Being Your Own Person: How to Maintain Your Individuality As You Bond with Another
by Relationship Coach Rinatta Paries on November 26, 2007
People often compromise or lose their sense of self in a relationship.
They may do this to be liked, to be loved, or to please their partner. Some people may compromise what’s most important to them and to their well-being because they believe they have to. Some people may lose themselves in the relationship because it feels good to merge with their partner. Some stop taking care of their needs as they become the last on the list, after family and relationship. And some people get lazy, thinking that now that they have a relationship, their partner will give them all they need. Finally, some people get so wrapped up in getting their partner to meet their needs that they completely lose the self they once were.
There are many reasons people stop being themselves in a relationship. Regardless, the loss or compromise of the sense of self leads to the forfeiture of self-care and often contributes to the later breakup of the relationship. However, a strong sense of self and self-care on each partner’s part matter in the long-term survival and happiness of the couple. In other words, you must keep the “you” strong and well “fed” in order to have a happy relationship.
You enter the relationship as whole person, not only with your own interests and life, but more importantly with your own preferences, boundaries, likes and dislikes. Your partner is attracted exactly to this part of you – to your strength, your individuality and your sense of self. It is this self that your partner wants to be with and chooses the relationship for. When you start to lose or surrender your sense of self, your partner starts to lose the person he or she got into a relationship with – a big problem. The more of your self you lose, the less your partner will want to be with you.
But more importantly, you start to lose yourself and likely start blaming the relationship and your partner for the loss. The more of yourself you lose, the more miserable you will feel. You will likely become angry, resentful, and not at all pleasant to be with as a result. This is a one-two punch sort of thing – as your partner starts to miss out on having you around, you may add unpleasant, resentment-filled behavior to the mix, which makes you unpleasant to be around. You can see how this can create distance in the relationship.
If both people are doing this dance, which they often are, it’s no surprise that many couples drift apart.
What can you do to save your relationship?
Let’s first talk about three common ways people compromise their sense of self. Then we’ll address how to maintain your own individuality in your relationship, so that there’s enough of you in your relationship to make both you and your partner happy.
There are three main ways people compromise their sense of self: the subtle surrender of self, the manipulating for or trying to “buy” love and the obsession with the other rather than self-care.
The Subtle Surrender of Self
The subtle surrender of self is the most common way people in relationships compromise their sense of individuality. It is not as if people consciously decide to sacrifice themselves for the relationship. Over time, the integration of two lives and two lifestyles into one takes its toll and certain compromises are bound to occur.
Compromise in itself is a desirable trait of a good relationship. But compromise of that which is essential to one’s sense of self can eat away at the relationship over time.
When people surrender what is essential to them, what nourishes them, they lose inspiration, passion and grounding. This is how someone who enters a new relationship full and dynamic becomes one-dimensional, settled and unhappy once in the relationship.
Trying to Buy Love
Do you feel you have to buy love? Some people readily give up money and share their living space or other possessions with virtual strangers in hopes of getting love. Sound unbelievable?
What would you do if the person you have been dating for a short time, but with whom you thought you could have a great future, needed money or a place to live, or a car? Would you be as generous with a new friend in the same situation?
Most people would not be as generous with a new friend or even with an old friend or a relative as they would be with a new lover. In these instances it is clear they hope to trade generosity for gratitude and love. Unfortunately, in these situations neither will be readily forthcoming – if you try to buy love, what you will buy is resentment and likely the end of the relationship.
Sometimes an act of giving up of self for love is subtler. Some people do nice things for their partners not because they want to, but because they think giving will engender loving feelings.
On an even subtler level, some people suppress dark parts of themselves, such as anger or sadness, and only reveal the sunny side of their personality to get love.
The fact is, most of us do try to manipulate in this way to get love. It isn’t pretty, but it is human nature – we treasure our relationship and want to make sure we keep it. The trick is to know that manipulation seldom works to nourish love, and to keep our tendency to manipulate well within view and at bay.
Obsession with the Other Rather Than Self-Care
Many people get into a relationship and soon get consumed with what they are not getting from their partner. Often the partner is seen as a perfect fit for what the person wants, except his or her behavior is not perfect at all. Most often what’s missing are attention, affection and wanting to be together.
These are the kinds of relationships people often get caught in like a fly in a spider web. They can’t leave, because they see the partner as a perfect fit. They can’t stay and be happy, because their needs are not getting met. They spend most of their waking hours trying to figure out how to get their partner to meet their needs.
Meanwhile, in the obsession about the other person, the person obsessing looses track of him or herself. Personal needs and wants are brushed aside, friends and interests are forgotten and self care goes out the window.
This only makes the situation worse. As the person gets caught up in the web of such a relationship, no one is tending to the person – not she herself, or the partner. And that eventually makes for one very miserable person.
How to Be Your Own Person in a Relationship
Here are some ideas for maintaining your individuality as you build and develop your relationship.
1. Before you enter any relationship, realize that you may have a tendency to give yourself up to the relationship. Determine ahead of time what is essential in your life – what, if given up, will negatively alter who you are. Then determine the minimum action you must take to maintain what is essential.
For example, if fitness is essential, determine ahead of time that you will go to the gym or run no matter what is happening in your relationship and stick to that self-promise. That means that if you would rather hang out with your partner, you will still go exercise.
And even if your partner and you are having a fight, you will still go exercise, even if you think it would be better to stick around and fight some more.
2. Resist merging with your partner for some of the time. Merging is that feeling you often get at the beginning of the relationship, when it feels timeless and you feel fully connected with your partner. This is a wonderful feeling, and yet this is where people most often lose themselves. When you are in this part of your relationship, spend extra time working on No. 1 above.
To do this, consciously build in “apart time,” when you will be out of contact and will focus on you and your life. This may mean that at work you do not text, e-mail or call each other for four hours at a time, or that every day you meditate alone for an hour.
3. Do not buy love, on any level. Cultivate the spirit of generosity and a pleasant disposition, but do so because it suits you and contributes to your vibrancy. Do not manipulate your partner into loving you, needing you, etc. If you do manipulate, it will backfire, and you may end up with less or no love.
That means that if your partner needs money, you tactfully and lovingly communicate that you do not feel comfortable lending it, but will be supportive in any other way – with ideas, motivation, resources, networking, etc. It also means that you give gifts because you truly want to, not because it has been demanded of you or because you think you will be treated better as a result.
4. When the relationship is not meeting your needs, meet your own needs. No relationship is going to meet your needs 100 percent of the time, and even the best of relationships will sometimes fail to meet your needs.
When you are struggling with wanting more from your partner, do the counterintuitive thing first. Pull back and examine what you need and want and why you may not be getting it. See if there’s something you can give yourself so that you can stop suffering and trying to get your partner to do something for you.
Take care of yourself and make yourself happy first before trying to fix your relationship. A happier you will more easily get what you want from your partner or will more easily walk if you need to.
5. Strive for personal satisfaction and happiness, not for just feeling OK. Keep asking what you need from life order to be fulfilled. Be responsible for how your life is turning out.
Your partner may help with this by being a mirror, or someone to bounce ideas off of, but the work of making your life for yourself is your own.
People lose themselves in relationships all the time, and often the price they pay for this surrender of self is twofold: They lose the relationship and temporarily the self. Don’t be a victim of this losing strategy. Keep your individuality and sense of self intact in your relationship, and both of you will be happier for it.