiness is an inside job, with your happiness being your responsibility and your partner’s happiness being their responsibility. Neither of you should lose yourself for the sake of the relationship.
Shared Values, Not Shared Interests
If you just can’t seem to share your partner’s passion for fly fishing, or he can’t think of anything he’d enjoy less than working on a scrapbook, that’s okay. You don’t have to share your partner’s interests. Forcing the issue will only result in boredom and misery for you both.
If you look at many good relationships, you’ll notice that the couples may not share many interests. What matters more than shared interests are shared values. You may both value traveling over possessions, for example. Or maybe you value family over money. Keep your focus on the values you share, because those core things will keep you together.
The Benefits of Time Spent Apart
Your partner may be your best friend, but they can’t be your only friend.
It’s important for so many reasons to spend some time apart in pursuit of separate interests. If one of you attends a convention or sporting event without the other, then you have something interesting to discuss the next time you’re together. Note that you don’t have to create artificial distance from one another, but it is a good, healthy thing to have activities you don’t do as a couple. The things you do separately can enhance the time you do spend together.
Separate Identities Make Relationship Boundaries Easier
A mature relationship is one in which both partners feel connected while maintaining a sense of healthy individuality. Appropriate boundaries are key components of healthy relationships. When these boundaries are in place, neither person should feel like they’re being taken advantage of and life should feel equitable. Even though there will still be occasional disagreements, being on equal footing in the relationship will help those issues be more easily resolved.
Where You Stand Together
Just as there is room for two distinct individuals in a relationship, ideally the two of you also make up a combined entity. If you do everything separately, it can become lonely and you may feel isolated. The goal is to have two individuals bring unique perspectives and experiences to a relationship. The idea is to balance and complement each other. Much of this uniqueness is lost if you strive to become the same.
Undoubtedly, it’s important to invest in the shared concept of “us” to make your relationship work. When the two of you each have your own separate, full lives with unique interests, you bring your best selves to your union. You are better able to relate as equals without an imbalance in the relationship or one person becoming more powerful than the other.
Take the first step…
If you are looking for ways to harmonize your individual lives into a mutually fulfilling relationship, I would like to help. Please contact me via phone or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Linda K. Laffey, MFT