When I sat down to write this blog, I had planned to write it in reference to both sexes. The more I thought of how often this topic impacts my female clients, and as I assessed the potential reasons, I felt that females needed to be addressed exclusively. In my experience, many women in long-term committed relationships come to acknowledge at some point 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 through the years, the message about being “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, I believe it can also be confusing as it relates to our intimate relationships.
When you think about the word independence versus dependence, what comes to mind? Reality is that these words can have both positive and negative connotations, especially when concerning romantic relationships. In order to have a successful and fulfilling relationship, you need a balance of both. Interdependency is what healthy relationships are made of. Interdependency in relationships is the mutual dependence between people in which this shared reliance on one another is crucial to a thriving bond. We must be careful not to confuse interdependence with codependence, independence with selfishness, or dependency with weakness. When dependence and independence lack balance, this can often turn into codependence. Those who struggle with codependency, lack focus on themselves, revolve 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, their behaviors, and their wants, likes, and needs to make the relationship they are involved in function. The issue is that these relationships function due to their dysfunction.
Interdependence is having mutual respect where you value the other person and allow them to have influence in your life. In one of his longitudinal studies of newlyweds – mostly of heterosexual couples, Dr. John Gottman found that men were happier in their marriages and less likely to get divorced when they accepted their wife’s influence. When men are more willing to share in decision making, marriages were more stable and less likely to lead to demise. Although this is certainly a large factor for men, it is just as important for women to accept influence as well. In my experience, I have seen women probably accept too much influence in relationships without reciprocity. Again, I believe that much of this is societally ingrained. As we move toward more progressive attitudes, it has become more common for women to jump to the other extreme of not accepting influence in their relationship for fear of losing who they are. Truth be told, if one partner thinks they are winning, both are losing. We accept influence from our partners because it helps build and strengthen bonds and because 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 or what is important to them.
Be flexible in your relationship, share your feelings openly, 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, be flattered by your ability to be vulnerable with them and accept your influence by listening to your feelings or concerns. THIS is the first and most important lesson in how to ensure you remain true to yourself.