I was thinking about the 1999 movie “Runaway Bride” the other day.
For those of you who have no idea what happens in the movie, here’s a brief recap:
Julia Roberts plays a character who basically gets engaged over and over again, only to never actually say “I do.” She freaks out right before it gets to that point, and then gets right into another relationship. Rinse-repeat.
However, each of the men with whom she gets involved could not be more different. And, when she is with them, she becomes different, too. She essentially becomes a chameleon and adopts their likes and interests as if they were her own.
Then comes the highlight moment of the movie: she has made eggs in all sorts of ways and has this brilliant moment when she realizes that she likes her eggs a certain way. She finally has her own opinion about something. She actually knows what she likes instead of just saying she likes something a certain way because the man in her life likes it that way.
Now, why am I bringing this up? Because I believe that many of us, to some degree, lose ourselves once we become involved in a relationship. We somehow forget who we were before we started dating the person we are with. Over time, we morph into a couple and lose our individual identity.
We forget that the reason our partner was attracted to us in the first place and that we “clicked” was because of who we were at the time we met. As so often happens, especially in the beginning, we opted to spend time with this person in lieu of our friends or doing the activities that used to fulfill us and make us happy. As we were drawn into the excitement of the relationship and being with this other person, these other people and activities somehow just did not seem as important as spending time with this other person once we met them.
Maybe you thought you’d eventually go back to doing those things you used to enjoy and spending time with those people who used to mean so much to you. But, when you first started dating, it was so much more fun to spend time with your partner that you put time with them as a priority over everything and everyone else. Maybe you had waited so long to find someone that, once you met them, you just devoted all of your time to your relationship, determined to make it work.
This is something that is unhealthy and leads to many problems in relationships. And here’s why:
1. Loss of Identity Without the Other Person
Have you morphed into being a “couple” and now have no idea what you would do if the other person was not around?
Do you tend to use “we” instead of “I” when talking to other people?
Do you find yourself saying things like “I was just talking to _______ (enter name of significant other in blank),” or, “_______ and I were just thinking about that…” with pretty much every sentence or conversation you have with anyone?
Do decisions about where you want to eat, go on vacation, or do on the weekend typically end up being what your partner wants to do or are not made unless you ask your partner first? And you are not asking them because you are being considerate and a “team,” but you are asking for some codependent reason like you don’t know what you want to do, you want to make sure they are happy, or you worry about making the “wrong” decision without asking them first.
Hello! Where did you go?
I know you all used the word “I” before meeting this person when talking about yourself. And I know you did not tell people about your thoughts on a situation before by referencing someone with whom you previously discussed it. As if it matters that you discussed that topic with your significant other before!
And I am sure you were just fine planning a restaurant or feeding yourself before you met this other person. You had an opinion or at least were able to make a choice on your own.
Yes…that amazing individual who once (believe it or not!) actually lived a life without the other person is still in there.
2. Staying Too Long
If you forget who you are before you met and now your whole identity is wrapped up in being in this relationship, then regardless of how miserable you might be, you might be too scared to even think about leaving.
Do you ever say “What if I leave and realize that what is out there is worse?” Or are you afraid to be alone, even though you continually say you are unhappy and miserable?
If you stopped spending time with family and friends and pursuing your hobbies and perhaps even your career and dreams to be in this relationship, then this relationship and being this person’s partner is really all you believe you have and are.
If you put all of your time, effort, and energy into your relationship and into this person, you may feel “stuck” and unable to leave or change things.
Many people, especially those who have stayed years or decades in relationships, may feel resentful of their partner and their relationship, or even angry at themselves. This resentment and anger is toxic and can lead to many relationship problems as well as depression and anxiety that must be addressed.
However, nobody is ever stuck and things between two people can change if both people are willing to work on the relationship.
3. Disconnection in the Relationship
Let’s face it: what attracted your partner to you in the first place was you. Yes, the individual you were when you first met. The one who showed up talking about all of the things you were doing and all of the interests you had.
You did those things because they made you happy and fulfilled you. You probably were excited and animated while talking about them. That is what connected you to one another. You were happy, had things to talk about, and you were fulfilled.
Over time, if you stopped spending time pursuing those interests and spent time focusing on the other person and the relationship, then chances are you also started to feel like you both had less “new” and “different” things to talk about with one another. And, you also started to feel less fulfilled and happy as those things stopped being a part of your life.
While you may have initially felt fulfilled and happy (as most people do) in the exciting beginning stage of your relationship, as you settled into a comfortable and less exciting phase, by not continuing to pursue activities and maintain healthy friendships with others, there is a lot of pressure placed on the relationship as both partners look to each other and to the relationship to be the sole source of happiness and fulfillment.
This is an impossible situation that typically leads to disconnection as both partners feel pressure to fulfill their partner’s needs while also feeling they are not getting their own needs met. This can lead to arguments and fighting and ultimately emotional and physical disconnection.
There is nothing worse than seeing a couple at dinner barely talking to one another. Or asking a couple when they last had sex and they honestly don’t know the answer.
The healthiest relationships exist where both people remain individuals who maintain their interests and friendships that they had prior to entering the relationship. They continue to grow as individuals while also having their relationship together grow.
In a truly healthy and loving relationship, each person encourages and supports their partner to pursue their passions and dreams and essentially allows them to become the best version of themselves.
If someone is not growing as an individual in order to be in their relationship, then something is wrong. You must not have to give up who you are or what your dreams are in order to be with someone.
Bottom line: Don’t lose yourself. Ever.