Academy of Indian Philosophy

The Illusion of Independence in Relationships

In the realm of relationships, Independence does not exist.

What is Independence?

Dependence is a state of “needing”. Let us define independence, rather pure independence, as a state in which a given individual does not depend on anyone or anything. Therefore, the individual does not need anything from anyone or anything. This definition, in itself, is impossible because we need food, water, shelter, clothing and much more. Let us use the narrower term, pure social independence as the state in which an individual does not need another person, organization or social influence. Still, this definition is impossible because to live in society, we are reliant on governments, banks, jobs and larger organizations. Therefore, let us further narrow this definition into pure relationship independence as the state in which an individual does not need another’s psychological validation. From here on, when we mention independence, understand that we are referring to pure relationship independence.

When we are defining independence, the most important question is “On what?” This inquiry does not base independence on “survival.” We are not asking the question: In a relationship, is it possible to be independent in survival. If this were the question, it would end the conversation and the answer would likely be “yes”. Instead, we are asking a more crucial question: In a relationship, is it possible to be independent in one’s internal state. After all, when an individual says “I am independent” in the context of a relationship, he/she is not likely referring to survival, but rather the individual ego’s expression of self-reliance or autonomy.

What is Desire?

Does an independent relationship exist? We commonly hear the expressions: “I am independent.” “I do not care what others think of me.” “I do not need anyone’s approval.” “No one can tell me what to do.” I am my own person.” “I do not rely on anyone. Most importantly, we hear “I am in an independent relationship with X.”

This requires us to understand the nature of desire. First, what is desire? Desire is a phenomenon in which the individual “wants” something. In desire, the internal state of the individual depends on the outcome of the result. If I desire chocolate and I attain it, I am temporarily satisfied. If I do not get it, I may feel frustration, depending upon the strength and intensity of the desire. Therefore, a part of me, my internal state, depends on the result of desire.

In the restless search for a romantic relationship, what draws us to specific people? On the first date, I see a highly attractive, intelligent, charming partner who relates to my conversations and understands me as a person. On the second date I see a highly attractive, intelligent, charming partner who does NOT relate to my conversations and does NOT understand me as a person. Although both attract me, to a certain extent the first attracts me more.

The main question here is: What does beauty, intelligencecharm and understanding in a partner do for me? Beauty is pleasurable to the eyes and a great trophy. Intelligence provides for thought provoking conversations, life changing views and better job prospects. What does understanding do? This can be answered by asking the question: How do I feel around a person who understands me? Chances are that I feel significantly better around someone who understands me versus someone who does not. The cause of this feeling and most importantly, the root of understanding is validation.

What is Validation

Validation is the phenomenon in which an individual’s internal world, specifically ego,  set of beliefs about oneself (I am intelligent, I am charming, I am loving) is given acknowledgement and proven to be true. When I am validated, my belief is in other words, true. Validation has two components: Acknowledgement and Agreement. Acknowledgement is a component but not validation in its entirety. Think of two scenarios. In scenario I, your date acknowledges you. In scenario II, your date enthusiastically acknowledges and agrees with you.

Scenario I: “I see where you are coming from, I understand.”

Scenario II:  “I see where you are coming from, and yes, that makes sense, I agree!”

To most people, the second scenario is more pleasurable. However, some say “I like people who disagree with me because they help me grow.” Sure, maybe, but it is not the disagreement that attracts you, it is the first component of validation, acknowledgement, plus the disagreement, yielding a new world-view that compels you. If there is an absence of acknowledgement with the presence of disagreement, yielding a new world-view, would you really like disagreement as much as you say? Validation as the root of understanding is one of the causes for the “feel-good” emotions emerging from partner X.

Therefore, understand that in any given relationship, there is validation from the significant other. The significant other is affirming your internal experience by his/her statements and actions. Now, this does not mean that the significant other is doing or saying anything. For instance, your partner does not have to say “You’re beautiful” “You’re intelligent” “You’re a great girlfriend” for you to feel validated. Just the simple act of them being with you, not lying to you, not cheating on you, not disagreeing with you and not misunderstanding you can serve to be validation. Therefore, what appears to be inaction is in reality, an action that serves as validation. One must understand this very subtle form of validation. Even a simple smile or nod could serve this very function.

It is this “feeling” or validation we derive and consistently want from our significant other. Note that although we do not overtly ask for it, we are subtly demanding it. How do we test this claim? If there is ANY form of pain, disappointment, dissatisfaction, sadness, anxiety or fear in a relationship, this is an indication of an unfulfilled desire. If there was a desire in the first place (emotionally), there was a need for validation. If there was a need for validation, there was a yearning for dependence.  Therefore, as long as an individual has a desire for another whether emotionally or physically, the individual wants validation in the form of pleasure, happiness and affirmation from the significant other. As long as there is a desire for validation the individual is always dependent on the significant other. In any given relationship, specifically romance, independence does not exist. Independence is an illusion.

“I just like them for who they are.” If you believe this, I urge you to honestly inquire into this statement. I suggest that there is a certain part of who they are that makes YOU feel good.

Now we must understand, that in any given relationship, not only romance, we are dependent on the individual. A son is dependent on his parents, a daughter is dependent on hers. A friend is dependent on a friend. Even in the smallest and transient relationships, there is psychological dependence. 

Once again, if you are saying that you are independent because you do not need another person to survive or sustain yourself, then you are correct. If you say that you are in a psychologically and emotionally independent relationship, you are not because the nature of any relationship has desire, and with desire there is always dependence.

The Dangers of Validation

Know that as I write this post, I am imagining readers understanding me. Therefore, I too, am dependent on an audience. The audience that I imagine, modifies my words, sentences, paragraphs and on a greater magnitude, intentions. Validation is why we run to our cell phones when they buzz, take a longer path on a good hair day hoping to be seen, wear overly expensive clothes, act phony, get into horrible relationships, mindlessly argue and much more. In essence, we put our self-worth in others.

The intentionally and unintentionally withheld validation from a significant other and materialistically minded associations is probably one of the greatest destructive forces to wisdom, personal achievement, success, strength and peace of mind. In other words, that “yes” that we so desperately desire from others, can utterly destroy us. We can become slaves to what others think and feel about us. In the pursuit of a girl’s affection, boss’s approval, parents’ love, we can run marathons in hell.

“Ok, so I want to be independent then, I do not want to be a slave, what do I do? How can I be attached to others and still be independent?”

You cannot.

To become independent you must renounce the desire for validation. To renounce the desire for validation, you must become blissfully detached from others. What does this mean? We will continue in another post.


-Hemal P. Trivedi

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