Falling in love and being in a relationship can be one of the most magical experiences in life. There is so much joy, learning, and growth that occurs in loving another person, being loved, and figuring out how to mesh two very different personalities into one life. As amazing as falling in love and maintaining that love is, I still think the relationship you have with yourself is the most important relationship you’ll ever have in your life.
Since I’m a huge bookworm, I’m going to explain this in terms of a book. I believe we are each the main characters in our own book of life. There will be very important characters that come into our stories as well and they will add lots of beauty and magic to our narrative, but the story is still not about them. You never know how long they will be part of the narrative for. Even if they are there for the rest of the book, they are the main characters in their own stories. It’s kind of like those books or movies with multiple story lines going on at once. (You know, like Love Actually or Valentine’s Day.) Each person has their own unique and defined story line, even when it merges with another person’s story line. That’s how I look at a relationship. Over the last 17 years, Bassam and I’s story lines have merged, but we each still have our own distinct story line. Our book would be so boring if we only had our joint story line.
No matter how intertwined another person is in your life, I believe each of us still needs to be able to live a full and fulfilling life on our own. Sometimes our sense of self can get lost when our life is wrapped up with someone else, but I think it’s important to try to maintain our own sense of identity. To know who we are, what we want, what we are capable of, and feel secure in being on our own and enjoying our time with ourselves. Plus, it just makes us a more interesting partner and helps us bring more to the relationship.
We spend a lot of time talking about how to communicate effectively and strengthen your relationship with your significant other on our blog. Today I want to focus on that very special relationship we each have, ourselves. I think an incredibly important aspect of a healthy relationship is caring for and maintaining your sense of self. Here are some ways I’ve found to be effective for me.
How To Not Lose “Me” After Becoming a “We”
1. Voice your needs
How can your partner know what you need if you don’t tell them? Learning how to effectively voice your needs can be such a difficult part of a relationship but it’s so important. It’s the only way for your partner to truly get to know you, what’s important to you, what you need, and what satisfies you. It’s also the only way for your to get your needs met because your partner is not a mind reader. They aren’t going to be able to figure it out otherwise!
An important aspect of being able to voice your needs is to actually know what it is you want. That’s why it’s so important to stay in tune with yourself and understand the things you desire. Most of the tips on this list should help with this, but I often find that journaling helps when I don’t know what I truly want. I believe all of us have all the answers we need inside of us, we just have to dig a little deeper sometimes to find them.
2. Follow your curiosity
I often find that once people get into a relationship, they tend to lose sight of their own curiosity. All of their curiousness starts to become about another person. What do they like? What do they want to do? What new activity can we do together that they will like?
Why not follow your own curiosity even if it doesn’t involve your partner? I don’t mean follow your curiosity to other people (unless you have that kind of relationship), but more in terms of exploring whatever whimsy sparks your interest. Have a fleeting interest in a subject? Why not read a book about it or enroll in a course! Have the inkling to learn a new language? Travel somewhere new? Do it! Follow every whimsy that your heart desires, whether or not your partner wants to do it with you.
Learning and doing new things, even if they are not of interest to your partner, is actually beneficial for your relationship. It keeps you happy (which in turn will make your partner happy), will make you more interesting, and give you lots to talk about with your partner. Having your own interests and ideas is an important part of keeping your relationship with yourself spicy AND your relationship with your partner interesting. No matter how much of your time you invest in your relationship, don’t forget to invest some of that time in yourself.
3. Have solo dates
Coupled up or not, I think it’s so important to be able to spend time alone and truly ENJOY time spent alone. (The enjoy part is the keyword!) Solo dates are one of my absolute favorite things! While ideally I would love to go on a solo date weekly, I usually don’t have that kind of time. What I try to do is get a little alone time every day, but that’s mainly because I need that space to unwind from my day and be able to connect again with those around me. Whether you feel you need alone time or not, try to start incorporating solo dates into your schedule at least once a month.
This the perfect time to be able to do whatever it is you want and feel like doing. If there are things you enjoy that your partner doesn’t enjoy, this is the perfect time to do them! Even if they are things that your partner may enjoy, feel free to do them any way. This is YOUR time. The only person who needs to agree with how you spend your time is yourself.
I often find that when Bassam and I spend time alone, we get the opportunity to miss each other, we have more to talk about, and are more in love.
Some solo date ideas:
- Take yourself out to dinner (or lunch)
- Go for a long walk
- Sign up for a class you’ve been wanting to take
- Take a mini road trip
- Go to a museum
- Indulge your inner child by going to a trampoline park, hula hoop in the park, blow bubbles, do cartwheels, whatever!
- Do whatever you want to do! That’s the beauty of a solo date! It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about it as long as you like it!
4. Maintain your friendships
Life can get so busy when you’re in a relationship, but friendships are also important relationships to nurture. You may not have time to see your friends as often as you once did, but try to make sure to schedule some quality time with your good friends and keep those relationships strong. No matter how amazing your relationship with your significant other is, non romantic friendships and relationships bring a different variety and spark to your life. They are so important to maintain.
5. Let your differences make you stronger
It’s totally normal for couples to disagree with each other and have their own points of view. Rather than try to make your significant other be just like you, embrace your differences. As long as you both have the same values, it’s okay to disagree on other things. Bassam and I are complete opposites when it comes to almost everything. This can often be a pain point for us, but the more we learn to work together instead of against each other, the more we can each maintain our identities and have our relationship be stronger for it.
