managing tension: autonomy vs. togetherness

We all have the desire to be around other people, especially our significant others. Usually when we first start dating someone, we can't think of doing anything else but spending every waking moment with our new love interest. However, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed or even like we're being suffocated by our loved ones when we spend too much time together. This relational tension has been referred to as the autonomy versus togetherness dialectic (Baxter, 1988, 1990; Rawlins, 1992).

The more time you spend together, the greater your need for independence usually becomes, which can produce stress in your relationship. Problems can also arise when people don't spend enough time with each other. So, what can you do to manage this tension with your partner?

  • First, be sure to never assume that your partner will automatically want to hang out with you and only you, all of the time. People need their space. You may think that spending every free moment with your partner will bring you closer together. But, unfortunately, research has shown that this usually creates stress in a relationship and can even drive two people apart.
  • Second, make sure that each of you have your own separate activities and your own separate groups of friends. This will help each of you feel independent and will likely help you to better appreciate the time that you actually spend together.
On the other hand...

  • Relationships take a lot of work. You can't build a relationship solely on text messages or phone calls. You need to spend face-to-face time together where you learn about each other and do things that both of you like to do.
  • Also, try to make the time that you spend together quality time. Do some fun and interesting activities instead of always watching television or going to the same restaurant together. Click here to get some unique date ideas.

This relational tension is not just about time spent together. Becoming too dependent on your partner can also create stress or arguments in your relationship. While some dependence is warranted and expected in serious relationships (it is important to rely on your partner for some things), relying on your partner for everything can become cumbersome and make your partner feel under appreciated or taken advantage of. Be aware of this tension the next time you need your partner to help you with something. Could you do it by yourself? Do you really need your partner to help you?

So, create emotional bonds with the ones you love without smothering them. Likewise, spend quality time together and periodic time apart. Learning how to balance this tension is important for every successful relationship.

  • Baxter, L. A. (1988). A dialectical perspective on communication strategies in relationship development. In S. Duck (Ed.), Handbook of personal relationships: Theory, research, and interventions (pp. 257- 273). Chichester, England: Wiley.
  • Baxter, L. A. (1990). Dialectical contradictions in relationship development. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 7, 69-88.
  • Rawlins, W. K. (1992). Friendship matters: Communication, dialectics, and the life course. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

1 comment:

laura said...

amen jennie!

I have girlfriends whose entire lives revolve around their partners and that makes me shudder. i love my bf with all my heart but he is not someone i need to spend every waking second with. that's just not healthy. on the other hand i have a tendency to get too stubborn and make sure that i'm not being one of those gf of mine whose life revolves around their partners to the point where i'm the opposite. hahaha life is full of finding that happy medium isn't it?

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