When I was a teenager, up until I was about 21, I was in an abusive, codependent relationship. He was my first serious boyfriend, so I guess I didn’t know any better; I thought that’s just how guys behaved. He slowly chipped away at my self-esteem and everything I did for him and for us was taken for granted. He was extremely controlling and gave me absolutely no respect. I felt like I had to hide things that made me happy, lose weight before I would visit him, and just sit there and accept when he would get drunk and yell at me, call me nasty names, or brag about cheating.
After that relationship ended I was devastated, but I was also extremely relieved. I had alienated a lot of my friends and I was away at college, my family was two hours away. So I didn’t have a very strong support system to get me back on my feet. I figured the only way I was going to get through this was by myself.
As I spent a lot of alone time doing things that made me happy, without having to justify or defend it to anyone, that was the time I really gained my independence; and I promised myself I would never give that up for anyone again.
When I met my husband, I started down that same path of codependency. As I took a step back, I was able to see that it just wasn’t working for me. I wasn’t happy with him or myself, we fought constantly, and I expected him to focus all of his time and energy on making me happy, and when he couldn’t do, because no one can.
But the question you're probably asking is, well...where do I start?
Trust Your Partner
This is the most important step! You will never gain your independence worrying about what your partner is doing. I know trust is hard for a lot of people, it is for me too, but if after a certain amount of time you’re still unable to trust him/her, try to figure out the reason behind it. If it is not something that can be fixed, you may need to re-think the relationship altogether.
Where Do I Start? | If there's been a loss of trust, the first thing you need to do is talk to your partner about it. If you need to prepare before-hand, really think about the things that have made you lose trust in your partner and maybe even create a list to bring those to his/her attention and see what can be done on both sides to regain that trust. The second thing you can do is, set expectations of reliability. If your partner shows you he/she can be reliable, then with time and consistency, you should be able to gain that trust back. Thirdly, be honest with your partner and with yourself. There's obviously a line between brutal honesty and telling your truth, but to create trust in a relationship it is important to be open and honest with your partner, especially about your feelings of the relationship. Lastly, you want to work with your partner to create a safe and secure environment for your relationship. This means telling your partner what you need without threatening them with an ultimatum. You and your partner should feel safe in discussing hard topics without feeling like the relationship is in jeopardy.
Find Things That Make Happy Without Your Partner
Even if it’s something as small as watching a new TV show. That’s your time to be with you. Whether it is an introverted hobby like painting or blogging, or something you can do with others, like watching a movie with family or joining a club sport, it's important to find things in your life that you enjoy. Your partner is not always going to have the same interests as you, and that’s okay. Don’t let it hold you back from doing things that bring you happiness.
Where Do I Start? | This may sound surprising, but 85% of people don't truly know themselves. That's crazy, right? How is it even possible? Well, that's because generally, people want to be liked by other people. So, it's almost like we play a role or become a character to fit in with people that we admire, because we want them to like us back or we are uncomfortable with conflict. That's why that dreaded first date question "What do you do for fun?" is so hard for a majority of us to answer; because a lot of us don't take that time for ourselves to indulge in a passion. But I want you to really think about that? What do you do for fun? Or what would you do for fun if you had the time? Once you have your answer, make the time for it, and do it...alone. The day of, go. You're probably going to feel uneasy, and like you don't want to go, but this is the first step; and once you get there it will be intimidating, but that's true with all new things. But in the end, you'll be glad that you did. You'll get your blood pumping and probably make new friends along the way that you have more in common with than you would have thought.
Do Things That Make You Feel Confident
Whether it’s experimenting with a new look, or mastering a skill. Find your strengths and expand on those, practice with that community. If you like photography, there are plenty of photography groups out there that you can join. You’ll meet new people, share ideas, and practice your skill. It's vital that your confidence isn’t based on a single source, like your partner's idea of you, because let’s face it, men say some stupid shit and your partner is not going to view you the same way forever.
Where Do I Start? | The internet. There is SO MUCH INFORMATION OUT THERE that can be used for good. There are millions of resources to inspire and help you achieve anything you're looking to. To really be a confident person, you should have some level of confidence in a variety of areas in your life. If you put all your confidence into, lets say, just your looks, you're headed down a very dark path. No matter how beautiful you are, there will always be someone out there who is just as beautiful in a different way, and that idea alone can really shake your confidence. But, if you're beautiful, but you're also witty, emotionally stable, and have a good career that you love, the idea of someone else being just as pretty as you doesn't sound as threatening.
Find a Support System Outside the Relationship
Do. Not. Alienate. Your. Friends. Or. Family. Just don’t do it. Your partner cannot be everything to you all the time, nor should you want him/her to be. You will need these other people in your life. You need to make it a point to maintain these outside relationships, or find new ones outside your relationship. This will not only give you new found confidence, but it'll make your relationship better than ever.
Where Do I Start? | Another shocking statistic... 12.5% of people say they have no close friends... That's 1 in 8 people who feel completely alone. As I'm sure you know, we are social creatures and need other people to survive. If you don't have any friends outside of your relationship, it's time to make some. I know the idea of spending a few hours away from your partner may sound like a punishment, but you're doing him/her and yourself a favor. Having friends helps you discover who you are, and being your own person, having your own ideas, and being original and genuine makes you very attractive to your partner, not to mention, he/she will probably miss you when you're gone doing your own thing. So take a class, join a club or sports team, or meet people through www.meetup.com.
set your expectations
We all have a line of what we're wiling to accept. Make that line known to your partner. The more you give, the more they will take...then starts the resentment process. You feel like all you're doing is giving and they're just taking and that's not a partnership.
Where Do I Start? | Start with what you feel like you're missing from the relationship. Once you've figured that out, plan a fun date night in and really connect with your partner. Then in a light-hearted manner, and coming from a place of love, tell him/her what you want out of the relationship. If you're having trouble with that, you can take the Five Love Languages Quiz together and start a dialogue from there. For example; if you wish he would surprise you with flowers you could say something like "I'm really a romantic at heart, a nice bouquet of flowers could really bring that side out in me" in a playful way or if he's constantly late to meet you out, you could say something like "I have a really fun night planned for us, so maybe if you're time tonight, we'll even have time for a little something special I had planned at the end of the night". So you're not being angry or threatening, but you're getting your point across of what you need from him; and believe it or not, setting your expectation will make your partner have a level respect for you that he/she may not have had before.
I subscribe to a channel called Matthew Hussey, who is a life coach that focuses on self-worth and relationships. He's very motivational and easy to listen to. His videos highlight ideas on how to react during certain stages in your relationship and how to either get the guy, keep the guy, or let him go.
Make Your Own Decisions
As long as you’re not hurting your partner, make your own damn decisions. Don’t worry about what he/she thinks all the time. “Is he going to like that I made plans with the girls?” Who cares! Do you want to go? Then go. You want to snuggle on the couch with a soft ugly blanket? You snuggle on the couch with that soft ugly blanket, hard. There is no shame in knowing what you want and liking what you like, and just living your life.
Where Do I Start? | Simple. Stop asking permission. You should be courteous to your partner, yes. But, there's a difference between asking "Hey, do we have plans on Saturday?" and "Do you mind if I go out with my friends on Saturday?". Last time I checked, you're a grown adult, and your partner is your teammate, not your parent. Stop feeling guilty, and stop asking permission. Do the things you want to do with the people you want to do them with (within reason) and own it.
I hope these tips helped motivate you and guide you in the right direction. If you have any tips or tricks on how you stay independent, please share them in the comments below. I think this is a really important topic and would love to get a discussion going.