Relationships are confusing, messy, beautiful, wonderful things. Many of us fall to one end of the spectrum of either fearing them and the commitment they require or wanting them and to be loved desperately. We are molded through and grow within every relationship we encounter. Most of our learning as babies comes from the direct instruction and observation within and of relationships! So in our closest relationships in life- where do they end and we begin?
Sense of Self
Having a sense of oneself within a relationship is fundamental- the degree to which each of us will have this though is a spectrum that may shift over time. Think of the beginning of a romantic relationship and the all consuming excitement. We may see our friends less, spend less time engaging in hobbies or individual interests, all because there is someone wonderful to do things with now! Humans crave connection and it is natural to find oneself falling into total smitten-ness during the 'honeymoon phase'. As we've all heard- this initial enthusiasm can wear off. While the excitement and sparkle may dull, the absorption in a relationship may not. Many of us struggle with maintaining a sense of self initially and throughout relationships because of the way we were raised, societal models, or a fear that differences mean ultimately our partner will reject us.
Identity and Commonalities
It’s wonderful to have things in common with our partners. Oftentimes this is the draw that initially connects us. But what happens when we find ourselves ignoring our own personal needs OR our partners for the sake of connection or acceptance? Right now ask yourself- What are my beliefs and interests? Do these beliefs match my partners entirely or do they differ? These beliefs can be 'low risk' (think about things you enjoy eating or shows you enjoy watching) or more major (think the dreaded politics discussion or other taboo topics like religion). While it is hard to make a relationship work without having similar core values (think morals) it's important to have, express, and acknowledge your own individuality within any relationship.
Codependency vs Interdependency
Codependency is the belief of and pattern of neglecting one's own needs or self for the acceptance and love of another. This may look like conscious or unconscious thoughts of fearing upsetting the other, confusing what our partner thinks of us and what WE think of us, struggling to say no, and difficulty with boundaries. Interdependence on the other hand is about balancing the needs of ourselves and our partners allowing us to both connect and grow together and as individuals. This may happen simultaneously or at different rates. If you find yourself leaning more towards the former- leave shame at the door! Codependency is a pattern we are taught and even the word itself can be triggering. The cycle of it all can leave us feeling terrified that by settling boundaries or creating distance we will be left alone or rejected, but while boundaries may be painful to set they are ultimately a sign of love for ourselves and for our relationships.
Enmeshment in relationships (a feature of codependency) can look like feeling the other person's emotions or feeling responsible for their well being or happiness. This can come from childhoods where we are taught that certain behaviors will make us 'good' or 'loveable'. Think of phrases you may have heard growing up that indicate you were responsible for your parents emotional state, guilt trips when expressing individuality, or general lack of boundaries. This can happen in small and large doses- but still have effects on us as we grow as these were our main sources of learning how to connect and be loved!
What to do!
To unlearn some of these habits we need to start by identifying and setting our boundaries with ourselves and our loved one. This can be as small as beginning the practice of keeping small promises to yourself- if you say you want to go for the walk or watch the cheesy show- do it! Whether they want to or not!
Spend time alone. This can be triggering and scary- especially if it challenges ours our our partners idea of showing love, but with boundaries comes clear communication that alone time doesn't mean we don't love our partners or want to see them- but simply that we need time to explore and honor ourselves too.
To communicate this to yourself (or partner) think of balancing phrases- like we need food AND water, not just one! We need play AND rest! Calm AND excitement! Expressing our needs and interests can happen simultaneously with expressing our love and appreciation of our partner. Ultimately having separate interests or hobbies is something that can actually help us find ourselves and our partners more interesting (and sexy!). Difference can mean something to share, teach, and bond over! While we think a lot about the importance of connection, it is pivotal to also balance this with connection to self and maintaining a sense of mystery AND closeness with our partners.