Finding Yourself First
Shenae Osborn, LMSW, MA
As a therapist, I see many clients that are questioning their intimate relationship. For some reason, there is usually guilt behind the questioning. As humans we don’t want to hurt others and not being sure if your partner is the right person for you can cause alarm for potentially upsetting your partner, emotionally. It also can create a lot of anxiety and perhaps even despair, especially when you live with your partner. One starts to question if it is worth leaving the relationship if so many things, especially finances and living situations will need to be addressed. This is why so many people remain “stuck” in a relationship they just aren’t sure about anymore.
The beginning of marriage ceremonies seems to date back about 4,000 years ago and the main purpose was to produce heirs.[i] Ensuring that certain families remained connected, and money stayed within certain circles were important reasons for arranging marriages, as certain culture, today, still conduct- it didn’t start out because of love. Once the church became involved, it became about procreation with the church emphasizing that “if you can procreate you must not refuse to procreate.”[ii] Men were even allowed to end a marriage if his wife could not procreate. Eventually, it would be important to marry so that you could “legitimately” have kids which could help in the farm, family business, etc. As medicine was not as advanced as today, there were many more child deaths. Not having enough children to support the family economically could prove to lead to a life of poverty. Marriage for love is really a recent notion with the inception being around 250 years ago.[iii] This isn’t to say that anyone that married before did not marry for love but historical research has discovered these interesting facts.
So, if we are looking at a brief history of marriage and relationships, we can see that it really revolved around necessity and control and not so much about wanting to be with someone for the rest of their lives. In some ways that has not necessarily changed. If you think about a relationship, unless both people in the relationship have total respect for each other’s individuality and are in a relationship for companionship, there is still that need to “check in” with a partner if you want to do something. Now, I know anyone reading this is thinking, “well, that is just being respectful, not controlling”. Yes, if you are thinking that you are right. It is respectful to ask your partner if there is anything going on during the day if you may be making plans with others or perhaps you want to go off on a mini vacay with some girlfriends. Yes, letting your partner know of your plans is respectful and important. What I am getting at is more of a subconscious “responsibility” to have to tell your companion that you are making plans, without them. This, psychologically speaking, simply feels different and perhaps like you don’t have total control of what you want to do when you want to do it.
Currently, I am a single mom who really appreciates her own time with no need to check- in with anyone, except the kids of course (LOL). I can make plans with the kids, and I don’t have to ask for permission. That is the thing, I see so many clients and even friends feeling like they are asking for permission. This can feel controlling. So, what am I trying to get at here is probably what you are thinking at this point? When I see clients that feel anxiety and “trapped”, I ask them to try to find themselves again. This can be done in the relationship by the way. I often see clients get a bit taken aback when I suggest they find themselves again when they are living with a person because they think they have to move out but that is not the case.
At some point, when two individuals come together after time we can start to lose our individuality and this is normal but also dangerous. We begin to forget what we want in our life for ourselves and slowly start to make decisions based on what we think the other person may want. This is when we start to feel uneasy in the relationship and this is because we are no longer living the life we want but the life that we as a couple claim to want. This is when I see clients unsure of where things changed, went “wrong”. It doesn’t necessarily mean that things went wrong but you can see it as a wake- up call and creation of awareness to check in on your wants and needs. This is when I encourage clients to find themselves again.
So more often than not, clients will ask, “how do I do this?”. Remember it takes time but I suggest some small steps to getting to know yourself again. I encourage clients to take time- outs for themselves by going to the park for a walk- alone or sitting at a café- alone, maybe reading a book they have not had the time to read. The other thing I encourage clients to do is to create a list of all the things they have wanted to do, single and attached. Which of these can you actually do alone, without your partner. An idea one client mentioned was that she had always wanted to get into pottery but never took the initiative to do it and thought about it a lot less since being in a steady relationship. She got excited at the idea of doing this. Doing things alone or with your friends and without your partner will help you find yourself again, make you aware of what you actually want for your life and it could help you determine if your current partner is the one you want to continue to be in a relationship with. When the relationship with yourself is strong, it is much easier to understand what you want in a companion.
Now, there are times when clients realize that in strengthening themselves, they have realized their current partner is not what they envision for the rest of their lives… it is not an easy decision to make- to break up- but in order to not succumb to others wants and needs, this is when you have to put your adult pants on and realize that your lack of desire to maintain this relationship that no longer works for you is not only best for your but in the long run, best for your partner too. It would be selfish to let your partner stay in a relationship where you can’t be 100% yourself and happy. The decision to split is not easy but it is selfless and you two will eventually move on to other people and things, more fitting to your wants and needs.
Relationships are fun, exciting,and often loving but they can also feel difficult at times. As long as you stay true to yourself and put your relationship with yourself first, everything will fall into place. It won’t always be easy but when you live your life honestly, your decisions will always ensure happiness in the end.
Photo by Matt Moloney