There have been two times in my life when I have found myself in relationships where I no longer had any sort of connection to myself. I was able to tell something was wrong, but it was difficult to put a finger on exactly what was happening.
More often than not, I would blame myself. I was too _______ (fat, needy, sensitive, erratic, indecisive). Mostly, I figured there was something about myself that I needed to fix.
It didn’t occur to me that it was more about the context I found myself in rather than who I was as a person that was the issue. That I had slowly taken down boundary after boundary. Until I couldn’t tell where the relationship began and where I ended.
In both instances, it took me way too long to realize what was happening. To realize that these were no longer healthy situations. And to then eventually extract myself from them.
And maybe this has happened to you. You begin a thrilling new relationship with someone who makes you feel things you can’t remember ever feeling. The potential inspires you.
But then slowly, over years or months, you lose pieces of yourself. You convince yourself that you should sacrifice here and there. For the good of the relationship. You want to preserve what potential you saw at the beginning.
Or maybe it’s because subconsciously you want to hide within the relationship. If you focus on making yourself fit its confines, you won’t need to deal with other things. Such as any lingering, scary things within you that might need some attention. And some intense work.
No matter the reason, losing yourself within a relationship can be intensely disorienting, isolating, and painful. It puts you in danger of not being able to leave if the need arises. Because you’re no longer an independent entity. It also puts you in danger of not even being aware of the need to leave. Which can — in the most extreme cases — be deadly.
But how can you tell if this is happening to you? Especially if you’re in a place where you don’t think you can trust your own judgment. Start by asking yourself these five questions. Do your best to be honest with yourself. It can be helpful to be aware of not only your response but your reaction to asking these questions in the first place.
1. Have I stopped pursuing my interests?
When I was faced with the possibility of losing myself in a relationship yet again, my therapist gave me an idea:
Notice the number of yoga classes I was going to.
Was it about the same as before the relationship? Had it gone down? She then suggested that something was probably up if I started going to much fewer than usual or — especially — if I stopped going altogether.
This might be the most tangible way (i.e. potentially the most objective metric) of telling whether or not something is amiss with you/your relationship. If you notice that you’ve stopped engaging with your interests, ask yourself why. Maybe it has nothing to do with your relationship! Could be an unrelated mental health thing (it’s a common symptom of Depression).
However, if you’re consistently sacrificing doing x (going to dance class, spending time working on a project, exercising) so that you can hang out with your partner or simply be available for your partner, there might be something else wrong.
2. How is my social life?
No matter how healthy of a relationship you have, your social life is going to shift. It’s even going to evolve and change throughout the lifecycle of your relationship.
But. It should never completely disappear.
And I don’t necessarily mean you should be going out all the time. Not talking FOMO here. But I am talking about how healthy your relationships are outside of THE relationship. Do you still have friends or family who you talk with regularly?
Now, I know more than anyone that being an adult and having friends can be difficult. There is no one-size-fits-all way to go about it. But it’s necessary to have these connections and support outside of our romantic relationships in order to maintain a sense of self, as well as independence.
3. What do I do when I’m by myself?
This can be another pretty tangible metric.
Notice what you do when you’re by yourself. Are you taking care of yourself? Are you doing things that nurture you in some way?
…Or are you simply existing? Waiting to be picked up by the other person. Waiting for the other person to get home or to text you.
I used to get so frustrated in my marriage because I felt like I could never do the things I wanted to do. I didn’t realize exactly why that was. But I would find myself sitting around, unsure of what to do with myself when he was out. And then when he was back, I would default to whatever he wanted to do.
It’s almost like I felt paralyzed. Or incapable of being myself anymore.
4. Have my friends or family mentioned I’ve changed (and not in a positive way)?
This one isn’t foolproof because it’s impossible for all of our friends and family to love our partner, regardless of how healthy the relationship is.
But. If you’re hearing from multiple beloved people in your life that you seem to be behaving differently, this could be an indication of something going on within your relationship.
Since these people only get slices of you at a time, they’re more equipped to notice significant changes.
Depending on your relationships with your loved ones, this could be a welcomed observation or one of the most difficult things to hear. I don’t know if I would have listened to my family or friends if they’d mentioned anything to me.
Maybe they did, and I literally didn’t listen to them.
5. Can I imagine life independent of my person?
I’m not saying to imagine life without the person entirely. That would be difficult and seemingly impossible for some of us, regardless of the health of the relationship. And that’s fine.
But see if you can mentally set them aside for a moment. Consider life without considering them. If you need a scenario, maybe they have to go work abroad for a few months, and you have to stay home. You can still communicate, but you’re going to have a lot more time to yourself. You’ll have a lot more freedom in structuring your life. You’ll have a lot more space.
Can you imagine what that time would be like for you? Can you see yourself being able to continue to function without them?
It’s okay to acknowledge that it would be difficult. This would put strain on any relationship.
But if you are unable to see how you would be able to get through those few months, there might be some indication that there is some unhealthy attachment or boundaries happening.
Noticing any of these things happening within your relationship isn’t a death sentence. It doesn’t mean that it can’t become a healthy situation for you.
Once you realize it, you can pay attention. Notice when you’re more likely to soften your boundaries. Maybe examine whether or not you have any boundaries left. (“Boundaries” meaning, essentially, what is okay and what is not okay for you)
Talk with your partner about how you’re feeling. See what they’ve noticed. Maybe get in to see a therapist (alone or together) to see what a professional has to say.
The most important thing is to notice when this is happening, so that you can then work to prevent any deep disconnect with yourself. Because the more you “lose” yourself, the harder it can be to find yourself again.
And if you’re not in connection with yourself, it’s almost impossible to have a strong, meaningful relationship with anyone.