Disclaimer: I’m not a marriage counselor, relationship expert, or anything of that sort. Just sharing thoughts on a topic that interests me!
“I couldn’t do any of the things I wanted to do anymore.”
“I wasn’t living true to myself.”
“I had no freedom to travel, explore, follow my dreams, etc. etc…”
These phrases are common refrains that I hear from people who have left committed relationships due to feeling tied down. Now let’s make something clear before I jump into this topic: there are times when these phrases are 100 percent true, where relationships are absolutely awful, and where people should definitely, without any question, dissolve the partnership. But I want to talk about a different situation: one that is rare, but not unheard of – that’s people avoiding or leaving committed relationships that are (or would be) happy and stable because of concerns about personal freedom.
Relationships are a touchy topic because they’re inherently subjective. No two experiences are the same, and you can’t rightfully criticize or condemn someone for their decision to leave a relationship when you don’t know the full story. But I think a broader discussion about commitment and personal freedom is worth having.
Can you find personal freedom while in a healthy committed relationship?
Freedom, especially in first-world countries, is valued as the ultimate ideal. No one wants to be told what to do, when to do something, or how life should be lived. Naturally, relationships require adjustments – there are multiple desires and priorities at play, and people have different needs at different times. Additionally, people change! No one feels comfortable admitting it, but you’re bound to see your partner (and yourself) experience changes over the course of five, ten, or twenty years.
Lastly, we instinctually watch out for ourselves and our interests. This is a good thing, but it can become problematic when we’re faced with compromising in a relationship. Whether it’s a small compromise, like agreeing to have dinner at your partner’s choice of restaurant, or a big one, like deciding to move overseas for a job opportunity, many of us have a tendency to “keep score” in our minds and to figure that we’re owed something from our companion each time we capitulate to their desires.
So despite these challenges and inborn tendencies – is personal freedom achievable in a relationship? I think the answer is yes, as long as these basic elements are present:
- Mutual trust
- Respect for individuality and boundaries
Trust is essential for relationships to thrive. This is especially true when it comes to personal freedom. Trust issues are a given if you can’t rely on your partner to be honest about their whereabouts and activities. But even in healthy, strong relationships, they may be one person who is more controlling than the other or one person who can’t help but feel slighted if their significant other (SO) chooses an independent activity over spending time together.
Relationships suffer when partners lack self-awareness. Self-awareness is like a preservation instinct that helps you recognize bad habits, spot poor communication, and see the selfish “take take take” mentality that dooms many relationships. It’s critical to be aware of your actions, thoughts, and motivations so that you can understand why you do the things you do – and explain your reasoning to your partner if there’s ever a disconnect.
Respect for individuality and boundaries
Your perspective, talents, abilities, goals, and personality are totally unique. Those elements are likely what drew your partner to you in the first place, and vice versa. But oftentimes, good traits go hand-in-hand with traits that can be hard to manage in a relationship. That fiercely independent man might be stubborn to the point of not compromising, or that motivated, hard-working woman could be arrogant to the point of dismissing other people’s thoughts and opinions. These are generalizations – one trait won’t always signal the presence of another. But in healthy relationships, people are mindful of their individuality and each partner has respect for the other’s boundaries, opinions, and desires.
Tips for Finding Personal Freedom in a Relationship
It’s a scary sensation to feel like you’ve “lost yourself” in a relationship. Understandably, many people bolt for the nearest exit as soon as this reality sets in. But unless your freedom is truly being smothered by a bad partner, you can reclaim – or gain – your independence. Start with small things like:
- Taking on a new hobby
- Going out to visit with a friend
- Spending time apart from your spouse to relax, enjoy nature, work on a craft, or do something else you love
- Blogging or journaling your thoughts on topics that matter to you
- Planning a trip on your own
- Getting involved with a club or class separate from your partner
- Starting your own business or project
These are simple but empowering activities that can help you recognize and connect with your individuality. Through the process, you’ll want to walk the fine line carefully between being independent while still being mindful of your partner (and letting them explore their individuality, too) – but you’ll both be better off by consistently exercising your independence.
Some people are happy to go through life without a romantic relationship. That’s fine, and I’m not arguing that those people have the same or less personal freedom than those who choose to be with someone. They have more freedom since partners come with certain responsibilities and expectations. However, don’t think that getting into a relationship with the person of your dreams will destroy your individuality. It’s quite the opposite – someone who truly loves and admires you, brings out your best qualities, and encourages you to pursue your dreams.
A happy, healthy relationship is a precious gem in a world that’s rife with divorce, broken families, and dissatisfied people who drift from one shiny thing to the next without experiencing real joy. So if you’re on the fence about staying in a relationship that’s generally good, or about getting into a relationship because of feeling “tied down”, think carefully about the bigger picture – and how your future might look – before making any decisions.
Thanks for reading! What do you think: is it possible to find personal freedom in a committed relationship? Let me know in the comments 😊