Your Relationship Is Not Your Identity
We are all familiar with the kind of relationship that takes over the lives of the two people involved. They go from being individuals to being two halves of a whole. Not only is this way of being unhealthy, it also sets you up for a hell of a broken heart and a whack of other issues when things come to a screaming halt. It has been my experience that this mentality is more common among young people who are likely blinded by love and haven’t developed any cynicism about relationships yet.
I believe that dating is a fundamental part of learning about yourself and others. It’s an important part of developing as a human being and is cause for some really amazing moments in life, so don’t write off dating all together. Obviously we want you to find a healthy, happy relationship that meets your needs. I’m just suggesting a specific way of navigating your relationships — especially at this young age — in order to have a more positive experience.
I can relate to letting my relationship become my identity. My ex-boyfriend and I got together when we were in high school and then continued dating throughout most of post-secondary school. I spent over five years with this person as my partner and we saw each other through some really big growing pains. The relationship gave me space to move away from my hometown for University and we made long distance work. At school I made my own group of friends, I had my own interests, activities, and goals — all of which were really healthy things to develop.
But one key thing remained. It was always clear that my happiness was largely in this guy’s control. When we would argue or miscommunicate, I would shut down. I couldn’t think about or do anything else until I resolved the issue. None of the other things I had going for me seemed to matter if I didn’t have his validation. It was like if you imagine your life as a pie chart, broken into parts — one piece of the pie would be relationship, one health, one community, career, education, etc — you would think that all of them could be fulfilled separately. But in my pie chart, everything went to zero fulfillment when my relationship pie piece went to zero. The partnership had a power over me that felt out of my control.
The end of that relationship hit me like a ton of bricks. He broke the news to me just as I was coming home for summer break. The summer, and realistically the next 8 months were a complete mess as I dealt with a broken heart and the feeling of being lost. I vividly remember looking at my reflection in the mirror months later and still seeing myself as his girlfriend. It had literally become my identity and who I knew myself to be. Moving back to Toronto after that summer helped me move forward a bit. Being surrounded by the new life I had created for myself was exactly what I needed. The frustrating part was how long it took for me to let the relationship go and see new possibilities for myself. It’s like I had never considered being without that person, so when it happened, I couldn’t really see what my reality would now be.
Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that this whole thing sounds like a bunch of melodramatic hoopla but I am a big believer in giving all experiences proper validation. That experience was my truth at the time and I don’t deserve to feel shame over it. In retrospect, I wish I had taken intentional steps to exist in that relationship with a healthier outlook and a stronger sense of individual identity.
Here are a few tips on how you can do this in your own life:
- Put yourself first. Draw a hard line for yourself in terms of what you’re willing to compromise or sacrifice and what you’re not. Do this before you fall for the person and make a commitment to yourself. As soon as your partner crosses the line and asks too much, you know you need to look after you. Caring for yourself isn’t selfish — you are responsible for preserving your own happiness.
- Engage in a network of people outside of your relationship. Keep your own group of friends, a hobby, and some interests that are just yours. You don’t need to feel guilty about not inviting your partner to everything. Distance and individuality makes you each stronger on your own and as a result, your partnership too.
- Don’t let them determine your happiness. It’s normal to feel bummed out when you aren’t getting along with someone you love but don’t let this make or break you. The only thing you have full control over is your own actions and behaviour. Do your best to create a resolution and then move forward to a happier state of mind in whichever way you can.
- Remind yourself of everything that you are besides one half of a relationship. You are a daughter/son, sister/brother, your role at work, a student, an artist, an athlete, etc. List the titles that apply to you and consider the complexity of your identity aside from your relationship.
- Communicate! My last tip and probably the most important of them all. If you want to avoid having your relationship become your identity, be open about it with your partner. Engage in a conversation about wanting to have time apart and elements of your lives that are separate from each other. Be proactive and hold one another accountable to this healthier way of being. Your boyfriend or girlfriend can’t read your mind (crazy, I know) so you need to talk about it.
In the end, you need to realize that although romantic love and connection may feel like the end all and be all, it’s not. Humans naturally evolve and grow and sometimes relationships can’t keep up. If you’re going through an identity crisis after a recent break up and need some clarity, one on one coaching would be a wonderful solution to the pickle you are in. Consider the CLARITY Package. Five 1hr sessions to wake your true identity and send you off on a clearer path — one where you feel more sure of yourself and independent of others’ approval.
Have a beautiful day!