8 Things To Do If You’re Losing Your Sense Of Self In A Relationship
“‘til death do us part” comes with a lot of hidden expectations. How easy it is to swoon into the arms of “we,” gradually forgetting that you were once (and still are) an “I,” a “me.” You may not even notice that you’re losing your sense of self in a relationship, especially if you’re married. But living into a balance of “me” and “we” is essential for happiness when you’re living as a couple.
Place the word “self” before any other meritorious word — awareness, worth, confidence — and you may be tricked into believing that you are selfish.
The truth, however, is that these “self-components” are foundational to your capacity to love…and to be consciously, intentionally selfless.
And yet, they are often the first sacrifices on the chopping block when you decide to commit your life to another person.
Why is that? Why do so many people pack their “selves” away into long-term storage when they fall in love, and especially when they get married?
We professionals who are devoted to healing the wounds and mishaps of couplehood consciously treat the marriage or relationship as its own precious — and primary — entity.
And yet, we never, ever advocate for losing your sense of self in a relationship.
Relationships involve the constant tension of give-and-take in pursuit of self-, other-, and relational fulfillment.
There is, of course, a “sweet spot” that falls somewhere near the middle of a “fine line” when it comes to the surrender of self for the good of the “we.”
Compromise and negotiation are necessary for any relationship to flourish. And, when couples employ these skills in a context of love, respect, and goodwill, they open themselves to the expansive, strengthening gifts of relationship.
But how easy it is to confuse a sacrifice of want or preference with a sacrifice of your very sense of self!
Sadly, losing your sense of self in a relationship is a loss not only to you, but to your partner and the relationship as a whole.
It’s like pushing your chair back from the table on which you have both laid your unique gifts. Gifts that, in their unity, make your relationship greater than the sum of its parts.
So what can you do if you find yourself so defined by “we” that you forget who “you” are?
Here are 8 things to do to reconnect with and regain your sense of self in a relationship:
Engage in rigorous self-care.
When your calendar becomes SRO, the easiest sacrifice to make is your own self-care. Nutrition goes out the window. Sleep gets chiseled away. Hot yoga gets replaced by mental gymnastics.
Making room for everyone and everything else not only depletes your energy, it can lead to resentment over time.
Ironically, you will have more to give to others if you intentionally give to and care for yourself first.
Establish and communicate healthy boundaries.
Boundaries aren’t walls. They’re statements of where you end and another begins.
They protect you and others from that icky, violating, co-dependent encroachment on each other’s feelings, wants, needs, and values.
By maintaining your separateness, responsibility is also more clearly defined.
I feel ‘this’ when you do ‘that.’ I will own and work on my stuff, but I won’t own or work on yours.
I need ‘this’ in order to feel safe/loved/valued.
I am uncomfortable with ‘xyz’ – can we work together to find a way that works for both of us?
Delight in your differences.
Marriage (or any relationship) isn’t about finding a clone of yourself to partner with. It’s a reflective, mirroring, challenging, validating, reinforcing dance of differences that offers opportunities for personal growth and healing.
If you’re losing your sense of self in a relationship, you may be falling into the mindset of “sameness.”
Remember Fred and Ginger: it takes forward-in-flats and backwards-in-heels to make the dance beautiful.
Embrace the declarative, defining power of “no.”
The ability to say “no” and truly mean it takes a strong sense of self.
You have to know your “yeses” before you can speak your “no’s.”
It also takes a lot of trust in your partner to handle your “no”…and in yourself to handle your partner’s response to it.
Do things with your friends and family…without your partner.
We all need time with our besties. Girls need girl-time, guys need guy-time, siblings need their “this is us” time.
Marriage and relationships don’t come with stock in Velcro. The healthiest, most trusting relationships have a lot of breathing room between partners.
Do things with you…just you…without your partner.
Nothing says, “healthy sense of self” like wanting to spend time on your own.It doesn’t even matter what you do, as long as you value the experience of being with your own thoughts, ideas, curiosities, and interests.
These are the moments of self-discovery, self-nurturing, and self-validation. What you love matters. What you enjoy matters.
Oh yeah! You matter!
Have hobbies that you love and make time for.
There are only 24 hours in a day, and most of us marvel that we pack as much into them as we do.
You may not have even noticed that you made your last macrame plant hanger 15 years ago. Or haven’t made a new fishing lure (or even gone fishing) since the twins were born…five years ago.
It doesn’t matter if your hobby makes your partner’s eyes roll. What matters is that it rocks your world and makes you feel like you.
Encourage and support the same self-honoring practices in your partner.
Sometimes the easiest way to embrace the importance of maintaining a healthy sense of self in a relationship is to encourage it in your partner.You haven’t seen Mark in a while. Why don’t you guys take the baseball tickets, and the kids and I will go visit Mom?
Hey, I just saw a sign for a huge estate sale at the old Maguire mansion this Saturday. I know you’d love to go, so why don’t we make a day of it?
Losing your sense of self in a relationship is really the first step toward losing the magic of your relationship as a whole.
So, if you’ve been needing a nudge in the direction of self-love, consider this your prescription for personal and relational health.
Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, contact her here.