Often, when I counsel newly-married couples, I hear a familiar lament: “I feel like I’ve lost myself since I got married” or “After moving in with my partner, I feel like I’ve merged with them so much that I don’t know who I am anymore”.
You fall in love. You move in. You get married. You get lost. Sometimes, it feels that way and you wonder what happened to the person you used to be. You wonder how you lost all those good qualities that you used to have, all your independence, all those friends. You lament all the activities you used to enjoy that you’ve given up. It’s oh so tempting to blame your partner for all of this. Of course, perhaps they’ve lost themselves as well.
Codependence is another word for feeling hyper-responsible for someone else and putting their needs first. If you are co-dependent in relationships, expect to feel resentment. We all have moments of codependence, where we put others first, this is a normal, healthy thing. However, if we find that we repeatedly put ourselves and our needs last, then we may be losing ourselves…sacrificing our own well-being for that of our partner or other people we care about.
We may have been taught to be that way. I know I was. As the oldest of four children, I felt responsible for the younger three. I also was put into the role of my mother’s confidante, further cementing myself into the box of “caretaker/helper/responsible one”. It has taken me a long time to get out of that box.
We all come to the “caretaker” role in our own way. It’s not a bad thing to occasionally “merge” with your husband/wife. But if you have lost yourself in your marriage and your identity as an independent person seems to have slip-slided away, then it’s time to talk about the Art of Not Merging.
It’s can be great to be part of a happy couple: to be “Blake’s wife” or “Lana’s husband”, as long as it isn’t your only identity. Don’t lose yourself. You need friends. Don’t try and make your lover your everything.
I like the idea of “healthy distance” in a relationship. It means that each person needs friends of their own and activities they do on their own. It isn’t emotionally healthy to share everything with your partner. A desperate groping for emotional closeness makes you clingy and needy.
Feeling abandoned? Often, this is a sign that you’re really lost yourself: your whole sense of safety and identity depends on feeling loved by other people, and when those people temporarily (or not) turn their love away from you, you panic.
Feeling abandoned is one version of losing yourself. We believe that the only way to make our partner (or anyone) love us is to deny who we really are and perform for them: making them approve of us in order to “win” their love.
If you were my client and you had lost yourself in your relationship, I’d help you to gradually begin to figure out what you like to do. Some of us have been performing for others for so long that we’ve almost forgotten what we like or don’t like. Our personal preferences repeatedly were pushed aside to make way for the desires of those we wanted to love us. Then, when we actually begin to tell people what we want, we get very anxious: it brings up all our old, unresolved people-pleasing stuff.
We can learn to un-brainwash ourselves: we started out in life knowing we were loveable exactly as we are, but, then, along the way we were told that we were worthy of love only if we behaved in a certain way. And, of course, it was impossible to behave in this way all the time. What a set-up for insecurity!
Luckily, you‘re not stuck there: with some help from your partner, friends and others who love you, you can begin to “unhook” from the chronic and debilitating need to please.
Don’t put it off any longer. If you feel like you’ve lost yourself in relationships, the time to find yourself is now.