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How Do You Keep Your Independence in a Strong Marriage?

Are you in the same boat or rowing two boats side by side?

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A friend and I recently found ourselves in a conversation that led to a somewhat unexpected tangent: What is the functional model of your relationship? It turns out that while we’re both women who put a strong emphasis on independence in a marriage, we take pretty different approaches to how that independence actually happens.

Example: My husband and I are both vegetarians, and so is my friend’s husband—but my friend isn’t. My husband and I decided to become vegetarians on the same day, when one of us (I don’t remember who) said they wanted to try and listed the reasons why, and the other said, “Oh hey, I like that. I’m on board.” When I related this story, my friend and I gave this approach the working title “Let me get you on board.” My friend and her husband, however, take an approach that’s more like, “You don’t bother me about my stuff, and I don’t bother you about your stuff.”

Neither of these are right or wrong; they’re just different. In our household, when it comes to the day-to-day stuff (read: not anything you’d get too riled up about), either partner can raise a point, present their reasoned argument, and potentially sway the other. In my friend’s household, both partners generally don’t get in each other’s way a whole lot. They listen respectfully, but unless they have a massive moral objection, they let their partner make their own choice. In my household, one of us wanting to buy a new computer would be a multi-level discussion that would entail lots of questions and answers: Why do you want it? How is the one we have failing? In her household, the person who wants the computer can just go get it, assuming they’ve saved their personal spending money and can afford it.

Another example: My friend asked if my husband (who is Hawaiian), has full decision making power over how much Hawaiian culture and tradition is introduced into our son’s life, how it’s introduced, and why. I immediately said, “Oh no, not at all.” In our relationship, I can completely weigh in on this topic—even though I’m not Hawaiian. Likewise, my husband can weigh in on anything I want to do with our son, even if he doesn’t have (what some might consider) the necessary qualifications to do so. This kind of balance underscores everything for us. In this specific example, there’s not anything I know of that I would disagree with, and I don’t raise objections to anything my husband wants to share with or teach our kid about Hawaiian culture and tradition (and I do fully respect his desire to do so). My friend, however, converted to Judaism when she married her husband, and as the one who is Jewish by birth, she lets him weigh in pretty heavily on rituals that are important to him. (They didn’t have a big fight about circumcision, for example, because she knew it was super important to him.) I find this fascinating, because in my house that’s just… not how it would go down.

Since we’re both pretty pleased with our marriages and home lives, and both function as strong independent women in our partnerships, I think it’s more than clear that there’s not a model that fits every marriage, and there’s no right or wrong approach to developing your own.

How do you deal with independence in your relationship? How do you deal with disagreements? what do you love about it—and what do you dislike?

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