PS. When I say, “have the same values” I don’t mean change your values to match your partner’s. Part of not losing yourself in a relationship is to hold on to your same core values. Your partner may help you see the world in a different way and open up your mind to new ideas, but they shouldn’t change you in a way that feels foreign to you.
6. Think critically about feedback
Jumping off the point above, I also think it’s important to exercise some critical thinking when it comes to receiving feedback. A healthy aspect of a relationship is making each other better, but it’s important to know what’s “making you better” or helping you improve yourself and what’s just changing you in a way that’s not true to who you are.
It can be easy to get defensive when you first hear feedback. Rather than get defensive, try to think objectively about the feedback that you’ve received. Is it something that will truly help improve your life? Does it feel foreign to who you are as a person and will it change you too drastically? Each of us can only answer this question for ourselves and it can take some time, but I think it’s important to recognize what is valid feedback and what isn’t.
Sometimes wanting to be loved by another person can make us too willing to change OR sometimes because we love that person so much we might be extra sensitive to their feedback and not see it clearly and get defensive. That’s why I say think critically about the feedback, because often times we need to remove our emotions from it. There’s a lot of grey area when it comes to this particular point and I think it’s important for each of us to be able to clearly differentiate what pieces of feedback are our partner helping us bring out our best selves and what is changing us too much.
7. Get introspective
Once people are coupled up in a relationship I feel like they spend more time thinking about their partner’s feelings than they do their own, but it’s so so so so important for each of us to truly understand ourselves and our emotions. I believe that knowing your own emotions actually makes you a better partner. When you truly understand yourself and how you feel, you can communicate that more effectively to your partner.
Have you ever gotten in a fight with your partner over something so incredibly silly? Something like whose turn it is to do the dishes? I’m willing to bet the fight wasn’t actually about the dishes, but something deeper. Something like feeling unappreciated or not feeling heard. Or maybe your love language is acts of service and you’re not feeling loved. Whatever it is, no one gets THAT angry about just dishes.
Bassam and I have been there way more times than I’d like to admit and each and every time I’ve realized there’s a much deeper underlying cause of what’s making me upset. It can often take a lot of introspection to figure it out, but it’s almost always way deeper and more meaningful than something silly like dishes.
The more we each know and understand ourselves, the faster we’ll be able to figure out our underlying whys and the faster we can transition from fighting about the silly stuff to actually discussing the real issue at hand. On the flip side, understanding yourself better can also make you more aware of what helps you feel more loved. You can communicate to your partner what you need, rather than wait for them to figure it out. (Spoiler alert: you’re in for a lot of disappointment if you’re waiting for your partner to just figure out what makes you feel more loved!) When you’re not getting what you need, you can tell your partner clearly and objectively.
8. Communicate honestly and consistently
An important part of any healthy relationship is honest and consistent communication. This is also a great way to maintain your sense of self in your relationship. Don’t expect that your partner can read your mind or just know what you want. You have to communicate how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and what you need. Communication will help your bond improve and help you get stronger as a couple. It’ll also help make sure you don’t lose your sense of identity in your relationship.
Communicate honestly with your partner. Let them get to know you more fully. Don’t feel like you have to hide parts of yourself away.
9. Realize what’s a fantasy and what’s real life
No matter what the movies say, love is not a fairy tale. It’s often real hard work. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your twosome, it’s just not always an easy thing getting two people to agree on a life together.
Sometimes I feel like based on the myths we are all told about what a relationship should be like, we start to idealize our partners when we fall in love. Then they make a mistake or do something less than perfect, and it feels like such a big deal. I think it’s important not to idealize our partners because they are human! They have flaws and will make mistakes and so will we! It’s all okay and just part of life and a relationship. Learning to move past mistakes is a part of growing closer in your bond and part of learning to love unconditionally.
10. Recognize you’re the only person who can make you happy
Each of our happiness lies in hands of ourselves and ourselves only. No matter how much others try to make us happy, we are the only ones who can truly make ourselves happy. It’s so important to recognize what you want and need and to provide that for yourself without waiting for your significant other to do it for you.
I learned this lesson the hard way after my mom passed away. I wanted so badly for Bassam to be able to bring me happiness in the midst of all my pain. Later on, I realized that wanting him to bring me happiness was an unfair expectation. Only I can bring myself happiness.
I think the first step to making ourselves happy is recognizing that being happy is up to each one of us and not anyone else.
11. Continue to improve yourself
You may find that at some point in your relationship, you may prioritize self improvement more than your partner does. Don’t let that get in the way of your own self improvement. Read, listen to podcasts, try new things and develop yourself in ways that matter to you. Even if your partner isn’t interested in doing it for themselves too, it can be something that you do on your own.
In prioritizing your self improvement, you may find yourself wanting to share with your partner and potentially trying to change them or getting frustrated when they don’t have interest in bettering themselves. This is a really really hard thing to deal with in a relationship, and one we can relate to, but do your best to focus on you and not changing your partner. Sometimes it can be helpful to identify what area of their life they are stronger in than you are and see if you can learn from them, rather than always feel like you’re the only one with something to offer.
What types of things do you do to maintain your sense of self in a relationship? I’d love to know!