How I found personal freedom in a partnership

Guest post by Mina Kelly
Otters Holding Hands art print from Etsy seller WhenGuineaPigsFly

If you had described my current relationship to me before I was in it, I would have never asked him out. I would have said it was too codependent, that there wasn’t enough space for me to be me, that living and working and socializing together would be too much, there would be too many PDAs, and some nonsense about a surprise mutual proposal? I’d have walked — run! — away from the best thing I’ve ever known.

Safety nets

In previous relationships, I would hold part of myself back so I could tell myself that that part was the real, separate, individual me. I was scared. I thought I needed to prove that I was still a strong, independent woman. And that, by waving that proof around, I was looking after myself. If anything happened to the relationship, I would walk unharmed from the ashes, because I’d kept my “real” self out of harm’s way.

Society wasn’t going to pressure me giving up my sense of self while some man got to maintain his (even though no one ever asked me to). It felt smart and strong and sensible, but I was more concerned with the safety net than I was with getting on with the show. I was a trapeze artist who didn’t care whether her partner caught her or not.

Smoke and Mirrors

I was lying to myself, and it made the relationships into lies. You can’t carve yourself up like that (not healthily, anyway). I’m all me, and I was holding all of myself back. The person I was dating wasn’t dating the real me, but a version of myself I was willing to share with them. And inevitably I lost interest in maintaining that persona for the sake of the relationship (or they did — these relationships were usually with people with similar behavior).

I had some therapy between the end of my previous relationship and my current one. It wasn’t relationship therapy, and I didn’t even realize the impact it was having as it unpicked and repaired other snags in my mind and body. And then I asked J out, and within two weeks we were saying “I love you” and talking about moving in together. I had let go of the lies and the insecurities that fed them without even realizing it.

A harmony is more than two melodies

I found I had just as much space to be me inside of the relationship as I had outside of it. I wanted to show my whole self off to J, to introduce him to every quirk and foible, and learn all of his. I reveled in my individuality as I shared it.

I can be a more authentic me inside our relationship, because I’m loved and supported in a way that I often fail to love and support myself.

Yes, our relationship has changed our behaviours. Our friends have got used to the fact that inviting one of us usually means both, but since we both have awesome taste in people (as evidenced by five years of friendship between us before I asked him out) this just means there are more friends to go around. Our time spent together is filled with the things we both like. I read more ebooks now because he likes to hold hands while chilling on the sofa, and it’s easier to turn pages one handed.

There are easy compromises and there are hard compromises, and there are things that look like compromises but aren’t: times when we look like we’re doing the same thing, but one of us is there to support the other. I didn’t understand it when I was on the outside, but whether it’s him eating Chinese food even though he doesn’t like it, or me watching a Charlie Kaufman film even though I can’t relate to it, doing these things together creates a space where we can respectfully explore our differences.

I can be a more authentic me inside our relationship, because I’m loved and supported in a way that I often fail to love and support myself. I can support my partner in being his full self too, because I know his full self. We are motivated to support each other’s individuality by being together. We are not two separate acrobats performing in the same ring, but a single act that is twice as dazzling for the things we can accomplish together.

Anyone else learned to let go and allow your partnership to help you be more awesome?

Comments on How I found personal freedom in a partnership

  1. <3<3<3 I love this.

    After three years of holding ourselves back from each other, my boyfriend moved an hour away. The distance made us so hyper aware of how important we were to one another and we've had this avalanche of intimacy since then. It's exactly like you say. 🙂

  2. Very well said. Previous partners did not like how aloof I was. I blamed it on being an only child … I refused to open up all the way and I valued my solitude above all else. Then, in my 30s, I met my husband. This man and I cannot get enough of each other. I’d be around him all the time if I could, and I’d let him roam around inside my brain, too. I guess he was the right one for me. Also, I know he loves me. He enjoys my quirks and makes me feel totally comfortable. My defenses are down, and I love it.

  3. I’ve discovered the opposite in the more than ten years i’ve been with my husband. There needs to be a deep connection obviously, but after the ‘honeymoon’ phase ends and the reality of the daily grind takes its toll on individuals, some individuality and breathing space keeps the passion and interest. I *don’t* want to know everything about my partner. We’re looking forward to being together “forever”, I want to have something new and fun to look forward to discover. I’ve also moved away from the assumption that my life partner necessarily has to share in what I take pleasure in. He loves tinkering with cars. I loves cars too but you won’t find me doing more than a basic car service on mine. I enjoy rock climbing. You won’t find him belaying me at the local gym. My husband knows me better than anyone. There are no boundaries or off-limits in my head for him, but the sense of claustrophobia built by a heavily interwoven relationship is just too much for two adults to sustain in a romantic relationship over the long run imho

    • I think there is a difference between holding yourself back so you don’t get hurt meaning you never really connect and giving yourself healthy me time in a relationship. But the hard part is telling those two urges apart, I frequently don’t get that right!

