An essential part of a healthy, committed relationship is personal autonomy.
While merging two or more selves sounds romantic, when the initial chemical glow wears off, losing yourself in a lover can actually destroy a relationship. Growing together while maintaining your personal identities is called relationship autonomy.
What Is Relationship Autonomy?
Relationship autonomy is when you and your partner(s) have personal autonomy and an identity separate from the other person.
Being in charge of yourself and making your own decisions, having your own interests and your own opinions, having friendships outside the relationship, pursuing your own family relationships and cultural or religious connections that are important to you, are all different aspects of relationship autonomy.
In a nutshell, relationship autonomy means you continue to be your own person. While you may share decision making about issues that affect your relationship, ultimately you make your own choices. You are not controlled by your partner. You are in a relationship, but you are still independent.
A few areas of life that reflect personal autonomy are personal boundaries, health and medical, personal appearance and expression, privacy, financial, communication and connection with others, and family and cultural connections.
Why Autonomy In a Relationship Is Important
Being in a healthy and loving relationship is a key to happiness, security, growth, and health. Society often views a couple as a unit.
A couple that values relationship autonomy understands that the relationship is made up of two or more equal partners, each person an individual with unique needs, desires, history, interests, and other relationships such as family and friends.
Many couples “share everything” and other couples have very different backgrounds, cultures, histories, and interests. What matters is that each person remains their own person and has control over their own life. A partner should support you but not control you.
Historically, many married women would completely lose their autonomy. They would not be allowed to have their own friends, pursue their family relationships, have freedom to make their own decisions, go out alone, or have any privacy.
Husbands made decisions on their behalf, including health decisions. She didn’t have any privacy and had to report everything she did. She could not choose her own friends or her own faith, and she did not have her own money. This is still the norm in some cultures and still happens in our own culture. The example shows how important personal autonomy and relationship autonomy is.
How to Gain and Maintain Autonomy in Your Relationship
Don’t Lose Your Identity and Individuality
In the early days of a relationship, everything revolves around our new love interest. It is natural to want to please them in every way. But if you lose your own identity and individuality, where will you go when the shine fades away and your partner’s humanity is revealed?
Some people are toxic, insecure, or sadistic, and seek to erode another human being or consume them or control them. They may be narcissists. Others destroy their partner without intending to. They are damaged and needy, or in a desperate state and want more than you can offer.
But just as often, people in a relationship forget about their individuality and develop bad habits towards each other and themselves and then they lose themselves and often the relationship too. Maintain your individuality and encourage your partner to do the same.
Have Your Own Interests and Activities
If you love gardening first thing in the morning and your lover enjoys dancing the night away until dawn, so what? You don’t have to do everything together at the same time.
Celebrate your hobbies, passions, and interests. Continue to pursue favorite interests and new ones, and don’t discourage your partner from taking up new hobbies even when you don’t share them.
Maintain Your Existing Social Supports
Don’t neglect your friends and family when you date someone new. It’s something we all do naturally because we want to spend every waking moment with our lover. But relationship autonomy depends on both of you having more than just each other.
It is too much responsibility to be someone’s only support and it isn’t healthy, even if you feel like it’s all you need.
Nurture Friendships Outside the Relationship
Continue to make friends and connect with friends outside of your partner. Naturally, many friends of yours and theirs become friends of both of you. But don’t insist on knowing and loving everyone your partner is friends with.
And remember to keep nurturing relationships such as work friends or family connections that aren’t also connected to your lover.
Support Your Partner’s Autonomy As Well
Perhaps the best way to approach relationship autonomy is to understand it’s not just you who requires it, but your partner does too. Don’t micromanage their lives and insist on being part of everything they do.
Encourage your partner to make their own decisions, pursue their own interests, and have relationships with their family, even if you don’t get on with brother, sister or mother-in-law! Don’t snoop in your partners phone or diary or calendar. Don’t belittle their choices in reading or dining or shopping or hobbies.
Avoid Becoming Overly Dependent on Your Partner
A healthy relationship with personal autonomy for both of you is the antidote to codependence or controlling behavior or insecure, needy habits that ultimately damage a once beautiful thing.
It’s wonderful to support each other, rely on each other, and help each other. Make sure that doesn’t erode your independence, though. Make your own money, enjoy your own hobbies, maintain your own opinions and ideas.
Make Room for Alone Time
Solitude is one of the most important requirements for a healthy relationship! We all need time alone together, away from the world, “just us” time. And we also need alone time, where we can breathe and think and just be.
Nurture and make room for your own solitude. Go and visit friends to give your partner solitude at home. Do some things solo instead of together, and give each other space.
Seek Counseling If Needed
Insecurity or trauma could cause someone to be controlling of another because they are threatened or unhappy. If you or your partner has trouble letting go of controlling behavior, if you feel unloved when your partner simply wants to visit her brother and sister, counselling can help.
Many relationships are destroyed because one or both people need constant reassurance, and they seek it in the form of control.
If you truly love each other and want the relationship to flourish, therapy can help you both practice the skills for relationship autonomy. You CAN overcome jealousy or other negative emotions and develop independence and the ability to support your partner’s personal autonomy as well as your own.
Do you enjoy relationship autonomy in your polysphere? Please share!