There were times, when I have been accused of being too tolerant partner. That I have given too much freedom and failed to control my partner. I have been also accused of being too controlling, asking too many questions and not trusting enough. Thus, the idea of freedom in a relationship is very important for me and very complex. What is this thing called freedom in a relationship? Where are the boundaries between giving somebody freedom and being too tolerant? Can it be too much freedom? Does love exclude freedom? How freedom affects closeness between partners? When my question about my partners plans for an evening are simple engagement in his life and when it is an interrogation? If I say, that I do not want him to spend a Saturday night with a newly met friend (a girl), is it a constraint of his privacy, or is it establishing the boundaries which for me should not be crossed?
Tadeusz Niwiński in a book ‘My, czyli jak być razem’ (We, how to be together) says that all our life is based on making agreements. We want to get something and propose something else in exchange. A good agreement means that both sides achieve something and both sides are satisfied. A marriage, or a partnership, are also kind of an agreement. We offer something, expecting that our partner will fulfill our expectation. We give our time, engagement and expect the same from the other side. In a good agreement the conditions are written clearly and are acceptable for both sides. If my relationship is a kind of agreement I need to specify what exactly I expect from it and what can I offer in exchange. I should also very carefully check what are the expectation of my partner and decide if I am able to fulfill them. The better we know what we want from a relationship, and the better we understand what our partner expects from it the more chances we have to build a happy partnership, in which both sides win. How is it connected with freedom? Simply. We all have freedom of choice, we can choose to be with this particular person and to fulfill her or his expectations or decide not to enter this relationship. And we have to be aware that the conditions of the agreement can be changed (after all, we talk about long-term relationship). The only thing that we can actually do in such situation is to reevaluate the contract and decide if we still can be a part of it. If we can still accept the things our partner proposed and be happy with it. We need to answer ourselves the question: can I accept the new version of you? Can I still be happy with you on the new conditions which you propose and make a decision. How is the idea of contract connected with a romantic view of love (he looked at her and the Earth has shaken, she looked at him and immediately new that this is the one, her Prince Charming). Probably it is not connected at all, unfortunately. But being honest, the best relations I know did not started with an earthquake (those usually finish with tsunami), but developed step by step, when every meeting brings a conviction that the more you get to know this person, the more you want to get to know her, even for the rest of your life.
The real obstacles show up of course much later, when the contract has been covered in dust. In the first phase of a relationship, you want to know everything about your partner and want to tell him or her about every detail of your life. For some time, no friends meeting, no course or job is partly that interested as your partner. You want to be all the time together, do everything together. The need for autonomy comes later. It is perfect if this need comes to both partner at the same time and with the same strength. In the real life it is very unprobable. Bogdan de Barbaro in an interview with Agnieszka Jucewicz and Grzegorz Sroczyński (book ‘Kochaj wystarczająco dobrze’ – Love good enough) says about closeness:
In relationships it is very rare that both parters has the same optimal closeness. Because they inherit different closeness from their homes. If one was in a symbiotic relation with a parent, and the other one was used to freedom, now they have to negotiate and determine their new proximity, if they want to be together. The fact that one of them wants more freedom, does not mean that he or she does not love. It only means that they have different needs and that they learnt different patterns.
So, the only thing we can do, is to ‘negotiate’ the best conditions for our relationship. If one of the partners for years has been meeting his high school friends on Thursday night evenings, we cannot ask him to stop without any serious reason. Or if we start a relationship with a traveler or sports fun, who a lot of his time spend on his passion we cannot expect that he will give up it for us. However, it does not mean that our passions and customs from single time remains unchanged. On the opposite, it has to change. The key to success is to establish new rules in such a way that they are satisfactory for both partners.
We cannot talk about freedom in a relationship without talking about what relations we can have with the opposite sex. Can I like somebody else? Can I still have a male friend, or should I stick to female friends? When my partner talks with his female friend about his problems, which he does not share with me, does it mean that he is cheating on me? How close relations we can have with others to be still loyal to our partner? Bogdan de Barbaro says:
It depends on intentions. If she during a conversation will start believing that nobody else in the world can listen to her and understand her as her male friend, and he will start believing that she really has problems and her husband is a real jerk, then it is wrong. (…) It is all about a hint of possession: I want to be special for somebody else. Then it is no longer clean. It also depends a lot on the things we are talking about. The issues concerning relations with my wife should be excluded from the conversation. I would feel disloyal talking about that with a female friend.
There is also a question of controlling your partner. Am I allowed to do it? Is keeping my finger on the pulse is beneficial for me? Can it protect me from being hurt?
If I trust, I can be betrayed, hurt and cheated on. It is true. But I have deep conviction that naivety is better than suspicions. Although I had once a patient, who I convinced to go this way in his life, and it appeared that he with all his suspicions was right and as a result he was seriously cheated on by various people. It was my mistake. We concluded that you should be suspicious when you know that something is really threatens you. (…)
Checking phone messages, e-mails, Facebook account, interrogations, driving your partner everywhere to be sure that he goes to the office not on a date… I know that some people do that, but it must be really tiresome.
Unsure, controlling partner has to at some point take a risk of not controlling and see that nothing bad happens.
I still do not have answers to my questions. Nobody will tell me where should I put a line between a freedom and disloyalty and disrespect. It must be my decision and decision of my partner. Talking to each other, being aware and respectful for each other feelings, we need to set our boundaries. Only we can write down the conditions of our agreement.
Tadeusz Niwiński ‘My, czyli jak być razem’, Wydawnictwo ‘Ravi’, Łódź 2003
Agnieszka Jucewicz, Grzegorz Sroczyński ‘ Kochaj wystarczająco dobrze’, Agora, Warszawa 2015 (my own translations)