Freedom and Relationships

Posted on October 3rd, 2019

Our complete freedom is one of the wonderful gifts of being alive, our ability to decide totally for ourselves what we will or won’t do, with whom and when. Being in a relationship inherently limits this freedom, and conflicts about freedom are often at the center of issues in relationships.

Many people prefer living within the restrictions imposed by a relationship to the challenges of being entirely on their own in life. They may not experience the self-limiting imposed by relationship as a problem, But this does not in itself entirely resolve the issue of freedom. Even in the most harmonious relationships, conflicts about the freedom of the partners never completely end.

What do people in relationships want to be free for? Sometimes it is simply wanting to not be accountable for how they use their time. “What took you so long getting home?” Sometimes freedom is about money and spending. “I don’t want to report in to you every time I buy a sweater.” Sometimes it’s about diverging interests. “I know you don’t care about ballroom dancing, but I do, and I want you to do it with me.” Sometimes it’s being free to make their own mistakes. “I know you’re an expert on gardening. I don’t want to be an expert; I just want to do it my way and see what happens, okay?” And sometimes people want to be free just in order to feel free.

The freedom which causes the most difficulty for relationships is the freedom to be involved with another person. Any such involvement can potentially provoke concerns in a relationship, but there is a large gray area between a casual conversation with another person and a deep, ongoing emotional involvement. Each relationship has to navigate a path through this gray area, first by the partners setting out clear expectations with each other, and then by dealing with the fallout when some challenging development with another person actually occurs.

Open marriages and polyamorous relationships attempt to address this issue head-on. People in these relationships don’t want limits put on their freedom to engage with other people, sexually or relationally. They consciously allow for more ambiguity (and jealousy) regarding relationships with other people in order to increase the partners’ range of freedom. But even these relationships have limits to freedom in other areas determined by the partners, or else there is no relationship.

Similarly to open marriages, relationships which are most successful in addressing the issue of freedom begin by acknowledging that there will be conflicts. They recognize the importance of freedom for each person, and both partners work toward respecting each other’s freedom, in action rather than merely in theory. 

The conflict between freedom and the requirements of relationship can never be completely resolved, but by acknowledging it and working with it, the conflict can be productive rather than debilitating. What helps is realizing that the need for freedom is a genuine, ongoing concern which doesn’t simply vanish when relationship commitment begins.

Posted in Marriage and Couples

Please remember, this is a blog. It is not psychotherapy or treatment of any kind and is not a substitute for the individual treatment you can get from going to see a good therapist.