Do you seem to get swallowed up in relationships? Does your sense of self disappear when you’re strongly attached to someone else? This “loss of self” happens, whether you’ve been married for decades or are newly dating, when the other person or relationship becomes your identity.
You become all about the other person. Your needs get sidelined while the other person’s needs and interests take center stage. Your mission becomes making him/her happy (regardless of your own feelings). You focus on what s/he wants to do. You stop pursuing your hobbies, seeing your friends and family, and you defer to what s/he wants.
Dependency is healthy; codependency is not
Instead of being “Mary”, your identity becomes “Mary, Jim’s girlfriend” or simply “Jim’s girlfriend”. This feels good, especially during the intensity of the beginning of a relationship. In fact, this obsession of sorts is quite normal in the early stages of a new-found love. It’s not healthy, however, when it’s one-sided; when your partner isn’t equally interested in giving and pleasing you.
You may feel you’ve willingly made these compromises. Or you may not have even noticed that you were giving up parts of yourself. Often this is a pattern that’s been repeated in relationships your entire life and you may not have had a strong sense of your interests or priorities to begin with.
For others, this may have happened due to your partner’s jealousy or manipulation. In other words, you were pressured into giving up parts of yourself and you fear losing the relationship if you don’t keep him/her happy.
You can maintain your sense of self in relationships by:
- Knowing what you like and what matters to you
- Asking for what you want, rather than always deferring to his/her wants
- Spending time with your own friends and family
- Pursuing your goals
- Staying true to your values
- Making time for your hobbies and interests
- Saying “no” when something really doesn’t work or feel good to you
- Spending time by yourself
- Not keeping yourself “small” or hidden to please others
Why stay true to yourself in a relationship?
What do you imagine will happen if you keep yourself hidden in your relationships? Will your resentments grow and fester? Will this be a satisfying relationship long-term? Will you miss out on achieving your goals? Will your health suffer? Will your friends and family miss you? Will the world be deprived of your unique gifts?
Inter-dependence or healthy dependence involves two complete individuals who come together to support each other. From this inter-dependency, you develop trust and safety that helps you navigate through the world, but you’re not reliant on the other person or the relationship for your identity or self-worth. In secure relationships, partners support each other in pursuing their own interests and other friendships. They aren’t jealous or demanding. Couples need time together and time apart. In other words, loving, trusting relationships are important, but they needn’t overshadow YOU.
©2017 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo: Alisa Anton on Unsplash