Each week in February, your Work/Life team has invited therapists and dating professionals in the community to respond to questions about relationships. To kick off this series, we asked our experts…
How do you keep from losing yourself in a relationship—new or longstanding?
Kate Freiman-Fox, Ph.D.
Matchmaking, Date and Relationship Coaching
In a new romantic relationship, it is sometimes easy to “lose” oneself. The new lovers might feel off-balance, out of their comfort zones and caught up in a flurry of hormones. The honeymoon phase deeply bonds lovers and can turn into the glue that keeps them together during the hard times. Still, you don’t have to completely lose your independence and if someone attempts to “clip your wings” early in a relationship, take a step back to see if this is healthy for you.
American culture is intoxicated with the idea of being independent – sometimes to the detriment of relationships. Many single people have the idea that when they become part of a couple their lives will not change much, except for the addition of this new, wonderful person who fits conveniently into all the gaps. It just doesn’t work that way. A significant other is going to change the interpersonal landscape completely, and visa versa. To some extent, the lovers do “lose” themselves to the relationship as they create a whole new something else together. There is me, there is you, and now there is US.
The question then becomes what is healthy in a long-term romantic relationship. Because you will surrender time and energy to a new relationship, it is critically important to choose wisely. Can your significant other spend time alone or do they cling to you as if clinging for survival? If you choose to partner with an insecure person, it is easy to forget the strong, beautiful, free person you truly are.
Adrienne Alden, MS
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
A relationship can be the most fulfilling and important aspect of a person’s life. This sense of fulfillment can turn to feeling overwhelmed if you are not intentional about balancing togetherness and independence. This is not a one-time fix, but something that both members of the relationship work on throughout the entire relationship. It’s important to maintain friendships and hobbies outside of the relationship. Have regular gatherings with friends. This means more than a few times a year! It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of a new relationship and lose contact with friends. Take a risk and ask an old friend or someone new out to coffee- chances are they will be thrilled to hear from you! When talking with your partner make sure to discuss things other than kids, chores and the relationship. Share something that you have going on individually such as book you are reading.
Remember- fire needs air! Intimacy and connection thrive with a sense of mystery. Mystery is cultivated when you go out into the world and explore on your own and come back to share it. This could be something as simple as going to a yoga class on your own once a week or as grand as a week- long trip with friends.
If navigating togetherness and independence is overwhelming and becomes fraught, Schedule a few sessions with a therapist who specializes in relationships. There might be underlying fears around independence and a therapist can help you uncover them and discuss it.
Lisa Allred, LCSW
Senior Program Manager
Part of what makes a new relationship so exciting is that we are changing rapidly because we are incorporating another person’s knowledge, skills, perspectives and resources. It makes us feel more competent in the world and meets our human need for growth. As a relationship matures and we settle into predictability or equilibrium, we feel comfortable but not excited. Many people make time for new partners by giving up other friends, hobbies or interests, paradoxically, becoming a different person than your partner was attracted to in the first place.
In her book, Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel talks about all living organisms needing “periods of growth and equilibrium”. Successful relationships must balance this tension between change and predictability. In long-term relationships, we tend to favor the predictable over the unpredictable. Yet, as Perel writes, “eroticism thrives on the unpredictable… eroticism requires separateness… it thrives in the space between the self and the other”.
In other words, maintain some separateness, no matter what stage your relationship is in. It will nourish you individually, strengthen you as a couple, and help keep passion alive once you settle into a routine.
Tune in next Thursday for our 2nd Relationship Series Blog... How do you prepare your children to have authentic romantic relationships?