A friend of mine called me “emotionally independent” the other day, and I smiled. It wasn’t always this way. When I was divorced the first time, I blamed it on my husband– he was a wingnut. When I divorced the second time, I questioned myself; he was a nice guy. Our marriage wasn’t healthy, but it wasn’t because of any moral failings. Realizing I made a poor choice, I sought counseling. Our relationships had been codependent; the only way of life I knew. I changed that with counseling. I learned stronger boundaries and the concept that not everything is my business. I learned that I don’t have to fix everything that’s wrong in the world — only those things that are my responsibility. The new rules were quite a relief.
How do you know if you are emotionally independent? Deepak Chopra said that, “What other people think of you is none of your business. ” If you can live by this philosophy, you are well on your way to emotional independence. It is, simply, living by your own standards, not for the approval of others. I have a strong inner compass and I have high expectations for myself, whether they match what others think I should do or not.
For example, I stopped wearing clothing that isn’t comfortable to me, even if it is “fashionable.” I was supportive of my (third and final) husband and children, but would not be shamed into doing something just because it was some random person’s priority. I began saying “no” a lot. I found a way to volunteer meaningfully at my child’s school, but I couldn’t be roped into the bake sale that would net very little money and require a lot of effort from me. If the other moms criticized me, I let it roll off; it didn’t shape my life.
In this final marriage, it meant that I had to speak up when something was not okay. I couldn’t act like I didn’t care while it festered and putrefied emotionally, year after year. It meant not being needy and clingy. If my current husband had to go on business travel, I learned to say good-bye, hike up my big girl panties and handle everything without him. I’d been a single mom for several years; I knew how to do it. There was no need to be angry or hurt that he was leaving; he did it because he was good at his job, not because he wanted to leave. I was capable and could function without his constant attention.
I still love my current husband and adult children, while recognizing that we each have our own responsibilities for our lives. Our lives intersect and overlap in a wonderful, healthy way that enriches us all. My happiness doesn’t depend upon their approval of me – it focuses on our love and the fullness of our connections.