When I sat down to write this blog, I had planned to write it in reference to both sexes. As I thought about how often this topic impacts my female clients, I felt that females needed to be addressed exclusively. So many women in long-term committed relationships come to acknowledge that they have “lost themselves” in the process. Other women who are single and in the world of dating often wonder how to engage in a relationship while “staying true” to themselves. The arena of relationships can be a battlefield. As we have progressed as women, the message about being a “strong independent women” with a focus on “female empowerment” has become prevalent. These messages play an important role in the way we have come to understand ourselves as females. The message is spot on and necessary. However, it can also be confusing as it relates to our intimate relationships.
Interdependence vs. Dependence
When you think about the word independence versus dependence, what comes to mind? These words can have both positive and negative connotations, especially regarding romantic relationships. To have a successful, fulfilling relationship, you need a balance of both. Interdependency is the foundation of healthy relationships. Interdependency in relationships is the mutual dependence between people. This shared reliance on one another is crucial to a thriving bond. We must be careful not to confuse interdependence with codependence. When dependence and independence lack balance, this can often turn into codependence. Those who struggle with codependency lack focus on themselves. Codependent partners center their lives around their partners, have difficulties setting boundaries, struggle to communicate their needs, and put their partners needs ahead of their own. They lose themselves. They have changed their responses, behaviors, wants, likes, and needs to make their relationship function. The issue is that these relationships function due to their dysfunction. Interdependence is having mutual respect, valuing the other person and allowing them to have influence in your life. In his research, Dr. John Gottman found that men were happier and less likely to get divorced when they accepted their wife’s influence. If men are more willing to share in decision making, marriages were more stable and less likely to lead to demise. Although this is a large factor for men, it is also important for women to accept influence as well. I have seen women accept too much influence in relationships without reciprocity. Again, much of this is societally ingrained. It has become more common for women to shift to the other end of the spectrum of not accepting influence in their relationship. This could be for fear of losing who they are. The truth is, if one partner thinks they are winning, both are losing. We accept influence from our partners because it helps build and strengthen bonds. As a significant other, we should care about our partners dreams as much as our own. Dr. Gottman discussed the importance of being able to influence one another, but not to the point of crushing the others dream.
Be flexible in your relationship, share your feelings, spend time with friends, and spend time with yourself. A healthy relationship will allow for all these things without feelings of guilt or jealousy. Accept and embrace who you are in all your glory and in all your shortcomings. So many women have struggled to share their true feelings in relationships for fear that it would “scare” their significant other away. Ladies, listen clearly. If your vulnerability in sharing your feelings or your insecurities will “scare” your partner away, trust me in saying that it is for the best. The right person will embrace your honesty, and be flattered by your ability to be vulnerable and accept your influence. THIS is the first and most important lesson in how to ensure you remain true to yourself.