If you are part of the Me Generation, you probably have commitment issues, as research shows millennials have a hard time committing to politics, religion, and relationships.1 Don’t get me wrong -- I’m sure you are loyal to your friends, family, pets, and even your partner. However, leaving a door open out of fear you’ll lose your independence also indicates… we have some problems we need to work out. In fact, according to Huffington Post, Dr. Judith Siegal, LCSW and author believes “mutual dependence is a trademark of a healthy relationship. She believes that reciprocity -- being able to give and take support -- is an essential ingredient in a successful marriage.”
While each relationship is unique and its boundaries are set by the individuals involved, there are some tried and true necessary actions to take in order to continuously strengthen a relationship. One of those factors is unity.
I have been told over and over throughout my life not to lose or change myself for the sake of a relationship (or partner), but have rarely been reminded of the importance of growth, change, and unity in a relationship. While these statements are often made toward women to remind us of our power and to fight the patriarchy, they contribute to many failed relationships, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
You are going to change when you dedicate yourself to a serious relationship. Parts of yourself you didn’t realize were there are going to surface; both good and bad. Interests you didn’t find exciting before now may take up most of you and your partner’s time. Despite all of this change, you’re happier, fresher, and stable. Know what else? You’re still you!
Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing. These well-intentioned warnings are reminders for people to ensure they don’t develop unhealthy attachments or allow their boundaries to be overlooked regarding their significant other; however, not only are attachment styles typically developed while we are babies and young children, but evidence suggests interdependence (not to be confused with codependency, which feeds off a need to be needed and the inability to be yourself without your partner) in a relationship is actually positive.
Dr. Willard Harley, a marriage counselor, and author defines interdependent behavior as “activities of a spouse that are conceived and executed with the interests of both spouses in mind.” He teaches certain levels of dependence to promote emotional closeness.2
I also have some great news: If, while in your healthy and loving relationship you realize you’ve lost a piece of yourself you miss; you have the power to re-develop it! Yep, it’s true! This life is about growth and change, so why not identify why you changed that part of yourself, and then if you find it was a positive trait you want back, feel free to do that! You get to change, it’s your right as a human being.
Dr. Siegal asserts interdependence is what makes the difference between happy and unhappy partnerships. As the previous article in Huffington Post points out, “society prizes self-sufficiency, but when taken to extremes, it can deprive you of love and nurturance.” In her teachings, Siegel reminds readers of “mutual respect, maintaining trust in word and deed, and reciprocity help sustain interdependence.” She further writes, “In marriages where partners do not offer mutual support, partners have become disappointed in each other and have come to believe that they must look out for themselves first." Vulnerability and reliance are important in all relationships; being careful to sustain it in your romantic ones should be of utmost importance in comparison.
If you find yourself neglecting your other relationships because you are choosing to spend most of your time with your significant other who makes you feel so safe, connected and happy -- come back down to earth every now and again so your loved ones know you’re okay, and make sure you’re still being a good friend. Otherwise, the main reason loved ones grow concerned when they stop hearing from you is that they want to make sure there isn’t any sign of control or abuse happening in your relationship, which is a very valid concern. Rather than cut off everyone in your life because you feel you found the one person you truly need, share this person and your joy with your friends and family.
On the flip side, if you are that loved one missing your friend who is in a happy, healthy relationship: Let them enjoy their honeymoon phase! Let them be happy. Don’t force yourself into the relationship or take their happiness personally. Relationships tend to become a bit of a roller coaster requiring hard work after the honeymoon phase has subsided. If you truly care about your friend or family member, let them have their bubble of heart eyes and fun. You should be overjoyed they found someone who makes them feel this good, even if it means your relationship with them is now less of a priority. If you are a friend on the outside judging your friend for being happy and less “them” (in your opinion) -- take a step back.
One of the leading ways to keep a relationship healthy and long-lasting is emotional synchronicity. This means despite differences, couples can continue a strong emotional bond. Sue Johnson, a clinical psychologist, and author said “What makes couples unhappy is when they have an emotional disconnection and they can’t get a feeling of secure base or safe haven with this person.” Johnson said some distressing actions alerting our brain to danger are criticism, rejection, defensiveness, and withdrawal.3 Source It’s much harder to be in sync with a person who you clearly don’t put first. Ultimately, the happiest of unions require both individuals to put the other person first, creating a service-based partnership.
Finding the balance between unity and independence is not easy. It’s still possible to be strong, self reliant and authentically YOU while also being emotionally vulnerable and reliant on your partner. All relationships require a give and take; humans like to be cared for and like caring for each other. Remember this while you navigate being you with them, and allow yourself to become different and better.
1. Pew Research Center, Millennials in Adulthood, 7 March 2014, https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/03/07/millennials-in-adulthood/
2. Huffington Post, How Being Too Self-Reliant Can Destroy Your Relationship, 3 November 2014, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-self-reliance-can-destroy-a-relationship_b_6071906
3. Time, The Science Behind Happy Relationships, 26 June 2018, https://time.com/5321262/science-behind-happy-healthy-relationships/