Being part of a healthy, stable, supportive couple is a wonderful thing. It can also be a lot of work; it involves effort, conscientiousness and compromise. But it should never mean compromising yourself or what you value in your life. Being part of a pair does not take the place of being yourself as an individual. Unfortunately, people often lose themselves in their relationships, giving too much and letting go of what they want and need for the sake of the relationship.This can happen in small, subtle ways, but it can have an enormous impact on the health of your relationship and on your personal happiness overall. It’s important to recognize when you’ve begun to give in so much that you’re giving up on yourself.Here is an example from my practice of a woman who, without realizing it, let herself get lost in her relationship:
Lily and Rob have been a couple for almost two years. They met at work and have many friends in common. A few months ago, situational factors made it convenient to move in together, which they did. Rob has many qualities that make him a “catch”—he’s successful, handsome and sociable. Though Lily is also a “catch,” she does not always perceive herself that way and hasn’t had great luck with prior relationships. They had a nice relationship for a while, focused on shared goals and socializing with big groups of friends and family. But over time a few difficult issues emerged.(1) Lily has never shared Rob’s passion for outdoor activities. For a while, they joked about this difference and it wasn’t a big deal. But about a year ago Rob started pressing Lily to do more and more of the things he enjoyed while declining to do any of the things that she preferred. And then he started tying it to her weight, commenting that he would be more attracted to her if she loses some weight and expressing clear disappointment when she didn’t exercise at every opportunity. He also began prohibiting Lily from socializing with her friends when it involved food or drinks, and once he smacked a cookie out of her hand. This is most blatant example of Rob’s tendency to be critical and controlling, but it wasn’t limited to this issue.(2) Lily discovered that while Rob was pleasant and interesting and generally a nice guy (with the exception above), he had very little ability to be truly supportive in difficult situations. He seemed to go through the motions of being a “good boyfriend,” but she did not feel that he was truly warm and caring to her, or that he could empathize with her feelings.
Over time, Lily began to realize that the above issues were becoming more apparent and more troubling to her. And then something happened that derailed her from her thoughts: Rob sat her down and told her that he was questioning the relationship. He didn’t want to break up yet, but he wasn’t sure if she was the right person for him. After that conversation, Lily used all of her emotional energy analyzing everything they each said and did, and trying to figure out why Rob wasn’t happy, what she could do differently, and if he was going to leave her. She forgot all about her own concerns about the relationship and focused her efforts on preventing a break up. This involved doing even more of the activities she didn’t want to do, giving up more of her favorite things, and choosing all of her words with the goal of pleasing Rob. Before the big talk, Lily had been starting to lose herself in the relationship, and some things weren’t feeling right to her. After the big talk, she jumped into focusing entirely on Rob’s wishes and forgot all about her own perceptions.Though this example is about a romantic relationship, losing yourself can also occur with friends and family. If you spend all of your time wondering and worrying about what the other person is thinking, or make all of your decisions based on their response, you may be in such a situation. For any relationship to be successful, it’s important to be aware and considerate of the other person’s feelings, but it needs to be a two-way street. You also need to balance the needs of the couple with your own individual needs. Click through for six tips for remembering to pay attention to your own feelings and perceptions.
- Ask yourself, “Am I happy with the way things are going?”
- Think about how often you (alone or together) do activities that you enjoy. The answer shouldn’t be “never.”
- Ask yourself if you are more relaxed when you’re with the other person or not with him or her.
- Think about whether you more often feel good or bad about yourself when you’re together.
- Think about whether you feel nervous or anxious before seeing the other person—not the excited kind of nervous, but upset-nervous.
- Ask yourself how you would truly feel (long-term and short-term) if the relationship ended. Really think about this and try to picture it instead of giving a quick answer.
Relationships are inherently about two people, and your happiness matters too.