The Problem with Individualism in Relationships

The Problem with Individualism in Relationships
Biannka Brannigan
Words by Biannka Brannigan
Photo by Blue Click Photography

In a contemporary world that frequently extols the virtues of individualism and personal triumphs, we often find ourselves ensnared in the relentless pursuit of individualism sometimes to the detriment of our interpersonal relationships.

From the nascent stages of life, society encourages the cultivation of individual self-esteem. While this emphasis on personal development is not inherently negative, it often neglects discussions about navigating individual esteem within the intricate fabric of relationships. Cultural mantras such as, “be your own person”, and “put yourself first” saturate our societal ethos, championing the intrinsic value of personal growth. However, an overemphasis on individualism can inadvertently sow seeds of discord within our relationships based on a culture of ‘me’ vs ‘you’ as opposed to ‘us’.

The Individualism Pitfall
1. Independence Over Interdependence: The relentless pursuit of heightened individual esteem frequently champions independence at the expense of interdependence, a fundamental component of thriving relationships.
2. Keeping Score: The hyperfocus on individualism can lead to competition-like discourse in relationships where we keep a scorecard of things like for example, ‘me time activities’, ‘financial spending’, ‘work intensity’, ‘time away with friends’ and so on. In keeping score, racking up penalties for poor behaviour and so on, you are setting yourself up for a host of negative feelings, unpleasant exchanges and possible resentment.
3. Lack of Empathy: A fixation on individualism has the potential to diminish our capacity for empathy and understanding within relationships. It becomes arduous to genuinely comprehend and validate a partner’s emotions when our primary focus is on self-preservation, even if that means shielding ourselves from potential hurt and pain.

The Shift to Relational Esteem
Relational esteem is a paradigm shift, redirecting the spotlight from individual success to the success of the relationship itself. It acknowledges that a thriving partnership necessitates both individuals feeling valued and appreciated within the intricate dance of togetherness.

Understanding Relational Esteem
1. Interdependence: Relational esteem extols the virtue of striking a delicate balance between individuality and shared connection in healthy relationships, recognising the interwoven nature of our partner’s well-being.
2. Empathy and Connection: Relational esteem assigns a premium to empathy and emotional connection, actively seeking to understand our partner’s feelings and experiences to nurture emotional intimacy.
3. Mutual Growth: Relational esteem champions the notion that both partners can evolve in tandem, supporting each other’s personal development while nurturing the organic growth of the relationship.

While individual esteem is undeniably important for us, a conscious shift towards relational esteem has the transformative potential to shift a relationship from a competitive arena into a harmonious partnership, fostering deeper emotional connections and mutual growth. By recognising the intrinsic value of interdependence, empathy and shared goals, couples can build a resilient foundation of relational esteem that sustains love and intimacy. Moving towards a more robust and fulfilling relationship, it is imperative to embrace the collective strength of “us” alongside the individuality of “me”.

If you would like support in building relational esteem in your relationship, connect with Biannka Brannigan Couples Therapist – or email