How to Not Lose Yourself in Your Relationship
Last night, I got into a fight with my partner, Tim, after he suggested adding another date onto our seemingly already-too-booked November calendar - a dinner with some friends and acquaintances, which, sounded pleasant, but also gave me anxiety for several reasons: 1)I have been feeling overwhelmed with business lately, and 2)My mind suggested that it was yet another Tim thing we were putting on the calendar. Here we go again, my mind said, filled with resentment; and just like that, I was triggered.
It’s in these moments when the misunderstanding happens, and it’s in this sort of confusion that makes being in a romantic relationship so challenging. The idea of two people coming together, merging their lives: habits, friendships, families, and individual needs, into one, can feel overwhelming, if not altogether impossible. Somewhere in between, “Let’s date monogamously,” and “Will you meet my family?” lay all of the things you have to give up to join with another. Somehow, two lives have to meet in the middle to form one - in terms of location, weekend plans, social gatherings, holidays, where to order takeout - vegetarian, or barbecue - and what brand of toilet paper to buy.
The list of compromises to be made can feel never-ending, and it can be easy to lose yourself in your relationship. You wake one Sunday to find that yourself eating a steak sandwich and watching football at a local bar with the guys, when you had previously opted for a kale salad and a yoga class. While you’re happy to spend time with your love, and you’re appreciative of your relationship, part of you thinks, “Hmmm… this is different.” Where did you go in your relationship?
Here’s the truth: Inherent in the idea of uniting with another is loss, or in other words, death. What has to die? Your egoic self - your concept of self - has to die, which is the very process of falling in love: the sloughing off of the ego for the purpose of aligning with love. Beyond that, there are a series of small deaths - egoic comforts to which we cling: how we like the laundry folded, breakfast choices, or where we spend Thanksgiving. This things can feel trivial, but a series of these small choices are what make up day-to-day life. Are we going to see your friends, or mine this Saturday? Are we going to go to your favorite restaurant or mine for dinner? Are you going to move closer to me, or am I going to move closer to you?
Each decision can feel small, until they accumulate over the course of weeks, months, and then years. That’s when you begin to notice and imbalance. Did you make space for yourself, or, did you do what most people have done, which is to wake up to find that you are missing from your own relationship - gone with with no remnants of who you used to be anywhere in sight.
Of course, this too, is ego. The thought that you have lost your “self,” is an egoic construct, but on some level, it’s important to think about, because most resentments between couples arise, not because they’ve considered their relationship too much; on the contrary, they’ve considered their relationship too little. So, if you hope to maintain a long-term loving relationship that is free from resentment, it is worthwhile to continuously look, to check in to see if you have lost yourself, or if you are in fact on the way to losing yourself. Here’s how you do it:
Step 1: If you you feel like you haven’t created enough space for yourself in your relationship, dig deeper and discover the specific root of this feeling.
Underneath a simple fight about dinner plans is a much larger root cause as to why you’ve been triggered, and likely, one that has shown up in past relationships.
You don’t feel heard.
You’re compromising your integrity.
You’re giving too much and resent your partner for not giving enough.
Odds are, the sadness your feeling is a result of one of these reasons. Ask yourself: Which one resonates with me the most?
Step 2: Tell your partner everything.
Communicate all of your thoughts and feelings with your partner, especially the the ones that make you feel too awkward or embarrassed to share. It’s likely that your partner has no idea the you’ve been feeling this way, and if he did, he’d be more than willing to change. The key here is to communicate your feelings in a gentle and loving manner (without screaming, or making accusatory statements). The best way to communicate your truth is to state how you feel in a cam voice and listen to your partner as he responds. Be open to shift your viewpoint, see things from his perspective, and also, state your feelings clearly.
Step 3: Be willing to make changes.
Survey your calendar, lifestyle choices, and the shifts you’ve made since entering into your relationship. Is there balance? Do you need to shift how you spend your time, the places you go, or the people you see? Do you need to make sure that you see your friends at least once a month, or that you plan more activities to do with your partner that you actually enjoy?
Step 4: Look for patterns.
Are you being triggered by situations that are similar to the past? Oftentimes, we repeat patterns in relationships. If we’re too giving with one person, we’re the same way with another. Be willing to reflect on the role you’ve played in feeling like you’ve lost yourself in your relationship. If you do see a pattern, know that some of your sadness is because of your past story, and not just your current relationship. Let this idea offer you some relief, and be willing to let your partner off the hook a little (he’s probably doing the best he can).
It’s normal to feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself as you deepen into your relationship. It’s okay to feel like there’s less and less space for you, while there’s an abundance of space for your partner. The key is to communicate your partner and be willing to shift so that you can feel heard, loved, and like there is balance in your relationship. Follow these steps, open up to shifting your relationship, and it will leave you feeling closer to your partner and happier in general.