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How to be a good partner without losing yourself in a relationship?

I met a couple recently for a session of marital counselling. They shared their individual experiences in being married for over a decade. They repeatedly circled back to one aspect, each sharing individually, albeit in different words “My marriage is not the way I would like it to be. I am not able to be myself. I feel stifled, suffocated even. I want to find a way to be me!”

This is not the first time that I have heard this in a session. Over the years as I have worked with individuals and couples who are dating, living in or married to each other this has been an often stated need. In growing through adolescence people strive to be with someone. They seek a partner who they can have conversations with, share experiences and build a life together. Through the numerous shared experiences they attune to each other’s needs, desires, ways of doing things and being with the other.

Unknowingly couples begin to mirror each other. In some ways, at first, they imbibe the ways of the other and these areas of influence increase over time. What people don’t realise is that the process of losing yourself happens slowly. And this process may not happen for both the people in the relationship.

The reality is that a mature relationship does not need to foster neediness or dependency. It needs to bring with it the opportunity to grow and be an individual while also being a couple. It gives them the freedom to express, experience, be creative, innovative, content and happy. The pertinent question then to ask yourself is ‘How do you be a ‘we’ while also maintaining the ‘me’?’

Continue to pursue your individual interests

As you come to be with another person, the foundation of a strong relationship is laid through the mutual engagement and pursuance of activities and interests. However, it is equally important for your life together that you maintain your individuality which will keep you interesting for each other. Having your own ideas, interests, experiences and identities contributes to the engagement and connect with each other.

Maintain your individual boundaries

While being closely connected and reliant on each other, we can struggle to share our personal thoughts, feelings and experiences within the context of the relationship. When this happens it can be a big red flag. It is crucial that you find ways to express yourself—how you feel when you are with each other, in conversations and across situations, the thoughts that get triggered within you, the past that emerges in the light of your mutual experiences. Share these and also share your needs. Keep setting the boundaries and defining your space within the relationship in a non-confrontational manner.

Engage in self-care

To be able to give to another, contribute meaningfully to their lives, and be present through their experiences you need to be in good space yourself. This entails engaging in healthy self-care that permits the enhancement of your physical, emotional and psychological well-being. This translates into doing things that you like, making healthy choices for yourself, saying a no when you need to, taking breaks and indulging yourself.

Your development maintains contentment

Your personal growth and development is critical to the contentment that you experience in your relationship with your partner. Two individuals who are not satisfied within themselves cannot play a complementary role in maintaining the quality of their relationship. Your satisfaction as an individual would also contribute to your mutual contentment in being with each other.

Don’t become over-zealous in maintaining your individuality

You need to be forewarned that you cannot let your need for maintaining your individuality come in the way of your dynamics with each other. It is always crucial to strike the right balance in maintaining your individual self and boundaries as well as the needs and desires of your partner vis-a-vis you and your relationship. Loving ourselves and demonstrating the love to your partner are both essential and need to go hand in hand.

—By Kamna Chhibber

(Kamna Chhibber is the Head (Mental Health), Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare)

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