our everyday life

How to Create Autonomy in a Relationship

by Melody Causewell, studioD

Autonomy -- or the ability to make one's own decisions -- is a basic human right. While many take independent decision making for granted, some find themselves in a situation where they feel that they have fewer choices. Understanding how lack of choice may occur as well as how increased autonomy can improve relationships may help partners loosen their grip on one another.

Autonomy and Relationship Satisfaction

Autonomy may improve relationship satisfaction according to Northwestern University research published in the "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology" in 2013. In this study, researchers found that individuals whose partnerships were conducive to self-direction and personal growth enjoyed increased relationship satisfaction. Relationship well-being was also higher when partners felt that they had been allowed to independently choose to remain in the relationship. When both partners understand that increased autonomy may improve both individual happiness and relationship satisfaction, they may better accept increased autonomy in their partners.

Conflict Resolution and Autonomy

Conflict resolution may be related to autonomy, according to University of Houston research published in the "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology" in 2005. In this study, researchers found that relationship autonomy was associated with less defensive and more understanding conflict resolution styles. They concluded that autonomous reasons for being in the relationship in the first place may lend themselves to higher feelings of satisfaction and healthier conflict resolution. Ensuring that you are in the relationship because you truly want to be is the first step towards creating the independence that may lead increased happiness and a better relationship.

Get Help Examining Early Relationships

Feelings about autonomy may come from early experiences, according to University of Minnesota research published in "Current Directions in Psychological Science" in 2011. In this study, researchers Simpson, Collins, and Salvatore found that thoughts, feelings and actions about relationships are connected to internal working models -- or the way our brain expects relationships to play out based on early modeling. Individuals faced with early situations in which autonomy was not acceptable may find themselves reluctant to seek the independence they crave, or find themselves with partners who damper these desires. Therapeutic intervention may help those with these issues to identify where their struggles lie so that they can find a path towards free decision making.

Identify the Intimate Relationship that Needs Mending

Intimacy, or feelings of closeness, may be associated with higher levels of autonomy, according to Canadian research published in the "Journal of Adolescence" in 2001. In this study, researchers found that romantic intimacy in adolescents tended to coexist with feelings of autonomy and that autonomy in romantic relationships was linked to the amount of independence in friendships and maternal relationships. Researchers concluded that the experience of autonomy is linked to intimacy across different types of relationships, suggesting that frustration in one relationship may spill over into others. Individuals seeking to increase their autonomy may wish to examine other personal relationships to determine whether their frustration may lie outside of their romantic partnerships. Once areas of hindered autonomy are identified, individuals can take steps to increase self-confidence, such as by using positive self-talk, and improve independence overall.

About the Author

Melody Causewell has been a writer in the mental health field since 2001. She written training manuals and clinical programs for mental health organizations. She has published feature articles "Leaven" magazine and has been published in "Natural Awakenings." She has a degree in psychology, a Masters degree in social work and is a La Leche League leader.

Photo Credits

  • Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Getty Images