I'm thrilled to share my first publication in Huffington Post! Click the image for the original article.
It’s a common fear among women that in committing wholeheartedly to a relationship with a partner, we will lose our relationship with ourselves. This comes from a core belief that we cannot be devoted to another person while still being true to ourselves.
But what if it were possible to have a deep passionate loving relationship with a partner and also have a deep passionate loving relationship with you? What if both could exist at the same time, and in fact, the strength of one relationship was directly and positively correlated to the strength of the other?
It’s possible for your relationship with yourself and your relationship with your partner to work in tandem, serving as foils for each other and causing exponential, reciprocal growth and expansion. This is the definition of a healthy partnership: a relationship in which the individuals are stronger because of the power of the whole.
Here are some ways to keep from losing yourself when you’re in a relationship
1. Recognize that your relationship with yourself is the more important of the two relationships.
This may sound selfish but in fact it’s the opposite. You can’t have a deep connection with somebody else if you’re not connected to yourself.
Being connected to yourself means owning all parts of yourself including the shadow parts of you —the parts of you that are blindingly angry, irrationally jealous, callously thoughtless. Disconnection from these will become a challenge and your relationship with your partner.
For example, a friend of mine ran into serious conflict with her husband after their first child was born. She felt like her husband wasn’t connected enough to their son. She told him he needed to spend more time with their son, that he was too focused on work, and that he needed to hug his son more and be more spontaneous with him.
It was only after doing some deep work on herself that she began to realize she was projecting her feelings about her own relationship with her father onto her husband. She also realized that her constant badgering of her husband had led to feelings of inadequacy in both of them.
She didn’t like badgering the man she loved. She knew it made him feel bad about himself and didn’t seem to have a positive effect on his relationship with his son. She just couldn’t stop until she did the work of strengthening her relationship with herself, getting to the root of the issue within her, and then getting to the root of the issue in the partnership.
2. Realize that your compassion for your partner is only as deep as your compassion for yourself.
Understanding this is the first step in uncovering the blocks to love in you and of doing the deep work within you.
My friend couldn’t stop criticizing her husband’s relationship with his with her son, but she also couldn’t stop criticizing herself far more harshly than she would ever criticize her husband.
When it came down to it, she expected nothing less than perfection in herself. She wasn’t consciously aware of this; she simply had the background chatter of her inner critic running all the time.
Her son was a colicky baby who was seemingly inconsolable a lot of the time, leading my friend to question what she was doing wrong as a mother. She felt like other mothers would be able to handle a difficult baby with far more grace and ease than she ever could. She often felt like a failure as a mother, particularly because this has been a very wanted to baby and now she wasn’t enjoying him.
Though she found very little compassion in her judgment of her husband’s relationship with her son she found absolutely none in her judgment of her own relationship with her son. It was only through doing the difficult work of coming to terms with how toxic her relationship with herself had gotten that she was able to start doing the work of owning her piece of her relationship with her husband.
As she became more connected to herself, she opened up space for connection with her husband again.
3. See your relationship with your partner not as a potential liability to your authenticity but as the most powerful medium for your own personal growth.
Relationships have a funny way of bringing our deepest longings, deepest hurts, and deepest wounds to the surface. Our partners are our greatest mirrors and are therefore our greatest gift in our personal growth. They’re a major blessing in our journey to better understand ourselves.
The best thing to do when we’re feeling hurt, offended, or slighted by our partners is to first have a dialogue with ourselves about what we’re seeing in the mirror our partners are holding up to us.
How does communicating with ourselves work when we’re feeling slighted by our partners?
Ask yourself if what you’re feeling is familiar. Have you felt angry or frustrated in about this issue before in another relationship? How old were you the first time you felt this way? What was the end result? How did it ultimately impact that relationship and your life?
For my friend, the conflict with her husband became a springboard to start processing a relationship with a former boyfriend that had ended in heartache. The relationship had hugely impacted her self-esteem in ways she never realized and left her with a deep wound that disconnected her from her most authentic self.
She also realized that time spent on social media was only serving to put her perfectionistic tendencies into overdrive. She took back control by deleting apps from her phone and using time that the baby was sleeping to catch up on a long-neglected pile of fiction books.
Through therapy and journaling, she learned techniques to be more compassionate to herself and began to find the tools she needed to effectively communicate with her husband.
Our deepest most intimate relationships are with our partners. They’re where we’re most vulnerable. For that reason, they’re the place where our light and our shadow can be seen most clearly. Our partners give us the opportunity to see things in ourselves that no one else can.
See your relationship with your partner as a conduit for enriching, enhancing, and deepening your relationship with yourself. Through this lens, your relationship with your partner will naturally be enriched, enhanced, and deepened as well.