In the U.S., we’re about to observe Independence Day. Maybe it’s the story of our nation’s founding that makes independence such a cherished part of our identity. Think about all the ways we idealize it in our culture: Success stories about people who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. Movie heroes who never “play by the rules.” Songs about women who don’t depend on a man.
Of course, it’s great to be strong and capable. But if we concentrate only on independence, we’re overlooking a vital truth about ourselves: Human beings are actually hardwired for interdependence. We need connection with others. Studies have even found that when children don’t receive connection and nurturing, “the wiring of the brain goes awry.”
Even as science affirms that we are meant to rely on each other, the value we place on independence is so strong that we might feel shame when we can’t do everything on our own. For example, it’s not uncommon for first-year college students to feel like failures because being on their own is much harder than they ever imagined.
It’s OK to Need Each Other
Our ideals about independence also affect our marriages. Admitting that you need the other person can be scary! Marriage is a dance of closeness and separation. Either extreme hurts your relationship. Clinging to your husband or constantly needing his validation approval isn’t healthy. But neither is constantly doing your own thing or never working as a team with your husband.
The balance of dependence and independence changes throughout your relationship. There will be times when you lean heavily on him, and times when he leans heavily on you. And there will also be times when both of you are so focused on other demands or interests (going back to school, caring for a parent, etc.) that you’ll have to make extra efforts to stay connected.
Being flexible enough to move from independence to dependence based on your needs is what strengthens your true partnership in life. So, as July Fourth rolls around, celebrate our country’s independence and celebrate your own. But don’t forget to also celebrate the strength we show when we need each other — the strength of closeness, commitment and true connection.
This Independence Day, I encourage you to think about your own independence within your marriage. I’ve seen a lack of independence hurt many relationships. Sometimes women get caught in the trap of being too focused on their husband after marriage. Our husbands fall in love with our vibrant individuality, but then are surprised when we start making everything about them.
What drives a person to be overly focused on their partner in a marriage?
Insecurity. If you have a weak sense of self, odds are that you feel insecure and cling to your husband to make sure you don’t lose him. Unfortunately, excessive closeness can feel suffocating, so your husband may do the very thing you’re afraid of–pull away from you.
Niceness. Many women also believe they must be nice and nurturing at all times, so they are constantly looking for what their husband needs. You may have the misconception that if you don’t completely take care of your husband, he will think of you’re selfish and become dissatisfied in the relationship. Be warned: If you are too nice and never take care of yourself, your husband may start to take you for granted, and this is an inevitable recipe for resentment.
Need for approval. Another common fear is that if he doesn’t approve of your choices, he will become disinterested. So you may give up what you like to wear, the things you like to do, and the types of foods you like to eat in order to please him. Unfortunately, the more you twist yourself like a pretzel to get his approval, the more needy and boring you appear to him.
Independence doesn’t mean that you don’t think of your husband at all. (Behaving that way would create a whole other kind of relationship problem!) It’s good to care about him and want him to have his needs met. However, it’s also appropriate to consider your own needs and expect your partner to support you in meeting them.
Your relationship will be healthier and happier when you both have a secure sense of self, trust one another, and can move between independence and closeness in your relationship. If your own sense of self is feeling a little shaky, try to ease up some on your focus on others. Get back in touch with who you are and what you like to do. Give some of that care and validation you lavish on others back to yourself.
It sounds counterintuitive, but pulling back a bit to take care of you will actually bring your partner closer. My book Strong Women, Strong Love has more ideas for nurturing yourself and your relationship.