In relationships of all kinds, the conflict of independence-dependence can be one of the stickiest issues that people have to deal with.
Since we’re all so different, each of us has a greater or lesser desire 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, the other person can feel smothered and search for every opportunity to have some freedom. You can become codependent and look to the other person to satisfy all your emotional and self-esteem needs. You can come to believe that you’re not okay unless you have the approval of this other person.
We see this dynamic in couples who struggle with jealousy but it can happen from time to time in any relationship.
Over the years, as circumstances in life change (like a job change, retirement, empty nest or change in health), the whole independence/dependence issue can shift and cause friction and misunderstanding. Your preferences clash and you don’t know how to handle it.
So how do you cope with varying desires for independence and dependence while still keeping a close, connected, open, loving relationship?
How do you balance and honor a need for independence as well as keep a strong connection?
Here are some of our ideas…
1. Listen to yourself and know what you want–without believing all your fearful stories
In order to connect with another person, you have to learn to connect with yourself first. 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.
Not necessarily true.
You can’t assume that you know best for the other person based on your fearful thinking.
You can only listen to what’s inside you, separating the fearful stories you might be making up from what’s really happening in front of you.
“Is that true?” is a great question from Byron Katie that is really helpful to separate out your truth from what you’re making up.
2. Listen to the other person 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 can come up when you tackle these independence/inter-dependence issues and your best line of defense is to stay focused on the present moment.
Don’t play the “what if” game or believe all the stories that you might make up in your head. It always brings up fears that usually don’t materialize.
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 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.
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. Don’t accuse the other person but tell what you’re seeing about your behavior and what’s going on with you.
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.
Love is all about respecting and honoring each other and that includes honoring and understanding each other’s needs for independence and inter-dependence.