Entering into a relationship can be filled with happiness, love and a sense of hope for the future.
However, for some women, the thought of starting a relationship and sharing a life with a partner means the possible loss of their independence.
It’s important to understand that even when in a partnership, you can maintain your independence and have an equal, loving and healthy relationship.
Family law solicitor Jennifer Franklin said, in the family law context, a partner is someone you’ve formed a joint intention to build a life with.
Franklin describes a partnership as involving mutuality, equality, respect, recognition, and gratitude.
With more than 20 years’ experience at Franklin Family Law specialising in divorce and separation, Franklin has seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to relationships.
The key to maintaining independence is talking about your relationship and ensuring that each person respects that the other has their own interests, aspirations and goals, as well as shared values and plans.
“Check in to see that you’re on the same page; that you both still want the same things and that you are working together while still driving forward on your own paths,” said Franklin.
Unfortunately, it’s often women who get lost in the relationship and it becomes more about “we”, “us” and “the family”, rather than “me” and “I”.
“In relationships, people can allow ‘life’ to take over. Whether that’s a partner, children, outside family or career. We get too busy to see the big picture and live on ‘automatic pilot’,” said Franklin.
Franklin has worked with many women who have lost sight of who they are.
“It’s only after going through a terrible break up or divorce that they wake up out of their pain and realise how buried they’ve been,” she said.
At that point, women are starting from scratch – not only regarding finances, but in rediscovering who they are as a person, and what their passions and interests are.
But it doesn’t have to lead to the point of separation before making a change.
Independence and individuality can be something that is established from the start of the relationship, or something that you rediscover throughout.
“Having shared and open expectations of each other sets realistic and known boundaries in the relationship,” said Franklin.
How can you retain independence in a relationship?
You can retain independence while sharing your life with someone else. Franklin shares these tips:
Keep your own bank account
Yes, it’s a romantic notion to have joint accounts and it can often be a practical necessity, but don’t do that exclusively. It’s important to have your own financial autonomy.
Continue with your career
Parenting is an important role that women play in society, but it is a job that can be shared with your partner.
Working, even part-time, keeps your career alive, your brain stimulated and gives you a break from the home. It also gives you options should the relationship break down and you need to step into full-time work again.
Live together but think independently
It’s not about thinking that the relationship won’t last, it’s about safeguarding against the unknown.
Discuss how you can both have independence financially, socially and in your career to ensure that both people’s needs are being met.
In some ways, it’s good to look at your romantic partnerships as if it were a relationship with a friend. If it was one of your friends trying to control your career, friends or choices, you wouldn’t accept it. But for some reason, we allow a partner to do that.
Maintain external relationships
Keep some relationships just for yourself – it’s important that not all social or family occasions are spent together. Whether you’re part of a sports team, attending outings with work colleagues or joining a girls’ night, be sure to do some things on your own.
Being conscious that, while it’s wonderful to spend time with a partner, to really thrive we need lots of different people and experiences in our lives.
Remember that there are two people in the partnership who share a home and a life, and no one person should take on all the responsibility of domestic jobs. Regardless of work situations, each person can contribute to and maintain the home.
Retain financial freedom
Set yourself up with a “freedom fund” – a savings stash that will give you the freedom to leave a job you hate, an abusive partner or any other situation that is not healthy for you. It means you will have options for change when you really need it.
Stay true to yourself
Franklin admits it’s not easy, and relationships take work. However, by remembering some of the points above and applying them consistently to your relationship, you can have the partnership and the romance while staying true to yourself.
“You must be proactive in making sure you are in the space of maintaining your independence and controlling your destination,” she said.
“You have to remain in the driver’s seat. This is your life, your journey.”