• Have you morphed into “a couple” and now have no idea what you would do if the other person was not around?
• Do you tend to use “we” instead of “I” when you talk about experiences you shared with your partner?
• Do you say things like “I was just talking to [your partner] about that” or “[your partner] and I were just thinking about that” every other sentence?
• Do you make decisions about how you spend your time, how you spend your money, or how you fuel your body according to what your partner tells you or what you decide together, even if the activities do not involve them?
Hello! Where did you go? Many of us get excited about new interests and make compromises when we begin to build romantic relationships. We might meet someone who is really into old films and realize we can no longer live without a Turner Classic Movies subscription. We might partner with someone who is vegetarian and start keeping a vegetarian kitchen in order to cook together. We might realize that our habit of not washing the dishes for weeks, or of washing the dishes within seconds of use, is off-putting to others. In some cases, these evolutions can enrich our lives and partnerships. But in others, they can take away from our relationships with others and ourselves. They can even be an excuse for us to lose ourselves.
When you meet someone, you click because of who you are in that moment. As you get to know each other and experience the new relationship, you might opt to spend time with them instead of your friends, yourself, or your interests. You might make decisions together around your shared time. Those decisions might creep into other areas of your life. As you’re drawn into the excitement of it all, everything that isn’t spending time together just seems less important. Yet that dynamic is very unhealthy and leads to many relationship problems. Here’s why.
It Can Make You Afraid of Change
If you let your boundaries dissolve and wrap up your entire life and identity in your partner, leaving the partnership can start to feel impossible. If you put all of your time, effort, and energy into your relationship and into this person instead of your family, friends, interests, hobbies, and self, you may feel stuck.
Relationships should always feel like – and be – a choice. If you’ve ever felt afraid to leave because what’s out there might be worse, or felt too scared of your own future to consider leaving even if you feel miserable, that’s a red flag.
Years or decades into a relationship in which you’ve prioritized your partner to the exclusion of all else can leave you feeling resentful at best. You might feel angry, whether at them or yourself. You might start to approach them with the four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, or stonewalling. You might also experience anxiety, depression, and other negative mental health impacts.
If this dynamic feels familiar, your relationship needs to shift. You are never stuck, either in a dynamic or in a relationship. You can change your relationship, or you can end it. The decision is yours – not yours and your partner’s, fully yours. If you stay, you will have to work together, but the choice to do so is one that only you can make for yourself.
Your Relationship Can Get Disconnected
When you met, your partner was attracted to you: your ideas, interests, outlook, and all the different ways you spent your time and attention. You did those things because they made you happy and fulfilled. You probably were excited and animated while you spoke about them. You shared some things, and not others. You had things to talk about and sought fulfillment outside of any other person.
Over time, if you stopped pursuing those interests and only focused on the other person and the relationship, chances are that you also started to feel like you both had fewer “new” and “different” things to talk about. Some of those things you might have been happy or already seeking permission to let go of, but others you began to miss as they stopped being a part of your life.
Or maybe you weren’t happy when you met. Maybe you felt like something was missing from your life, and you shoved a partner into that empty space instead of figuring out how to be happy and fulfilled on your own. (FYI: you’ll never feel happy and fulfilled with a partner unless you feel happy and fulfilled on your own.) Over time and as you got used to the relationship, the distraction from your misery that you found in your partner started to break down. You wound up even further away from happiness than you were when you met, and without many of the people and interests that supported you.
In any case, not having your own networks of friends and loved ones for social support, your own interests, and your own individual dreams as well as any you share can pressure the relationship to be your sole source of happiness and fulfillment.