May 23, 2020 – How to Maintain Your Individuality in a Committed Relationship
Three Tips for Maintaining Individuality in Your Relationship
Reading through relationship articles on the web, I have come across many stories that discuss ways women are fulfilling their desire for companionship and sex without having committed relationships. The message I pick up is that somehow, we lose our identity and our individuality in a committed relationship. Hundred of articles caution women “to remain individual”, “don’t change your life”, “don’t forget your friends” and other such advice. This advice encourages individuality but I also understand how hard being an individual can be.
Well, I don’t have a lot of friends or a budding social calendar so I don’t have many people or things I can blow off. But I do many things on my own. I have no qualms about going anywhere by myself — yes, you can even find me in restaurants. I enjoy going places and doing things with my boyfriend — in fact, I would prefer it most times, but I still do things on my own. My boyfriend also does things on his own. So, I haven’t experienced this sense of loss of individuality in my current relationship. However, in my last one, I did. To the point where I felt stifled and isolated. Hindsight is 20–20 and I have realized several key things looking at both relationships.
“Don’t let someone change who you are, to become what they need.” — Unknown
1. You are You, They are Them — Choose to be “Us”
The key here is something we have all heard but (I believe) have a hard time accepting: you have to love yourself before you can love someone else. It is true. The key to having a fulfilling life as an individual is liking yourself. If you don’t like yourself you will seek out others who will either keep you so preoccupied you can hide from your pain or you will cling desperately to anyone who makes you feel good. Either way, your well-being and happiness has now become dependent on the other person and whether they know this fact or not, they will feel the pressure.
In my previous relationship, neither of us were very comfortable with ourselves. We found ourselves clinging to one another for validation and relying on each other for happiness. We convinced ourselves we were happy together but we weren’t, we were just happy we weren’t alone. Being happy you’re not alone is not the same thing as being happy to share your life with someone you love. The side effect of this clingy relationship we created was an even deeper sense of loneliness when we were apart. It was very unhealthy. Resentment grew — as I worked on loving myself, he did not. I started to spend more time alone and soon realized I was happier by myself than I was with him, letting him bring me down with his unhappiness.
Together, the two of us had progressed through our relationship clinging to each other and relying on the other person to be what we needed to be happy. We did not come into the relationship as individuals. We were two people looking for someone to make us whole and for that reason, we were doomed from the get-go. Looking back on that relationship and looking at my current one, it is clear what the difference is: my boyfriend and I are both individuals who live our own lives but choose to come together to be an “us”. The time when we are together becomes richer and more fulfilling because we are choosing each other because we want to enjoy each other rather than clinging to each other so we can hide from ourselves.
2. Do Things Alone.
This one is hard if you don’t like yourself, but if you do, it is some of the best advice you can ever receive. When you do things alone — no matter what they are, you have the opportunity to be with yourself. You’re likely to think about things and as you interact with others and do things, you will come across situations where you will make choices. This time spent alone is paramount to understanding who you are and what you need/want out of your life and your relationships.
In my previous relationship, I didn’t have many deal breakers. And the deal breakers I did have — he did them and I stayed in the relationship. I was unhappy in the relationship but I was more unhappy with myself. And then I was even more unhappy with myself for staying in the relationship when I knew I shouldn’t. It was a circle of despair that I was caught in and I didn’t see a way out. But slowly, I started doing more and more things by myself. I went places and tried to enjoy myself on my own. After a couple months, I started to crave this alone time. I would do things as random as driving to the beach in the middle of the night just to get away and have a peaceful atmosphere to exist in.
These practices led to my developing a sense of individuality. This individuality I began to develop was threatening to my boyfriend and it made him more uncertain and desperate to hold onto me. When this behaviour began to manifest, I realized just how unhealthy our relationship had become and I realized more of what I did not want in a life partner. My boyfriend’s inability and refusal to try and work on himself is what ultimately showed me the relationship had no future.
In contrast, my current boyfriend does many things on his own. In many ways, he’s even more individual than I am. At first, that left me wondering what place I could have in his life. But almost a year later, I have grown to appreciate the time we spend together because I know we could easily choose to be alone, but instead, we are choosing to be together. We have great conversations still because of our individuality and because we respect each other. Of course, I do wish we spent more time together, but I am also aware of the passage of time and I know that as we are together longer, being together more will come as our relationship grows.
3. Trust Each Other
I understand this is easier said than done sometimes. I still struggle with it occasionally and I would say I trust my current boyfriend. But every once in a while a thought creeps into my mind that shakes that trust. I try and remember this: “I am amazing and if he doesn’t see that, he isn’t for me.” With this statement, I know that if he were to cheat on me, he would be showing me he doesn’t respect, value or appreciate me. And if he doesn’t, he isn’t the one for me.
I suppose that could sound a bit conceited, but I see it as a healthy sense of self respect and self love. I trust my boyfriend’s moral values and who he is at the core and that has made trusting him to remain loyal and committed easier. But I also put a lot of weight in that statement. I know I am wonderful just as I am. I have many faults, but those are what make my positive attributes that much more positive. I choose to focus on the positive and because I do that, I know that whoever I will share my life with will also do the same. My ex would berate me for my problems but rarely specifically identified my positive qualities. But because I felt like there were positive aspects of myself, I didn’t trust his criticism. I didn’t trust what he said and that became a bigger issue when we discussed more important aspects of our relationship.
Trust is tested when two people in a relationship are both very individual. If you cling to each other and never do anything separate, the desire to do something alone could raise suspicion (or jealousy) in your partner. However, if you both trust each other, the alone time you both want to spend will be welcomed and encouraged. Then the conversation when you come back together is more about sharing experiences than veiled questioning trying to find out what they did when they weren’t with you and whether they are hiding something.
Originally published here.