Why It’s So Important to Live Your Own Life Despite Being in a Relationship
Sometimes, we can get a little lost in our relationships. Not only have I seen it happen to clients and friends, but I’ve experienced it myself.
The unique identity that we gradually discovered and curated over the course of our early adulthood gets placed on the bench, and our relationship gets subbed-in to play the game of life instead. Before long, we’ve lost track of who we really are independent of the relationship.
There are (at least) a few different reasons that this can happen:
Lust and love are powerful emotions. From a chemical perspective, they actually affect our brains like a drug, releasing dopamine and making us feel good.
We can easily get absorbed and consumed by that addictive, emotional high. As a consequence, it’s not uncommon for us to get caught up in the passion of our relationships and unintentionally lose ourselves along the way.
Sometimes we become reliant on our partner in one or more areas of our lives.
To an extent, being able to divide and conquer tasks and leverage the skill sets of each member of the couple can be an advantage of being in a relationship. But if we come to rely on our partner too much (such that we’d be hard-pressed to tackle life without them), an unhealthy level of dependency may exist.
And that, in turn, can create a negative dynamic for the relationship - one in which the dependent partner’s identity can easily get snuffed out.
(c) Issues related to self-worth & self-respect
If we have low self-esteem (characterized by feelings of low self-worth and little self-respect), we can easily lose ourselves to our relationship. More accurately, under these circumstances, we’re in danger of sacrificing ourselves and our own needs in the name of the partnership.
This scenario can sometimes arise in instances where your partner hasn’t been treating you well (for instance, when verbal or physical abuse is present in the relationship). It can also crop up if you’ve consistently chosen to put the relationship before or above yourself.
When any of the above triggering circumstances are at play in your relationship, you’re at an increased risk of losing sight of your independent identity and becoming absorbed in and by your partnership.
And whenever the relationship ends, you’ll likely feel disoriented and lost - perhaps even helpless - and may desperately want to return to that comfortably familiar space, even if it wasn’t serving you.
If you find yourself in this situation and are feeling like you’ve lost yourself to your relationship, I would offer up the following advice (regardless of your partnership’s length or level of commitment):
Learn to put yourself before your relationship, and never stop honoring who you are and whatever lights you up, independent of your partner.
It’s important for you to continue to be your own person in your relationship for 2 primary reasons:
1. For the sake of yourself (alignment with your own identity)
We need to be true to ourselves in order to feel truly happy and fulfilled in life. Our feelings of self-respect and self-worth depend on the degree to which we act in alignment with our authentic selves.
Often, if we don’t honor who we are, we’ll gradually begin to feel a dissonance build up within us. We’ll feel like we’re being inauthentic, phony, or fake. And we’ll come to feel like frauds in our own lives.
What’s worse, when this happens, we may also begin blaming our partner (consciously or subconsciously) for pulling us away from our core selves. Resentment can slowly build and eat away at the relationship.
2. For the sake of the relationship (fanning the flames of passion/desire)
In the wise words of Esther Perel, “love seeks closeness, but desire needs distance”.
This is to say, some separation in your relationship can be a healthy thing. If you spend every waking moment with your partner and do everything together, you’ll start to fuse as a couple. And while, on the one hand, that can result in a higher level of emotional intimacy, on the other hand, it will often stifle desire and connection on the sexual level over time.
Your partner will tend to find you more attractive if you are secure in maintaining your own passions and interests, as opposed to just latching on to all of theirs. (And if that’s not the case, it’s frankly indicative of a larger problem).
Given that our relationships can become so absorbing, it’s important that we remain vigilant and mindful of the risk of losing ourselves within them.
We need to be careful not to fall into the trap of letting our relationships identify or own us. And we need to remember to be our own person, independent of our partner and relationship.
So let's honor our own passions by investing in them. Let's continue to live our own lives and show ourselves love and self-respect by doing the things we enjoy.
But may we never lose ourselves to our relationships. And may we never stop living our lives for another person. Because that's just not a sacrifice worth making.