Approaching a milestone birthday inevitably forces us to evaluate what we've achieved and where we feel we've fallen short — both personally and professionally. In a recent interview with British Vogue, actress Emma Watson said one thing she's made peace with as she nears her 30th birthday is her current relationship status. "It took me a long time, but I'm very happy [being single]. I call it being self-partnered," she said.
What does that mean, exactly? Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist based in California sees merit the idea. Manly describes the relationship status this way: "self-partnering focuses on the ideal of being happy and complete as a solo individual. A self-partnered person would feel whole and fulfilled within the self and does not feel compelled to seek fulfillment through having another person as a partner." That doesn't necessarily mean a self-partnered person doesn't date or never hopes to get married someday. It's that they're taking the time to know themselves first. "To be truly self-partnered, one must often invest a great deal of time and energy on personal development," says Manly.
Why re-framing relationship status is trending now
Watson isn't the first celebrity to shift what's normally viewed as a negative relationship status into a positive. In 2014, Gwyneth Paltrow used the term "conscious uncoupling" to describe her divorce from Coldplay singer Chris Martin. Why has reclaiming these terms become a trend now? "There’s a big shift in renaming the terms of relationships because there’s also a huge shift towards individuality in younger generations who are no longer wanting to be defined by the standards of traditional generations," explains Travis McNulty, a therapist practicing in Florida.
When Emma Watson and Gwenyth Paltrow come out and use phrases like 'self-partnered' and 'conscious uncoupling', it challenges the psychological implications and narratives behind the phrases being 'single' and 'getting a divorce'.
"People form opinions based off of labels traditionally used to define a person’s relationship status, but when Emma Watson and Gwyneth Paltrow come out and use phrases like 'self-partnered' and 'conscious uncoupling', it challenges the psychological implications and narratives behind the phrases being 'single' and 'getting a divorce'," McNulty continues. "These terms remove the stigma associated with someone who may identify as either of these and ultimately lets people know, 'I’m OK.'"
How to truly be 'self-partnered'
Greater focus on personal goals, more emotional energy for friends and family and being free of the social burden of "needing" to find a partner are just a few benefits Manly says come with being self-partnered. However, you'll only reap these if you do the work to get there. And that goes for folks in relationships, too. "The work involved in being self-partnered is helpful for every individual — whether they are in a relationship or not," says Manly. And as long as your partner is supportive in your pursuit, Manly says some of the best self-work can be done within a conscious, loving relationship.
- Strive to love your own company. "Although it’s normal and healthy to want to be with others, it’s important to also nurture feeling at ease without others — and loving your time alone," says Manly. "Whether it’s eating out solo, going to a movie alone, reading books or volunteering on your own, your self-esteem grows when you consciously learn to love your own company."
- Start journaling. "You can learn so much about yourself — your strengths and weaknesses — by devoting quiet time each morning or evening to write a few, unfiltered paragraphs in a private journal," says Manly. "Different from motivational or to-do lists, this journaling is all about learning more about who you are without judgment."
- Evaluate the types of people you're drawn to. "If you find that your relationships have had a certain unhealthy theme (e.g., codependency, emotional abuse, etc.), take the time to engage in psychotherapy or bibliotherapy to determine why you are drawn into such patterns," says Manly. "By using the dynamics of former, failed relationships to learn more about yourself — your own part in unhealthy patterns — you will learn a great deal about yourself." For those who are in relationships, Manly says to explore the role vulnerability and interdependency play in your partnership. "These factors are often left somewhat unaddressed in self-partner work given that it does take two people — two partners — to experience the deep fears and resulting growth that can occur as vulnerability and interdependency are explored." If these conversations feel too difficult to navigate, Manly says working with a relationship therapist can help.
- Join a confidential group. "Particularly if you can’t afford personal psychotherapy, confidential groups can be an amazing source of support and an excellent forum for self-work," says Manly. In the group Manly runs, many women have noted that this kind of support has helped them achieve self-improvement by sharing with others in a safe space. "Such groups allow participants to learn from others and become more confident, self-aware and empowered. All of these elements are key to feeling (and being) self-partnered."
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