How Not to Lose Yourself in a Relationship
Healthy relationships bring a lot of gains, but those plusses aren’t worth much if you lose your sense of self in the process.
You’ve been single for a while and finally think you’ve met “the one.” You want to commit, but not if it means losing the independence you’ve enjoyed since your days with Mr. Wrong-for-You. Whether you’ve lost your sense of self in a relationship before or want to prevent it from ever happening, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the fruits of romantic partnership without going sour yourself.
1. Schedule Independent Time, No Matter What
Time together as a couple is important, but if you never break away for solo time, you and your relationship could suffer. Janet Zinn, LCSW, a couples therapist in New York City, suggests carving out time to nurture your wellness as a powerful way to maintain your independence. “When you care for your physical well-being, you are more in touch with how you’re doing and less reliant on your partner to make you feel good about yourself,” she said. Go for a hike, get a massage or schedule acupuncture sessions.
2. Prioritize Your Friends and Family
If you’re seeing a lot of your partner and little of friends and family, it may be time to reprioritize. While it’s natural to desire ample one-on-one time in a relationship, especially early on, maintaining a sense of self requires making time for other relationships as well. “We learned who we are by virtue of the experiences we’ve had and the people we love,” said Shadeen Francis, MFT, a marriage and family therapist in Philadelphia. Nurturing what Francis calls “identity contributors” can help you stay connected with yourself — and prevent you from losing important friendships.
3. Don’t Stalk Your Partner on Social Media
It can be tempting to see what your partner is up to when you’re apart, but perpetually scrolling through their Instagram and Twitter feeds to observe their every move and interaction isn’t healthy. “In the same way that it would feel inappropriate to spend your day following your partner around in real life, maintain similar boundaries on the internet,” said Francis, adding that you may be surprised by how much time and energy doing so can take. “We don’t have the attentional resources to juggle focusing on our own journey and following theirs.” A study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking in 2013 linked excess Facebook time with negative relationship outcomes, including divorce.
4. Know Yourself
It’s a lot easier to lose yourself in a relationship if you aren’t self-aware to begin with. Lisa Herman, Psy.D., LP, licensed psychologist and founder of Synergy eTherapy, considers addressing this the most important step in maintaining your authenticity. “It sounds simple, but for the vast majority of people, taking time to explore oneself in a more intimate way is low on the priority list,” she said. “There is so much going on in a day, we are usually on autopilot.” Slowing down to get better acquainted with yourself allows you to better express your wants and needs, she added. Take time to meditate, journal or simply check in with yourself more often.
5. Make Sure You Aren’t Always Changing Your Schedule or Interests
You’ve probably seen it in rom-coms. Someone makes it all the way to the altar, having pretended they shared the same interests as their betrothed simply to keep the relationship alive. While potentially entertaining, this scenario is best saved for the big screen. “It is great to have things in common, [but] forcing yourself to participate in or take on interests you don’t actually enjoy will ultimately make you feel miserable and resentful,” said Shadeen Francis, a marriage and family therapist. Rather than shift your life around to accommodate your partner, schedule time for personal pleasures and encourage your partner to do the same.
6. Respect Your Partner’s Individuality
While you’re respecting your own wants and needs, it’s important to respect your partner’s. “If we give to others what they need, whether it be time alone, a night with friends, to join them on a nature walk — even if it’s not your thing — then we are fostering a healthy, interdependent dynamic built on trust, acceptance and autonomy,” said licensed psychologist Dr. Lisa Herman. Cutting your partner enough slack to pursue his or her own interests and hobbies outside of the relationship also gives you time to focus on your own. As a bonus, you’ll have more to talk about and can even live vicariously through each other’s adventures.
7. Strive for Personal Goals
Supporting your partner’s goals can strengthen your relationship, but not if you sacrifice your own in the process. “Some partners allow their personal dreams to become less important than their partner’s as an unconscious strategy to avoid the risks, effort and fears associated with getting out there,” said Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Santa Rosa, California. This can damage self-confidence, life satisfaction and personal growth. To dodge these risks, Manly suggests setting and staying committed to your own important, achievable goals — such as an exercise plan, career aspiration or creative project. As a bonus, it works both ways. Relationship happiness may boost your odds of goal-reaching success.
8. Starting Where You Are
If you’re already starting to feel lost within a relationship, make positive change a priority. It’s never too late to take steps to lead a fuller or more authentic life. Talk to your partner about your concerns. If doing either seems daunting or impossible, consider seeking support from a qualified professional. Your happiness and well-being are worth it.
What Do YOU Think?
What steps do you take to maintain a sense of self within a relationship? What related lessons have you learned the hard way? Let us know in the comments!