Is it better to be alone or in a relationship? Should people work on themselves while by themselves or while in a relationship?
The answer differs from person to person, and changes depending on individual circumstances and within different stages of life. There are many ways to live one’s life.
For many people, the best way to develop relationship skills and learn more about themselves is within the context of a relationship — as long as it is not oppressive or abusive. When they are in the world alone, everything may seem to run smoothly without complication. But they may not be challenged. Moreover, they miss out on the many rewards of relationship.
Relationships can enrich life tremendously despite their complications and difficulties. Moreover, it is while involved in a relationship that people get triggered and thus learn to view themselves through the eyes of others. How else would you discover that you are inconsiderate, overly serious, or play the victim without someone close to you pointing it out.
Relationships thus challenge us to view ourselves from someone else’s point of view. This can drive us to improve how we move in the world and relate to others.
However, for some people — particularly for those who are too easily influenced by others or anxious to please others — being alone can be a valuable growing experience. Solitude and the freedom that comes with it allow them to find out who they are rather than merely what other people want.
For instance, someone who has been brought up in the shadow of a powerful or controlling person may have learned to become so tuned into the desires and expectations of others for the sake of survival that they actually have not considered what they themselves want in life. In such cases, it’s often helpful to enjoy solitude and avoid having someone else’s opinions and demands intrude upon their quietly developing sense of self.
Ideally we learn to consider others while maintaining a sense of ourselves. Whether we are in a relationship or not, learning to have a multi-faceted perspective helps us to balance our own desires with those of others.
In a great orchestral suite, the distinct movements are arranged to create a whole, which is greater than any individual movement. At times we hear the individual instruments or sections while at times we hear how they blend together to create unique and awe-inspiring music.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD