I think most of us would agree that independence is a desirable trait – most of us certainly don’t desire to be dependent.
We are told that when in a relationship, we should have our own friends, keep up with our hobbies, and maintain our own finances. But what if our need for independence gets in the way of having a fulfilling relationship?
Well, although I didn’t realize it at the time, that’s exactly what happened to me when I was in my early twenties.
When I was in my first year of university, my high school sweetheart and I broke up. Nothing new there. It happens all the time.
But at the time, it hurt.
We had been dating for almost 3 years, and as my first real relationship, I had dedicated time and much emotion to it. When it ended, I never wanted to feel like that again.
On reflection, I now realize that for years after, well into my mid-twenties, I kept those I dated at arm’s length, always making sure to be ‘independent’.
But you guessed it: it didn’t benefit me. It hindered my ability to form meaningful connections.
Think you might be doing the same?
Here are five signs that this is the case.
1) You don’t like to make long-term commitments
I used to balk at the idea of long-term plans.
Be it a vacation next summer or a friend’s wedding a year away, I’d hesitate to commit to doing something with the person I was dating, even if it was just a month or two away.
It wasn’t because I didn’t care or wasn’t interested; it was my inner voice cautioning me not to get ‘tied down’.
But, of course, commitment is not the enemy of independence. I eventually learned this; too late, probably.
If you find yourself consistently avoiding discussions about the future or feel anxious about making joint plans, it might indicate that your need for independence is holding you back from fully embracing a relationship.
Committing to future plans with a partner doesn’t mean you lose your identity or freedom. It’s about saying, “I value our relationship enough to see a future in it.”
2) You have a hard time asking for emotional support
This is a big one.
If you notice that you’re reluctant to open up about your struggles or seek comfort from your partner, it might be a sign that your independence is taking a toll on your ability to form a supportive bond.
Back in the day, I often found it challenging to reach out for emotional support.
Whether I was dealing with work stress or personal issues, I internalized my struggles, believing that asking for help was a sign of weakness. This self-imposed isolation wasn’t just lonely; it created a barrier in my relationships.
I guess I didn’t want to lean on anyone for help, especially someone I was dating. That would have made me vulnerable to getting hurt again.
I’ve since learned that seeking emotional support is not a surrender of independence. We all have a human need for connection.
“Healthy dependency involves a willingness to be vulnerable, admit flaws, and explore a partner’s perspective.”
Emotional support is a two-way street in any fulfilling relationship.
By allowing ourselves to be supported and giving support in return, we don’t lose our independence; we strengthen our emotional bonds.
While this sign is certainly important, it’s this next behavior that was responsible for many of my relationships falling apart.
3) You always prioritize your friends over the people you date
In my early twenties, my friends were always my top priority, often at the expense of the people I was dating.
I’d go as far as to cancel dates that had been set for weeks if ‘the guys’ invited me out for a few beers. Looking back, it was pretty immature.
But we live and learn, I suppose.
It wasn’t that I valued my friends more, however. It was a mechanism to maintain a sense of independence within my romantic relationships. Again, I had a fear of becoming dependent and getting hurt; my friends didn’t have the power to hurt me in the same way.
If so, you can take it for me that it doesn’t work. Behavior like this and others on this list caused the gradual ruin of too many perfectly good relationships I had as a younger man.
While it’s crucial to maintain friendships outside of your romantic relationship, consistently prioritizing them over your partner can create a sense of imbalance and neglect.
Like most things in life, balance is key.
It doesn’t mean diminishing the importance of your friends but rather recognizing and valuing the unique role your partner plays in your life. In a fulfilling relationship, there’s room for both friends and a partner, each contributing differently to your happiness and growth.
4) You like to keep your schedule a ‘secret’
In a healthy relationship, sharing your schedule is part of the natural flow of communication. It demonstrates consideration and fosters a sense of inclusion.
It’s not about relinquishing your independence but about creating a shared space where both partners feel informed and connected.
In my earlier relationships, I didn’t see it this way, and I often kept my schedule and plans to myself.
Whether it was a sudden work meeting or a casual outing with friends, I rarely shared these details with the person I was dating. This wasn’t really about privacy; it was my way of asserting my independence, a statement that my time was under my control.
It will come as no surprise to some of you that this created an unnecessary barrier in my relationships.
And if you can relate to this, it’s probably holding back your relationship, and it’s probably time to rethink it. Transparency about your plans is not about seeking permission; it’s about building trust and respect.
You know this next one, but it’s worth repeating. It’s such a big sign that there is an issue.
5) You resist introducing them to your inner circle
Consistently keeping your partner separate from your inner circle can be a sign of reluctance to fully integrate them into your life.
It certainly was for me.
During my late twenties, I realized a pattern in my earlier relationships: I had been hesitant to introduce the people I was dating to my close friends and family. This wasn’t because I doubted the relationship’s potential, but rather, I viewed it as keeping a part of my life ‘just for me.’
This separation was a misguided effort to maintain my independence.
While it’s important to maintain some personal space and relationships, deliberately avoiding these introductions can create a sense of exclusion for your partner.
Introducing the person you are dating to your broader social and family circle doesn’t mean you’re losing your independence. It’s a significant step in acknowledging the importance of the relationship.
It shows a willingness to blend your personal world with your shared world, fostering a deeper level of connection and acceptance.
The bottom line
My experiences taught me a valuable lesson: independence is a virtue, but in the context of a relationship, it’s about finding a harmonious balance.
It’s certainly not about erecting barriers or keeping a part of your life in a silo, untouched by your partner.
True independence in a relationship means having the strength to be vulnerable, to share, and to intertwine your life with another’s while still maintaining your sense of self.
I learned this later than I probably should have.
If you see yourself in any of these signs, consider this post an invitation for introspection and growth. Relationships aren’t about losing yourself; they’re about growing with someone else, sometimes in ways you might not be able to do alone.
So, take a moment to reflect. Are your actions nurturing your relationship, or are they barriers disguised as independence?
It’s never too late to adjust your course and find that sweet spot where true independence and fulfilling relationships coexist.
Until next time.