To maintain a successful relationship it is necessary that both people maintain their own individuality and respect the individuality of their partner. Each is concerned with their own and their partner’s continued development as a person. In my book, Daring to Love, I write about achieving this by remaining adult, open, undefended, and honest in your interactions. I also discuss the importance of regarding your partner is a sovereign individual, separate from you and your relationship. A relationship thrives when two strong individuals bring their distinctive and varied qualities to their partnership. The following suggestions are excerpted from Daring to Love.
Maintaining Your Individuality
To be a better person in your life and a good partner in your relationship, it’s critical that you strive to maintain a strong sense of independence and autonomy and a well-developed point of view. With this ongoing goal, you can continue to cultivate and strengthen your unique traits as well as behavior that reflects your interests and ideals. In your relationship, you need to be careful that you are not looking for someone to complete your incompleteness or to define or affirm you.
Be adult. It’s common for people to complain of their partner being immature and refusing to grow up. Being adult is not just a question of emotionally mature behavior. Being truly adult also involves recognizing your early childhood trauma and losses, taking steps to resolve them, and understanding how they helped shape your current behavior. It means actively identifying and challenging the defenses you formed as a child and correcting the negative attitudes or biases you acquired.
Be open and undefended. Openness involves the ability to be forthright in revealing and expressing your personal feelings, thoughts, dreams, and desires. Being nondefensive and open to feedback is one of the most valuable relationship skills you can develop. Instead of defending yourself from your partner’s criticisms or suggestions, you can look for the kernel of truth in what your partner is saying, because it may offer you an opportunity for personal growth. When you’re concerned in this way with your development as an individual, you can remain open to change in your intimate relationship but also retain your sense of self, your strength, and your individuality.
Being honest is vital to your integrity as an individual, and necessary to the development of trust in your close relationship. It’s best to be honest even when telling the truth is hard. When you are deceptive or directly untruthful with your partner, you betray yourself, and you fracture your partner’s sense of reality. You also damage the trust and closeness between you. Love requires truth because without truth you can’t build and maintain the trust that is essential to an intimate relationship.
Supporting Your Partner’s Individuality
Respect your partner by encouraging your partner’s unique interests and personal goals, independent of your own. Be sensitive to your partner’s wants, desires, and feelings, and place as much value on them as you do on your own. This type of interest in and feeling for your partner is altruistic and goes beyond any selfish or self-serving concerns you may have.
In order to achieve this level of regard, you need to have empathy with and compassion for your partner. This involves using your mind as well as your emotions and intuition to perceive and vicariously experience the nature of your loved one. When you understand your partner in this deeply empathetic manner, you are aware of what you have in common, but you also recognize and value your differences.
It can be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:
Do I look to my partner to compensate for any of my shortcomings? If so, in what ways?
• Do I use my partner to relieve my insecurities or loneliness?
• Am I an adult in my life and in my relationship? Do I act childish or parental?
• Am I open and nondefensive in my interactions?
• Do I strive to be honest when I communicate?
• Do I have integrity in my life? Do my actions and my words communicate the same message?
• What are some of my partner’s personal interests that are unique to him or her?
• Am I supportive of my partner’s interests? Do I respect them as much as I respect my own?
• Am I threatened by my partner’s separate interests?
• Do I act discouraging or belittling or dismissive of my partner’s separate interests?
• How is my partner different from me? Which differences do I like? Which ones do I dislike?
• Am I successful in empathizing with my partner? Am I able to feel what my partner is experiencing as a person?
• Are there any gender stereotypes that are hurting the respect that my partner and I have for each other in our relationship?