The last date I went on before I met my husband was hilariously awful. Despite it, I remember laughing to myself while I waited for the train home. It had dawned on me that this was the first time I didn’t feel bad about a guy not liking me. I had been myself, and if he didn’t like it, so what? Mr. Right would like me for me. A few weeks later, I met my husband. Because I had learned how to be happy with myself, I was ready to welcome the right person into my life.
As a younger woman, this wasn’t always the case. I tended to get lost in the people I was dating because I thought a good romantic partner was supposed to “complete” me. But as wife and husband team and positive psychology experts Suzann and James Pawelski explain in their new book Happy Together, “healthy relationships are characterized by a kind of interdependence, where the other person doesn’t so much complete us as complement us.” To guarantee a happy, lasting relationship, partners must “maintain autonomous motivation and retain their own identities, rather than neglect themselves in ‘obsessive passion.’”
If this sounds easier on paper than in practice, here are five ways you can ensure your independence—and the health of your relationship:
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1. Stay passionate about your hobbies.
When we meet someone new, we’re often tempted to prove how much alike we are. While shared interests are great, it’s important to keep up with the things we love—even if our partner doesn’t share our passion. If you enjoy running, keep signing up for races. A supportive partner isn’t necessarily one who keeps pace alongside you. It can also be someone who cheers you from the sidelines.
2. Make alone time a priority.
As an only child and an introvert, I absolutely crave time alone. I’ll read, hike, wander around a bookstore or museum, or soak in a hot bath. It’s not always glamorous or elaborate, but it is an essential part of caring for my mental health—as well as for my relationship. When I spend too much time socializing, I’m apt to feel frazzled, drained, and crabby. Time alone hits the reset button, allowing me to be fully present when I’m with my partner.
3. Nurture relationships outside your partner.
When it comes to a new romance, it can be challenging to come up for air in those early days. But maintaining lifelines outside of a relationship is essential. Keep up with your weekly calls to mom or a sibling, and make sure those girls’ nights go on the calendar regularly. Even halfway across the country, I still Skype once a month with my two best girlfriends in New York. It’s not quite the same as sitting in a bar together in person, but we all get to vent and catch up, and I always close my computer feeling extraordinarily better.
4. Set goals, and work towards them.
No relationship should consume your every waking minute. Keep writing that book, training for that triathlon, or learning that second language. Sometimes in the pursuit—or maintenance—of a relationship, we fail to prioritize anything that doesn’t obviously serve it. But by pursuing goals—and actively bettering ourselves—we’re also doing important work for our romantic lives.
The hallmark of any good relationship is communication, and the best way to stay in touch with your feelings is by expressing them to your partner. Respectfully voicing your lack of interest in an activity or having a difference of opinion doesn’t make you a bad partner or incompatible—it makes you an individual. Giving yourself permission to share your feelings ensures honesty—a key ingredient to any lasting union.
Interested in strengthening your relationship further? Deepen your bond with the easy-to-follow methods and fun exercises prescribed by Suzann and James Pawelski in their book, Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts.
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