How to honor your individual needs within the context of a long-term relationship.
There’s a point in most relationships when you start to refer to yourself as a “we” more often than an “I.” The transition often happens subtly as the two of you form a new identity together, your “couple identity.” Out of a shared set of beliefs, experiences, future goals, and some form of commitment to one another, the “we” is born.
Forming a couple identity is a natural and healthy part of a relationship. But often, this new identity begins to take precedence over the individual identities within it. It can feel like your personal needs, wishes, and beliefs have taken a backseat to those of your partner, or that you have lost touch with yourself and your ability to articulate your personal preferences and values.
But aren’t two hearts supposed to become one?
The messaging we receive around love and relationships has taught us to seek out a partner who can complete us, who can make us a better version of ourselves. TV, movies, and books largely depict love and relationships as an act of merging, where two people become a single entity with completely shared lives.
In real life, love does actually feel a bit like merging with another human. Especially in the initial stages of a relationship, all you want to do is become more connected to your partner — to learn about them and begin sharing all of life’s experiences with them.
It feels good to merge. But if we’re not aware of and intentional about honoring ourselves as individuals, we can lose sight of our deeper selves, the “I” that exists separate from the “we”.
A healthy relationship has three identities: me, you, and we.
When all three identities are equally honored and respected, both individuals in the relationship are given the space to grow and experience life fully. An even deeper bond is forged when both partners feel secure in themselves.
So, what does this healthy “three-identity” scenario look like, you ask?
Well, it looks different for each of us. It could mean showing up for the things that are important to your partner, supporting their interests, making space for their humanity — and getting the same in return. It could mean that you sometimes go to concerts without your partner because it’s just not their thing. It could mean that your partner takes on more household chores for a time to allow you to explore a new interest or hobby. It could mean supporting your partner at an important work event even though you’d probably rather stay home. It’s about balancing both of your individual selves, balancing between both giving and taking.
In a healthy relationship, there exists a healthy mix of individual and shared interests, where both partners are able to make decisions and express their individuality.
Maintaining the “I”
Balance is the key to maintaining the “I” within the context of a long-term relationship.
Our romantic relationships are an important piece of our lives. But they’re also just that: a piece of the whole.
Honoring your individuality while in a relationship looks like:
- Honoring your emotional and spiritual well-being.
- Honoring your body.
- Honoring your work.
- Honoring your family and friends.
Give yourself permission to explore and invest in the arears of your life that exist separate from your relationship. When we begin to think of our relationships as one of the many areas of life that bring us joy and fulfillment, we are able to experience greater happiness, more holistic success, and a deeper bond with our partner.