For many people, it’s hard to know what a healthy relationship really is. Often, we didn’t have good role models when it came to relationships. And consequently, we have a lot of struggles in our own interpersonal relationships.
We often get so caught up in taking care of other people that we lose ourselves in the process. In contrast, a healthy relationship allows both people to maintain their independent and authentic selves while creating a healthy interdependence (rather than codependence). In other words, you remain separate yet connected to your partner.
I’m happy to welcome Stefanie Flores back to Happily Imperfect as the author of this guest post on maintaining your sense of self in relationships.
3 Ways You Lose Yourself In Relationships
Navigating our way in and out of relationships can be sticky work. Often, people are not inclined to be honest about their role in heartbreak. It’s always easier to blame the other person. And if you are codependent, you may jump from one relationship to another without learning more about yourself or fully healing.
Has anyone ever told you that you “become” your significant other?
Do you feel like you morph into the other person and lose who you used to be?
How can you remain yourself, yet still connect deeply with your partner?
Let’s look at three ways people lose themselves in relationships.
When people are unsure of their worth or try too hard to be liked, they can exhibit people-pleasing behaviors. They say “yes” when they mean “no” and neglect their values in order to satisfy others. This behavior is common in the workplace and in intimate relationships. If you have these tendencies, you may find yourself neglecting your needs and wants for fear of upsetting your boss or partner.
In an abusive relationship, people-pleasing may be a means of survival, but it can also lead to resentment. Resentment builds when you are doing things for others, but having your needs neglected. People-pleasers don’t talk about their goals, values or emotional needs. Yet these qualities are essential in a healthy relationship. A partner should be open and non-judgmental, as well as curious about their loved one’s needs and interested in trying to meet them.
Abandoning Your Previous Life
Especially in the beginning of a new relationship, some people abandon who they used to be and what used to make them happy. It is completely okay to still pursue your hobbies, goals, and interests in your new relationship. You shouldn’t completely abandon your previous life to become a part of your partner’s.
A frequent term used in couples counseling is “enmeshment.” Imagine locking your two hands together. When the fingers overlap, the two separate hands become dependent on each other. Enmeshment is being too connected or embroiled in another person’s life. This is not healthy and can cause each partner to crumble hard.
What happens when your sweetie wants to enjoy a girls or guys weekend away from you? Will you feel completely lost and bored? Or will you support their space and take time for your own self-care? If your single life included healthy pro-social activities you should bring that into your new relationship. If you enjoy hiking and your spouse doesn’t, who cares? He or she is not forced to join you and shouldn’t make you feel bad for having your own interests.
Confusing Assertiveness With Being Controlling
Losing your identity in relationships isn’t just about being passive. Some partners may feel they have to be aggressive or controlling in order to hold on to their significant other.
Assertiveness, or speaking up for yourself, is an essential skill for anyone, regardless of relationship status. Being assertive isn’t the same as being a “jerk” or trying to control or dominate another person. While the controlling behavior behind domestic abuse is beyond the scope of this article, you can contact thehotline.org for additional information.
Generally, trying to control someone reflects feelings of insecurity, enmeshment, and a lack of respect for yourself or others.
Where did you learn that control equals love? Did you see this in your parents’ relationship or in a previous romantic relationship of your own?
How would your relationship change if you eased up on your partner?
Do you have a fear of abandonment or being alone?
These are questions to consider and possibly explore with a therapist if you have patterns of controlling behavior. Entering a new relationship won’t cure your insecurities and efforts to be in control; they’ll continue to show up in your relationships until you learn to accept and change them.
Tips for Increasing Authenticity in Your Relationships:
- Identify activities you want to do alone and do them! For example, clothes shopping, visiting a bookstore, going to a cultural event, etc.
- Practice saying “no” to the little things before moving on to the big “no’s”! It will be uncomfortable at first but you’ll get used to it.
- Talk about your needs and make suggestions regularly in your relationship. For example, does your partner always choose the restaurant on the weekends? Do you get a choice in what movies or Netflix programs you watch? If you feel like sushi this weekend, speak up. You may be giving your partner a welcome break from always making decisions.
- Make a personal bucket list of hobbies and interests and check in on your progress every month.
- Continue to see your friends and family, regardless of whether your partner can join you. Many times if one person in the relationship doesn’t want to attend a function, neither of them attends. This can signal enmeshment.
Relationships should add value and enjoyment to our lives. We can join in our sweetheart’s favorite pastimes and invite them into ours. But co-existing side-by-side means we are respectful of our own needs, our partner’s needs, and are comfortable enough to be assertive, set boundaries, and maintain our authentic selves without fear of being abandoned.
About the author:
Stefanie Flores is a Licensed Clinical Drug and Alcohol Counselor in Las Vegas. If she could bottle up self-care and sell it online, she would. But until then, she blogs about self-care, empowerment, and lifestyle topics at thefocusonyou.com. She has experience working with domestic abuse survivors, the prison population, and juvenile justice. Feel free to follow her inspirational memos and posts on her social media pages: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
©2017 Stefanie Flores. All rights reserved.