Autonomy in Relationships: Is It Possible to Be Too Independent?


It’s important to be independent in your life, but there comes a time when you might become too independent.

While that mindset can show up in a lot of different ways, it frequently manifests in romantic relationships.

You’re not alone if you struggle with giving up independence when you get into a relationship. In fact, most of us battle with this in one way or another. It often comes down to challenges with our boundaries.

There are three good visual images to help you understand the idea of autonomy in relationships:

  • Some people get into a relationship and then become totally dependent on the other person for their happiness. The visual for this is the person who is hugging their partner so tightly that they smother them.

  • On the other hand, if you’re too independent, then you don’t rely on your partner at all, leaving you essentially disengaged from them. The visual for this is standing with both arms outstretched, palms flat, pushing your partner away.

  • In a healthy relationship, you find balance between keeping your autonomy while still connecting wholly with the other person. The visual is one hand on your heart and the other hand on your partner’s heart. That’s what you’re aiming for.

So, which image describes you?

Are You Too Independent in Relationships?

You probably already know if you’re the type of person who falls into being too dependent (the squeezing hugger). However, it’s a little bit tougher to tell if you’re the disengaged partner. After all, society rewards us for being (or at least seeming) independent. And therefore, we often don’t see the warning signs of it nearly so easily.

If you're unsure of how engaged you are, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is there room in my life for a partner?

  • Am I able to let people help me sometimes?

  • If I know I can do something myself, but I let someone help anyway, what does that feel like?

  • What is my immediate gut reaction when I think about depending on another person?

If you can’t make room for a partner and can’t let others help you, let alone ask for help, then you might be too independent.

What’s Wrong with Being Too Independent?

Maybe you are just a very independent person who really doesn’t ever need any help from anyone. If so, congratulations, you’re actually a unicorn. But we’re human, and therefore, we need to rely on other people some of the time. If you’re too independent, then there’s probably an underlying issue at play.

If you're honest with yourself, what do you really think would happen if you tried to depend on a romantic partner?

Perhaps when it comes down to it, you don’t believe that you could ever count on them. This might say something about your choice in partners. Or it might say something about things that happened in your past which taught you that you could only count on yourself.

If you crave independence because you have a fear of being dependent, then you’re not really choosing independence as a path of freedom but rather defaulting to it as a mode of self-protection. And if you do this, but still try to get into relationships, then you’ll likely end up attracting people who will, unfortunately, prove you right. After all, a healthy person that you can depend on in the right ways isn’t likely to be drawn to someone who is constantly pushing them away.

Are You Ready for a Relationship?

It’s okay to say that you want to be independent right now. However, it might mean that it’s not the right time for you to pursue a romantic relationship. Maybe the present is a time to focus just on yourself, your dreams, and your personal growth.

And that’s wonderful... if it’s a conscious choice that you make.

On the other hand, if you’re choosing a single life because you are terrified that a relationship will swallow you whole, then you might want to analyze that. Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to get into a relationship. But it does mean that you may wish to take some steps to develop a different rapport with the idea of dependence and independence in your relationships.

You may want to practice by starting to ask very trusted friends and family members for help with things, even things that you could do on your own.

With one hand on your heart, and one hand on theirs, you’re ready to move forward with just the right amount of independence. Of course, navigating this boundary is no easy feat. But help is available. Contact me today to learn more about dating and relationship therapy.