The Marriage Juggling Act: Independence vs. Dependence

In the USA, it’s the week of the 4th of July and that means independence day celebrations, complete with fireworks, cook-outs and get-togethers with friends and family.

As we were thinking about the Independence Day holiday and what we were going to do to celebrate, we couldn’t help but think about independence as it relates to our relationships.

Very often, there is a issue around the desire for independence (or dependence) that happens in almost every relationship or marriage that can create some real challenges for you.

It’s what we call the juggling act of independence vs. dependence and here’s what we mean by this…

In relationships of all kinds, the idea of freedom, independence and inter-dependence (or lack thereof) can be one of the stickiest issues that people and couples have to deal with.

Since we’re all so different, each of us has a greater or lesser desire (and need) for freedom and independence–and that’s where the “rub” comes in.

If you’re “too” independent in relationships, there’s little or no connection–no matter what kind of relationship it is. There may be great love but the other person can feel like something is missing in the relationship and that he/she is being held at arm’s length.

If you’re “too” dependent (and needy), the other person can feel smothered and search for every opportunity to have some freedom.

We see this dynamic a lot in couples who struggle with jealousy but it can happen from time to time in any relationship no matter how long you’ve been together.

Take Carly and Tom–

Tom finds that he is jealous of the time that Carly spends with their three adult kids, and the time she’s away from home doing various activities.

Carly is fed up with Tom’s jealousy and wants things to change.

Of course there are many reasons why their relationship is strained but one of the most important is that they aren’t in sync with their desires for freedom and inter-dependence–and they don’t know how to communicate about it.

The bottom line is that Tom is more dependant on Carly’s companionship than she is of his.

And she has become more independent as the years have gone by.

They also aren’t clear or sure about how to reconnect deeper in their relationship with everything that’s going on.

You may be like Carly and Tom and be wondering about things like…

How do you cope with varying desires for freedom and inter-dependence–while still creating a close, connected, open, loving relationship?

How do you balance and honor a need for independence as well as keep a strong connection?

How do you talk about this sticky issue?

Here are some of our ideas about how to deal with questions about independence, interdependence and connection in relationships…

1. Listen to yourself and know what you want

We know that we sound like a broken record but in order to connect with another person, you have to learn to connect with yourself.

Don’t bury your feelings, thinking that you are being “kind” in acting in a certain way that you think the other person wants or needs–or you shouldn’t feel that way.

Not necessarily true.

You can’t assume that you know best for the other person. You can only listen to what’s inside you and then let the other person know in a way that keeps both of you open.

In our example, Tom really wants to connect more with his wife–just the two of them doing something together every once in awhile. When Carly tunes into herself, she wants peace and also wants the freedom to do what she wants to do.

2. Listen to what the other person wants with an open heart and stay in the present moment

Listening with an open heart means not assuming and jumping to conclusions. It also means staying in the “here and now,” without leaping to the future or staying stuck in the past.

All kinds of fears and triggers can come up when you tackle these independence/inter-dependence issues.

One of the best ways to stay in the present moment when you’re listening is to remember what it is that you love about this person–and that you want to find out more about him or her.

Our wants and desires change throughout the years so it’s very important to learn how to listen without putting your two cents in and not allowing yourself to get triggered by what is said.

Sound impossible?

Not always easy but just start practicing and see how you get better at it!

3. Express what you want in a way that opens the door between the two of you and isn’t defensive, controlling or demanding.

When you adopt a defensive or “pushy” manner when you are expressing what you want, the other person usually energetically “steps back” and can shut down any connection or line of communication–or can lash out at you.

Be aware of your energy as you express yourself. If you’re unclear how you “come off” to others, ask a trusted friend for some honest feedback.

Become aware of your tone of voice, your non-verbal mannerisms and your words. You may be surprised at the feedback that you get when you ask.

Tom can let Carly know how much he loves her and wants a deeper connection with her. He can also suggest that they create a special time each week to do something together even if it’s just to watch a movie on the couch without interruption.

Carly can let Tom know that she loves being with their kids and her activities and she can search inside herself whether spending special time each week with him would be something that she wants to make a priority in her life or not–and then tell him.

If she doesn’t want to spend that time with him, they need to take a serious look at their marriage.

He can also work on ways to stop his jealousy because it interferes with their connection.

If Tom and Carly are going to continue to be together and create a closer and more connected relationship (whatever that means to them) — they are going to have to figure out how to solve these issues that are created by their differing wants, needs and desires about independence and interdependence.

Love is all about respecting and honoring each other–and that includes honoring and understanding each other’s needs for independence and inter-dependence.

Most people have never put any thought into the question of how much independence or interdependence they or their partner needs to feel safe, secure, happy and connected to their partner and vise-versa.

This idea can create some challenges for you in your relationships.

We’ve also found that this push/pull dynamic can even be the “juice” that keeps your relationship alive and growing–if you keep the lines of communication wide open and you’re clear about what you want and what you need.

As with a lot of things we talk about, this requires a good deal of soul-searching, introspection and getting clear about what you want, as well as the commitment and willingness to share these thoughts, issues and info with your partner.


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