Last summer, I met an older couple who had been married many years. I asked them their secret to happiness together. The husband replied, “I did my thing; she did hers. It’s important to have independence.” As we prepare to celebrate the independence of our United States, it seemed an appropriate time to analyze the role of togetherness versus independence in a marriage.
Here’s the thing: there’s no right answer to this balancing act. It’s one of those areas where some couples like a lot of closeness. Maybe they eat breakfast together, work all day together, then spend their evenings golfing or eating out with friends. The constant togetherness doesn’t seem to bother them in the least. Others of you shudder to think of that much time with your spouse and fear the day you both decide to retire.
The best road is probably somewhere in the middle. But then again, I’ve met very happy couples on both ends of the spectrum. My marriage seems to live in each extreme, with my husband home for sometimes two or three weeks at a time while I work at home, eating three meals a day together, then him traveling for a week or so at a time. When he’s home for too long, we both begin to think it may be time for him to go on a short trip! Distance does foster appreciation for one another.
I think the bigger risk is not spending enough time together, allowing one another to have divergent activities, friends, hobbies, interests—and even separate vacations. Experiencing new activities and places together helps keep you bonded and interesting to one another. (Read Boredom can Kill a Marriage.)
When independence is completely missing from a relationship, however, we might start to dream of what it would be like to spend the day alone doing what WE want instead of what THEY want to do. If you are dreaming of independence, you probably need a day to yourself. Alone. (This is true especially if you’re an introvert—see Oh No, I married an Extrovert!) Allowing yourself a day or two to rejuvenate will hopefully prevent you from eventually dreaming of becoming fully independent of your marriage responsibilities. I’ve been so thankful for the occasional day of freedom my husband gives me to do what I need or want to do without interruption. Enjoying that freedom reminds me that I freely chose to enter my marriage and have children. It puts me in a grateful mindset rather than a grumpy one.
A marriage in which one person feels controlled or stifled is an unhealthy one. If your spouse controls where you can go, what you can eat, or whom you can speak with, seek help. If your spouse is merely unhappy whenever you spend time apart, it may be time to explain your need for a bit of independence. If you want much more freedom in your marriage to go out with who you want, when you want, and you resist accountability to your partner, you’ve crossed the line of healthy independence within marriage.
Do you have outside hobbies and interests? Do you read new and different books or magazines, or listen to stimulating music? Keeping your mind growing and active gives you new things to discuss with your partner. This Fourth of July, discuss the best balance in your relationship. Share in the comments where you are on the independence/togetherness spectrum.
Have a safe and happy Fourth of July celebration.