      I have very much had the OP’s experience of being surprised by a more interwoven relationship that I thought I wanted but it really is a space for me to grow because I was absolutely a holder back and and avoider of intimacy, although I took ages for me to work out that what I was doing.

      But I really really need the me time too and I don’t always get the balance right or rather I only tend to think about the balance when it’s off, but hey we all do that. But what is right for me about my wife is we can talk about that, I’ve never done that with a partner previously. I don’t want to know everything that is in her head, but there is no one else’s head I’m more fascinated by bar my own of course, I am a total navel gazer….. I’m not sure that it’s even possible to know everything in someone else’s head anyway, not least because people change over time so there is always more to know about them as it were. The night I met my wife I just knew I could work with her, those were the exact romantic words that ran though my head…. 7 years in that hasn’t changed, although we’ve been through loads (health issues, bereavement, work/career challenges) and we’ve changed for sure, it still amazes me daily how comfortable I am with another human being this close.

  4. Ding ding ding ding ding. This was me. I ended up in some version of a long-distance relationship three times – the three most significant relationships of my life, including the first five years of my relationship with my husband. We were married while we were still living 3,000 miles apart. I thought that was the consequence of me not being willing to give up my dreams for a man. Turns out I liked the distance. I kept holding him at arm’s length for *years* and blamed his introversion. Nope. A good chunk of it was me. I had to figure out how to be fully present and speak for myself instead of catering to his needs (which is what I saw of my mother’s life). It took a lot of work on both our parts and it was SOOO worth it. So worth it. After comfortably living 3,000 miles apart for years and seeing each other every few months, now we hate being apart for more than one night. I like it better this way.

  5. I’ve never experienced a connection like the one I have with my man. We are deeply connected on every level and have a great partnership, and are both very autonomous. We honor ourselves. We respect that about each other, and our strong individualities are complimentary. For me, that personal freedom is definitely in part made possible because of the incredibly strong container of our relationship.

  6. Ahh, my friend just sent this to me because I’m the artist of the otters you featured (thank you so much!!), and I read through the article and found it ringing so truly for me as well!

    My boyfriend and I met at a time where I was worried I might guard my heart (my marriage ended last spring after 7 years, with 8 years of dating before that… to say I wasn’t looking is an understatement!).

    It was as though out of nowhere fate stepped in and presented us to each other when we were both feeling open to what life would bring our way, and from day one it was terrifying how comfortable we were and how quickly we fell in love. We shared so many things that we were afraid might scare the other away right up front, both certain the other would run, and neither of us found each other’s “faults” to be anything but parts of each other worth loving and supporting.

    It’s taken me time (and is still taking some time) for me to get used to this feeling of having someone so completely embrace what I’ve perceived as shortcomings, and has given me a level of freedom I couldn’t understand in my relationship before.

    I was scared of the future last year, on the one hand feeling empowered by my new singledom and fearful of getting ‘trapped’ in a relationship, but also feeling scared I may not find a partner who would ‘put up with me’ when I felt ready to date. What an eye opener.

    Because we are both communicating openly and are compatible with each other, it’s given us both the gift of learning how to be free while coupled, being supported without being smothered, knowing we both have each other’s support if we change our careers or other aspects of our lives.

    I’m so happy the author of this article has found this for herself and so many of you in the comments as well. More people need to read stories like these! <3

    • This is kismet for so many reasons!

      First of all: Your artwork is awesome and this one just pulled at my heart. So welcome to Offbeat Home as an artist and a commenter!!!

      Second of all: Your story is eerily similar to mine. Yay for one door closing and another one opening. 🙂

      • Thank you so much, Megan! I’m so excited that you had such a similar story to mine, too. Kindred spirits! And yes, ugh it’s amazing… when I first met him I phrased it something like “sometimes the universe closes a door and opens a window, and sometimes the universe closes a door and it slams so hard that it sends cracks through the entire foundation, breaking apart the walls of a structure you didn’t even know you were in, revealing a beautiful world you didn’t even know existed.” 🙂

  7. Love to you all <3 After a night of nightmares (ranging from a zombie biting my head to being informed of my mother's death via WhatsApp – thanks, subconscious), I wasn't sure if I wanted to read the comments on this, but I'm glad my experience rang true for so many of you too!

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