We often receive mixed messages about love from society, media, and peers. We will often hear sayings such as, “You complete me” or “My partner is my other half” when discussing relationship and love. While these sayings are romantic and sweet, what kind of messages are they sending to singles and people looking for love? Are they teaching people that we are only complete or whole once we find someone else? In addition, how do messages like these impact those in relationships? Is it normal to lose one’s individuality in a relationship? A common misconception about relationships is that you should be blending into one partnered unit, as opposed to two individuals operating together. One of the most important aspects of a healthy relationship is when each individual is able to hold on to their individuality and uniqueness within the relationship. In other words, the healthiest relationships exist between two people who are complete on their own. Healthy partnership highlights your individual characteristics and values in conjunction with your partner’s.
A common pattern that I see when working with clients in individual or couples therapy is when people try to mold into a version of themselves that they think their partner or a potential partner is looking for, or they lose sight of their own lives and values when they enter new relationships. While dating requires a lot of time and attention to cultivate a new relationship, it is important to continue being yourself and doing things that bring you personal happiness and fulfillment. What often happens when people who fall into this pattern begin dating someone new is that they stop spending time with their friends and stop engaging in personal hobbies and self-care. It can be tempting to completely throw yourself into a new relationship when it is going well; however, it is extremely important to set boundaries around your time for yourself and time with your other friends. When you set appropriate boundaries at the beginning of your relationship, it shows your partner, as well as yourself, that while your time together is valuable, so is the time you spend elsewhere (such as working out, seeing friends, and so forth).
When a couple dives into a relationship without setting healthy boundaries around time with other people, hobbies, self-care, and so forth, it can be detrimental to your relationship in the long-term. A dynamic like this one may play out later in the relationship when one or both of the individuals feel as though they have lost themselves in the relationship. He or she will no longer remember how to take care of him or herself or regulate their own emotions. A couple like this may also be likely to isolate themselves from friendships, which causes them to have limited social support.
I will see couples in couples counseling who may have fallen into this pattern early-on in their relationship. They will often describe a whirlwind romance or became serious and committed quickly. They may have made the other person their top priority, even over themselves. A dynamic like this one can have long-term negative impacts on the relationship because the two individuals may not know how to function as an individual without the other being there. One partner may be relying on the other to cope with difficult emotions, or arguments may start and escalate quickly because one person’s anger will directly impact the other’s mood and emotions. In other words, emotions became contagious. For example, if I’m sad, you’re sad. If I’m angry, you’re angry. Therapists refer to couples like this as being emotionally fused or enmeshed. A couple like this may spend their time in counseling learning how to function as an individual again, learn how to regulate difficult emotions on their own, and set healthier boundaries.
A great way to get ahead of this pattern and prevent it from occurring in a new relationship is to set up healthy boundaries in the beginning. It is also important to keep in mind that most people find it attractive to date someone who has a full life of their own. In the early phases of dating, think twice before canceling plans with your friends or skipping your yoga or workout class to go on a date. It is important to continue to do the things that you love and keep you physically and mentally healthy in the beginning of the relationship to set the tone that taking care of individual needs is not an option, it is a necessity.
If you or you and your partner are looking to set healthier boundaries in your relationship, contact Symmetry Counseling to set up an appointment with an individual or couples therapist.