Our assumptions about what makes for a happy relationship are a source of unnecessary tension and frustration in our relationships. It’s this idea that ‘soulmates’ (or certainly people who ‘really love each other’) want to spend every spare moment together. We also think it’s important to want to do lots of the same things. Hence why millions of people set off in search of somebody who shares their hobbies and interests.
Here’s the thing though: relationships do involve us being on the same team. They don’t, however, require us to stop being individuals. It’s the crucial difference between codependence and interdependence. The former’s not knowing where we end and they begin due to excessively relying on them emotionally for definition, and the latter is the ability to depend on each other and retain our identity at the same time.
An all-too-easy trap to fall into is believing that the way to show or indeed, prove our love, is to make our partner the centre of our universe. Next thing, our social life shrinks. We maybe feel guilty about wanting to do some things on our own. We put aside some of the things that matter to us. Somewhere along the way, we lose sight of our needs and desires, and next thing, we’ve basically lost ourselves.
A staple in unhealthy relationships where the controlling partner uses isolation and emotional blackmail to maximise our dependence on them, losing ourselves also happens in genuinely loving relationships.
Why? Let’s say that we believe that we’re responsible for someone else’s happiness and feelings (and they ours). Doing things, then, that seem purely for us will feel threatening to the relationship. Even though our partner doesn’t, for example, have a problem with us socialising without them or us having our own interests, we’ll suppress ourselves due to feeling guilty or fearing potential negative consequences.
We also want to please our partners, as in, generate good and loving feelings in them. This is understandable. But positive feelings are a natural by-product of any relationship where both parties consistently show up as themselves. Intimacy results and the relationship prospers.
Where things get pretty dicey, however, is when we edit and shave ourselves down.
We attempt to be what we think a Perfect Partner TM is supposed to be. This is because, on some level, we’re afraid that if we don’t, they’re going to reject or abandon us. Maybe it’s messages we took away from our own parents’ relationship or those of our peers. It can, however, also be due to perfectionism and wanting to make our relationship appear a certain way. Unfortunately, when we effectively try to insulate our partner from feeling any discomfort and are over-attuned to their needs, we also miss great honking signs about our discomfort and needs.
The expectation of spending every spare moment together or sharing all of the same interests is a recipe for disappointment and resentment.
The moment one party deviates, it feels like the rejection it isn’t. In reality, a relationship can’t be our sole source of pleasure and purpose.
If our partner’s anxious due to our desire for independence, it’s time for an honest conversation. It’s one thing if we rarely spend quality time with our partner and so they’re feeling genuinely neglected. It’s another, however, when their anxiety is about the past. This begs the question: What’s the baggage behind it? Making the connection between the old wounds and our present-day responses, not only opens up a path to healing but also greater levels of intimacy.
Discerning desire from obligation is absolutely crucial for the health and wealth of our relationships. Are we being or doing something because it’s who we are and we want to, or because we’re afraid or feel as if we have to? And if it’s the latter, is it our fears and insecurities or our partner’s expectations? Yes, we make sacrifices on occasion in our relationships, but they don’t feel like them when they’re an autonomous give.
Ultimately, there’s no need to sacrifice ourselves for our relationships. It’s possible to love our partner and ourselves at the same time, and sometimes this will mean creating the space to do our own thing.