You can maintain your independent identity and still enjoy the companionship of marriage. While shared interests make a marriage enjoyable, maintaining your own independence can make your marriage even stronger, says Katherine Norris, a mental health professional who counsels couples to help them find balance and greater satisfaction in their marriages. Finding independence in marriage requires good communication and assertiveness skills, says Norris. In an interview, Norris explained how marriage partners can find the kind of independence that helps them grow as individuals while increasing marital satisfaction at the same time.
eHow: How do you define independence in marriage?
Norris: Independence in marriage is identified when each partner respects the other partner’s right and need to have interests outside the nucleus of the marriage. Individual activities can include spending occasional one-on-one time with friends or family members, or having time to themselves with their own thoughts.
The importance of spending time alone is evidenced by how it recharges one’s inner self with energy, tolerance, enthusiasm for life and even creativity among many other things. The need for alone time varies from person to person, with some individuals requiring more time than others to feel their best. Besides alone time, the activities a spouse may engage in are as limitless as the individual’s interests and creativity. Just as having time to oneself is essential in maintaining mental, physical and emotional health, so is having one’s partner supporting the need for individual independence. Talking with your partner about the need to have time alone is one way of expressing your independence.
eHow: Besides activities, are there other ways a partner can find independence in marriage?
Norris: One way of having independence in marriage is through finances. Although major expenditures and decisions are made as a couple, having discretionary money of your own gives you a certain amount of financial independence. For instance, a partner may want to spend personal money on a visit to the spa or on a game of golf. Having money of your own allows you to make independent decisions on day-to-day decisions without having to account to your partner. The best way to find this type of independence within marriage is to discuss your finances together and make a plan on how to allocate your family income so that each partner has a certain amount of money to use at their own discretion.
Another way to find independence in marriage is through career and educational choices. Because your career says so much about you, making personal decisions about this integral part of your life is essential to your independence. However, your choice of career can have a profound impact on your marriage, so it is not a choice to be made without having discussions with your partner. Changing careers or going to school can take courage not only on your part, but also on the part of your partner, who may have to provide economic or moral support as you embark on your endeavor. Explain your desires to your partner and discuss how you want to proceed. Be sensitive to your partner's needs and take the time necessary to thoroughly think through the decision.
eHow: How does individual independence in marriage affect the marriage?
Norris: Individual independence must be agreed upon by both spouses for it to work and have positive effects for each individual, as well as the relationship. Straightforward, honest communication about your needs and desires regarding independence is vital to this process. The intention of individual independence is to enhance each spouse’s personal life and the couple’s relationship.
Individual independence in a marriage can increase the strength of the marriage, if the couple has a strong foundation of respect and trust. Individual independence allows each of the partners the freedom to enjoy participating in activities that are not necessarily enjoyed by the other partner. When a partner feels free to participate in pleasurable activities, independent of the spouse, both partners may experience reduced levels of stress, improved self-esteem and increased respect for each other. As individual partners experience positive results of individual independence, the couple’s relationship is strengthened.
eHow: How does independence within marriage contribute to personal happiness?
Norris: Often a person feels happiness is dependent upon how someone else feels about them. The truth is that happiness is at its best when it comes from within. Engaging in independent activities that bring satisfaction and personal success can increase a person’s self-esteem and lead to greater happiness. Often, activities and responsibilities related to marriage, such as parenting children, offer opportunities for growth and independence. As children become involved in school and other youth-related activities, a parent may take on new roles, such as volunteering to coach a community sports team or taking the children to special events. No matter what the independent activities, when a spouse feels happy, especially from within, that happiness overflows to other relationships, which, in turn, creates more happiness within the marriage.
About G. Katherine Norris
G. Katherine Norris, LPC, NCC, MAEd, received her education in psychology at Campbell University, and she received her MAEd in counseling from East Carolina University. Norris has worked in the mental health field as a therapist and a clinical director for 18 years.