10 Small But Powerful Ways To Stay Independent In A Relationship (And Build A Stronger, Deeper Love)

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how to have a healthy relationship
Love, Self

Being in a relationship doesn't have to mean letting go of who you are.

The beginning stages of a relationship are like walking into a cave full of glitter, roses, and lots of sex. But eventually, once we understand how to have a healthy relationship, we must emerge from that cave with our eyes squinting at the light and rejoin the world. 

We send messages to friends and family, letting them know we haven't died or joined a cult. We once again find independence and go back to the activities we used to do, like tennis or pole dancing (the workout, not the strip show). 

At least, this is what we're supposed to do. Most women, however, find themselves turning their lives upside down for that new guy in their life.

He's the one with eyes so beautiful you melt like warm butter every time he looks at you. She gives up every hobby and her friends put her picture on a milk carton. Eventually, she no longer recognizes herself when she looks in the mirror. 

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With her entire life forgotten, she clings to her man like her life depends on it. This is not what healthy relationships look like! What happens? I'm sure you can already see where this is going.

That man she's totally crazy about starts to think she may actually be "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" and he begins to plot his escape while he tries not to pass out from suffocation. With every step he takes to get away, she starts to freak out and squeeze even tighter until he's disappeared so quickly she wonders if she imagined him. 

How can you keep this from happening to you? By acting like you're single. Every time you feel yourself starting to become clingy (and let's be honest, you know when you are), imagine what you would do if this man didn't exist, and go do it. Here's how.

1. Retain your social life.

Please, for the love of pasta, do not abandon your friends. They were there for you long before your boyfriend appeared on the scene, and they don't deserve to be treated like expired goods from the supermarket. 

So, if your friend calls you on Saturday night and asks you to go out dancing, go! Don't tell her that you are staying in to sit around in your onesie and fight with your boyfriend over what movie to watch on Netflix. Put on your favorite slutty top and go. If anything, it will have the added perk of making him a little jealous, which is never a bad thing. 

2. Get your butt to the gym.

Do not abandon yoga, Pilates, running, tap dancing, or whatever you enjoy doing that keeps you fit. Weight gain in relationships is real, and if you sit on the couch every night eating Ben and Jerry's just because you're in a relationship, it won't last long. 

Exercising and keeping fit will keep your man attracted to you (yes, that does matter). Do you really want to get to a a point where even Ben and Jerry are averting their eyes when they look at you?

3. Travel the world solo.

Solo female travel is on the rise, and if this isn't your thing, ask a friend to tag along. You don't need to travel to Paris and stay at The Ritz for two weeks either. You can just as easily take an overnight trip to a city two hours away.  

Anything that puts you in a new environment is great for your mental well-being, and a trip has the added benefit of making your boyfriend say, "I'm so lonely here without you." What woman doesn't get a smug smile on her face when she hears that?

4. Do things by yourself.

If you cringe at the thought of this, then you really need to do it. I don't mean binge-eating double stuffed Oreos while you sit in dirty sweatpants and don't shower for three days (nobody should see that). I mean going out to eat or to the movies completely solo. 

Trust me, this can be such a liberating experience. Will people stare and say, "Oh no, that poor friendless loser! Why is she alone?" Maybe yes, and maybe no, but in the big picture of your life, does it really matter? You do you. 

5. Don't neglect school or your career.

Do you know what men find truly sexy? A woman who chases her dreams. A woman who is successful and focuses on her goals. She brings home the bacon and cooks it. But don't be mistaken  you don't need to be the next Mark Zuckerberg.

If you're a secretary just starting out, or even if you're a waitress, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you can stand on your own two feet. You're an independent woman who has a fulfilling life, and you can support yourself with or without a man. 

RELATED: 5 HEALTHY Ways To Love Him (Without Completely Losing Yourself)

6. Keep your unique hobbies and habits.

These are the essence of who you are. When you first start dating a guy, he falls in love with the odd quirks and interesting hobbies you have. To stop doing these things just to please him or spend time with him would be to lose who you are. 

Don't lose yourself, because eventually you'll become so depleted that you will look to your boyfriend every time you need entertainment or attention. He wants a girlfriend/partner, not a dog from the shelter. 

7. Stick to your plans.

Ever heard the common advice that you should make a man "chase you"? It's become such typical advice that now all I can picture is a lady moose quietly walking through the forest as her hunter boyfriend stalks her; it's just plain weird. 

Instead of trying to force a guy to "chase you" by making an effort to get his attention (which, by the way, totally negates the idea itself), make your own plans and stick to them. So many women drop what they're doing every time their boyfriend wants to do something.

Don't be the girl who gives up a coffee date with her friend just to go watch a guy play Call of Duty in his underwear (and if this is your boyfriend, maybe you should consider dumping him anyway).

8. Put effort into your appearance.

It would be nice if looks made no difference. They aren't the only thing that matters, but they do matter some. Would you date a guy you had zero attraction to? Exactly. 

When we're single, we tend to put way more effort into our appearances because we're still trying to find someone. We present our best selves to the world and potential partners. 

Once you're in a relationship, doesn't your boyfriend deserve your best self as well? Not only that, but by grooming your eyebrows, spraying on some perfume, and wearing a flattering outfit, you will feel good about yourself

Even better, throw on your hottest dress, strut past your man, and tell him you're going out with the girls. He won't be able to stop thinking about you all night. 

9. Flirt with other men.

I'm not telling you to go crazy and flirt with every guy you see or do anything that would be considered cheating. You should absolutely be loyal to your man. But if the cute barista at your neighborhood Starbucks engages you in a bit of flirty banter, there is nothing wrong with that.

Harmless flirting gives you confidence and that "I've still got it" mentality. This kind of attitude is something you can bring to your relationship. Not only that, but a little flirting is like taking a really good yoga class: it will give you a healthy glow. 

10. Remain true to yourself.

While this sounds like the cliché advice your mom gave you in high school, it's also true. Women tend to change a lot about themselves in order to suit a man's needs. If he likes sporty blondes, she will dye her hair and take up Taekwondo. If he likes big breasts, she'll save up and get plastic surgery. 

By changing yourself to suit his taste, you will only turn him off in your desperation, and it will make you unhappy. Find a guy who appreciates every part of you, including your face without makeup in the morning. 

Once you understand how to have a healthy relationship, acting like you're single will not only make your man crazy about you, but it will also make you happier. Being your best self in a relationship is being your best self, period. 

RELATED: Why It's TOTALLY Normal To Lose Yourself In Love

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Sarah Veldman is a writer who focuses on lifestyle topics for women, personal development, love/relationships, and travel. After traveling the world, she settled in Netherlands with her very own Dutchie (though still considers herself a part-time nomad).