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What about Autonomy as a couple? How do we do things our own way and enjoy happy, healthy relationships without feeling like we need to ‘keep up with the Joneses’?

I think there are three key ways.

As we’ve seen in this chapter, the pressures of modern life are giving us less and less time to spend together in our relationship. That’s something that can be addressed by prioritizing time and interests together. I’ve found that sharing similar experiences can help strengthen that sense of Autonomy. Aida and I try to watch a play together at least once a month, and are greedy with my parents’ offer to keep the kids on Friday. Where possible – and especially now that Aida is training to be a psychotherapist – we try to read similar books. Aida has helped suggest some interesting research articles for this book, for example.

The second way we achieve Autonomy is by developing a sense of identity from being a couple, apart from our kids – something that’s becoming increasingly hard in the age of ‘helicopter parenting’ (more on this in the next chapter). Aida and I actively try to meet other couples who either don’t have kids, or who don’t just want to talk about their kids! Wherever possible, Friday evenings become ‘kid free’ zones – both physically and emotionally.

The third thing we should do is develop a greater sense of Autonomy for each individual within the relationship. Richard Ryan concludes on the basis of dozens of studies: ‘Individuals report feeling more securely attached to, and more emotionally reliant on, partners who are more supportive of their autonomy, and when the autonomy support is mutual, the results are most positive for most relationships.’ Perhaps a way to maintain Autonomy for a couple is to maintain deep friendships and some separate interests or passions on each side. I have a group of guy friends I’ve known since our university days, and they’ve supported me through all the many iterations of my life.