Have you ever had a friend who becomes a chameleon anytime they are dating someone new? Maybe it happens overnight, or maybe you’ve watched them slowly fade away throughout a long-term partnership. Maybe it’s you.
Losing yourself in a relationship often happens before we even realize what’s taking place. One day you’re you, and the next you’re staring in the mirror, barely able to recognize the shadow of yourself you’ve become.
Sometimes it takes a trusted friend or counselor to help us see these changes from an objective, caring perspective. Other times, it dawns suddenly on a person: they don’t recognize themselves anymore.
Why Do We Become Codependent?
Many relationships will go through an intense infatuation period early on. At this stage, it’s normal and even healthy to want to spend as much time together as possible. Eventually, the honeymoon phase transitions into the rhythm of regular life and partners begin to re-balance their lives. Practicing healthy boundaries allows the two people to make time for their new relationship while still managing to socialize with friends, stay on top of work, and spend time with family.
For some people, the latter part of that process is harder to accomplish and can lead to the behavioral condition called codependency. This can happen in response to negative experiences in past relationships, being raised in a dysfunctional family, dating a narcissist, or even loving someone with an addiction.
Those who struggle with codependency might find themselves:
- Avoiding intimacy
- Devaluing their priorities
- Neglecting their gut instincts
- Suppressing their feelings
- Compromising their values
Not everyone will experience such extremes, but plenty of us get swept up in the rush of a new romance. For many, the slippery slope begins with a well-intentioned desire to see the other person happy. In our own desire to be liked, we present ourselves as agreeable, relaxed, and just generally up for whatever the other person wants to do. It’s easy to fall trap to dismissing our own feelings, telling ourselves: “I’m being too sensitive,” or “Some things are not worth fighting about.” Instead, we want to soak up as much time as possible with the other person. And in that haze of warm fuzzies, it’s easy to lose sight of our own interests, friends, and values.
3 Ways to Avoid Losing Yourself in a Relationship
You may grieve this loss or feel like the walls are closing in as your social circle becomes smaller, you neglect your hobbies and creative outlets, and your alone time disappears. If this sounds familiar, here are three ways to maintain a healthy partnership going forward.
1. Spend time apart
It is great to participate in your partner’s activities — we want them to take an interest in ours, too! But it is good to remember we don’t have to invest 100 percent in each other’s activities at the cost of our own. Make sure that showing your enthusiasm for learning about the other person’s interests doesn’t come at the price of forfeiting your own. There are plenty of ways to have your own passions while sharing them with another. If your partner plays on a recreational soccer team, but you’re not into running up and down a field while chasing a ball, that’s OK! Show up on game days to cheer them on, and use that free night to dig into your own interests.
If you’ve been swept up in a relationship and are worried that your friends have moved on without you, reach out anyway. You might be surprised. The reality is that many people have struggled to find balance in a relationship at some point in their lives. This could be the very thing you reconnect over. Good friends will welcome you back, and while it might take time to mend the fences, you’ll likely find that they are the perfect guide for helping you find yourself again. Plus, they’ll probably have some great ideas for how to spend that free night once a week.
2. Get to know yourself
If you’re not in a relationship right now, use this time to establish a strong foundation of interests and develop your friendships, both new and old. Investing in yourself and the causes you care about when you are single is one of the best guards against losing yourself in future relationships. Take this time to know who you are and what you stand for.
If you are struggling to find yourself in a relationship, start small and reflect on the parts of your life you’ve been missing. Maybe you used to take yourself on date nights to the local bookstore, or maybe you used to tutor kids in an after-school program. It’s healthy and normal to have friends outside of a relationship, and perhaps you could really use some right now to encourage you to train for the 5K. Find small ways to add these things back into your life: drop by the bookstore after work, do a search online for drop-in volunteer programs, do the thing that scares you and sign up for a Saturday morning running club.
3. Develop strong boundaries
Boundaries sometimes get an undue bad rap. How can you give of yourself in a relationship if you keep the other person at arm’s length? Good news: That’s not how healthy boundaries are designed to work! Instilling healthy boundaries at the start of a relationship will help you and your partner be true to yourselves. In romantic relationships, boundaries should be viewed as a positive thing — they are there to preserve the very qualities in you that attracted your partner to you in the first place!
To do this, know what your non-negotiables are. If there are behaviors that are triggering for you, set a boundary that you simply won’t stand for them. Is having children one day very important to you? Then make sure that, if you do change your mind, it isn’t influenced by a partner who never wanted kids to begin with. If reckless spending is something you can’t tolerate, communicate this with your partner and establish ground rules about how you’ll handle your joint finances responsibly.
Setting boundaries can be a constructive way to get to know your partner better while helping prevent future feelings of having lost yourself in a relationship. It’s essential to recognize the things you aren’t willing to compromise on as well as the things that you are willing to bend on. When you have communicated what is important to you, you can work together to support each other in maintaining those values.
Remember, a relationship should never define you. Before you entered it, you were your own person, with your own interests, and your own values. While a relationship is about the togetherness you share, it’s also about the two individuals who came together. A healthy relationship should strive for a balance of togetherness and separateness. If you are struggling to find this equilibrium, it is OK to step back and seek an outside perspective from a licensed online therapist.