We’ve all seen it happen: someone we know gets into a relationship and soon, they’re barely recognizable. They dress differently, act differently, maybe even speak differently. Although the changes might not be bad per se, the essence of who they are has disappeared. They’re just not themselves anymore.
Most of us are guilty of losing parts of ourselves somewhere along the way in a relationship; it can happen to anyone, regardless of how strong or independent you are.
In some instances, we don’t just forget who we are. We become someone else, merging identities with our partner to force the perfect fit. Sometimes it happens because we’re anxious to please and go out of our way to be agreeable. Other times it’s because our partner pressures or manipulates us in unhealthy ways to be more like them or what they want in a partner. Oftentimes it’s both.
Sound familiar? Maybe it’s even happening to you right now. Luckily, there are some small changes you can make to avoid losing yourself in your relationship and rediscover who you are again.
5 Small Ways to Avoid Losing Yourself in Your Relationship
1. Stop Replacing “I” with “We”
“We” is publically promoted over social media updates, plastered across the news as combined beings like “Kimye”, or loiters in plain sight in myriad other ways. Inevitably, the pressure to merge into a “we” seeps into your personal relationship and your vernacular. Instead of saying “I like that movie,” it becomes “we like that movie,” and somewhere along the way, your personal thoughts and desires are lost. While becoming a “we” in some situations makes sense, overusing “we” is a common catalyst—or should we say, gateway drug—into unhealthy relationship terrain. Check your language, and stop saying “we” when you really mean “I.” You’re your own person and should express what you think independent of anyone else, including your S.O.
2. Compromise on the “Small” Stuff
Near the end of an unhealthy relationship, I looked into my fridge and pantry in our shared apartment and only my partner stared back at me. There was his whole milk, in place of my 2%; there was his raw game yet to be prepared—meat that I didn’t even eat. Although it happened slowly, I was barely visible in our stocked kitchen, which happened to be a microcosm of the unhealthy, one-sided dynamic between us.
Whether it’s the music you play in the car or your desired cuisine on a night out, there are bound to be differences between what you and your partner prefer. The smallest behaviors have the power to set precedence, so if you’re always the one making the sacrifices on the “small” stuff, expect your partner, particularly an unhealthy one, to take advantage of this in bigger and bigger ways. Over time, a little part of you will disappear. While it’s fine to make compromises, make sure they go both ways.
3. Socialize Regularly with Loved Ones on Your Own
Integrating your significant other into your social circle and introducing them to the important people in your life is essential, but it’s just as important to maintain these other relationships on their own. And let’s face it, the dynamic is just not the same when your S.O. is there. These special people that knew you before your relationship will help keep you in touch with your true self. Plan time to meet up regularly with them on your own. Just because you have a significant other doesn’t mean you should discard the meaningful relationships you have with others.
4. Participate in Hobbies That Don’t Involve Your Partner
While it’s natural to want to spend time with your partner, it’s unhealthy to do everything together. Make time for your passions and hobbies outside of your relationship. As there are bound to be differences in what you prefer to eat and listen to, there are undoubtedly differences in preferred activities. Resist the urge to give up something you enjoy for the sake of finding something you can do together; it’s possible to do both. Healthy partners will encourage you to follow passions that don’t involve them while unhealthy ones will try to control what you do and with whom. Having a life outside of your partner will give you confidence and self-esteem that boost your ability to have a healthy relationship and prevent you from becoming overly reliant on your partner for these fundamental needs or becoming socially isolated. Commit to at least one in-person, social activity that meets a few times a month to stay connected to yourself and what you love to do.
5. Keep Getting to Know Yourself
When you find a partner and enter into a committed relationship, it’s not the time to say, “Ok, I’m complete. The need to focus on myself and figure myself out is over.” On the contrary, the journey of self-discovery lasts a lifetime, and it’s just as important to keep it going when you’re in a relationship learning new things about yourself and who you want to be as a partner. Carve out some space in your relationship for “me” time when you can reflect on your own needs and wellbeing. Make it part of your self-care regimen, and if you haven’t developed a self-care habit yet, start one.
Relationships are not defined as the way two people merge into one being; they’re “the way two people are connected.” Shedding what makes you you is never necessary to have a healthy, long-lasting relationship. Remember, there are two “I”s in “relationship” and they’re each essential. Bring your whole, unique self to every relationship; it wouldn’t be an authentic one without it.