We rely on our partners for lots of things, from companionship to emotional comfort. But there are some things you can’t rely on your partner for, because nobody can provide them but yourself. The good news is that the more self-sufficient you become, the stronger the relationships you’ll have with everyone, your partner included.
“A healthy, stable relationship has an interplay between independence and interdependence, between ‘me’ and ‘us,’” relationship therapist Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, founder of online relationship community Relation up, tells Bustle. “Your partner can’t provide all the things that you need, and if you put them in the position of having to, before long, resentments grow on both sides. In time, you lose yourself in the relationship, feeling helpless and powerless to embody your own life. Consequently, it is imperative to figure out how to meet some of your own needs and be a partner whose well-developed sense of self enriches the relationship.”
While your partner can help you in your personal development, the ability to take care of yourself on your own is a skill that will enhance your life forever, regardless of your relationship status. Here are some things people often rely on their partners for but should learn to provide for themselves.
It’s a huge ego boost when someone thinks you’re hot. There’s nothing wrong with basking in your partner’s admiration. The problem is, your partner won’t be around to validate how attractive you are every time you need it — and if you don’t give that validation to yourself, no number of compliments from your partner is ever going to feel like enough. Cultivating genuine self-love will change your life like no external affirmation can.
“Feeling good enough as a person is an inside job,” says Milrad. “All the compliments, money, presents, or sex that you receive from your partner can give you good feelings about yourself, but they can’t fill you up as a person. They are temporary and quickly wear off if deep down, you struggle with low self-esteem. Only you can work on yourself by facing your demons and finding a way to overcome your insecurities.”
Similarly, if you rely on someone else to make decisions for you, you won’t develop the ability to do so yourself. Your partner’s advice can be valuable, but it should be one of many things you consider when you’re making a decision. If they disagree with you, don’t take that to mean that you’re wrong. Your own ability to refine your intuition is more valuable than anyone else’s advice.
“The challenge in a relationship is to maintain your own self identify and not allow it to just fold into the relationship, where you have trouble knowing how you feel about things or making your own decisions,” says Milrad.
Your partner can and shouldmake you happy, but if you’re unhappy without them, your ability to be happy with them will be limited. “You create your own happiness, and it is up to you to figure it out,” says Milrad. “Your partner can’t figure this out for you, and it is burdensome to put this on them. You need to understand what would bring you joy and fulfillment and harness your determination to pursue it.”
We usually choose our partners because they fulfill some of our intimacy needs. Maybe you have super intellectual conversations with your partner, or maybe they know exactly what to say when you’re feeling blue. But it’s also OK if you lean on your partner for comfort but get intellectual fulfillment from your friends, or vice versa.
“Intimacy needs are met through a variety of relationships, from friendships to lovers,” says Milrad. “Each different type of relationship caters to different aspects of ourselves. The intimacy needs that you receive in a close friendship are different from the intimacy needs we receive in our primary relationship. It is impossible for one person to meet the plethora of our needs and the dynamic nature of them, so it is important not to put them all on one person.”
Everyone we’re close with becomes part of us to an extent. “It is natural for a couple to have a lot in common and to become more similar over time,” says Milrad. “Part of bonding is developing common interests, opinions, and sharing similar life philosophies. Consequently, it can be a challenge to discover where you and your partner differ and to honor those differences.” However, the best relationships consist of people who each have strong and rich individual identities — and respect each other’s identities.
If you recognize patterns in your behavior where you’re over-reliant on your partner, don’t worry. Many people struggle with this, so by being aware of it, you’re already ahead of the game. If you want to change it, a few good first steps are to discuss it with your partner and talk to a therapist about how to establish a healthier relationship with both yourself and your partners.