I was talking with a friend of mine at work today about the importance of self-identity within a relationship. She recently went through a breakup from a relationship that lasted two years, and was having a hard time finding motivation or anything to get excited about. I started asking her about what hobbies she had or what interested her. She seemed to be at a loss for answers. This is not uncommon, but it is something that she needs to remedy if she wants to find meaningful connection and motivation for life. So often it happens when we are in a relationship that we lose sight of who we are as individuals. Certainly, when you enter into a relationship, your decision making processes change, but you should not forego who you are as an individual for the sake of the relationship. The right person will love you for who you are as a unique person, not for the parts of yourself you are willing to sacrifice for the relationship. A truly great relationship is one in which your partner loves you for who you are, not who they think you are, and you love them for the same reasons. This is the ideal, but how do we find it?
The answer lies within finding ourselves. What makes you special? What are your hobbies, interests, and meaningful life pursuits? More importantly, what are your virtues? Virtues are attributes such as honesty, integrity, curiosity, empathy, compassion, strong work ethic, and any other attribute that describes consistent actions that improve the wellbeing of the self and others. Lying, deception, anger, hate, these are attributes that do not make you or other people better, and they should be eschewed as often as they are confronted. If you find someone that is constantly lying to you or simply won’t tell you important details about their life, run away as fast as possible as those are huge red flags. But, I digress. Why do we need to know these things about ourselves?
Through self-knowledge we gain an understanding of the world. The better we know ourselves, the better able we are to know the world. How do you know if someone has empathy if you do not have empathy yourself? If you are not curious, a curious person may seem annoying to you. However, if you are consistently trying to empathize with others, or struggle to tell others the hard truths but do it because you know it will be better for them, then you are able to recognize these attributes, these virtues in others. Not only that, but you will appreciate them. So, when you are on your next date, and the person across from you stutters or mumbles because they are nervous, instead of thinking they are weird you will be able to empathize and sympathize with them, thus deepening your connection.
Hobbies, or more specifically personal pursuits, are incredibly important as well. Whether you are learning the guitar, running a chess club, or like me pursuing strength, your ability to dedicate yourself to a pursuit you value is reflective of your ability and willingness to commit to other things you value, such as a relationship. Meaningful pursuits teach you a considerable amount about yourself. You are going to face adversity. There will be chords you struggle to learn or weights you cannot pick up, but your willingness to persevere demonstrates your strength of character. It gives you valuable skills so when you get into an argument within a relationship, you are able and willing to work through the conflict. It teaches you that there is reward for your effort on the other side of that struggle. Personal pursuits also help you stay attached to your independent sense of self within a relationship.
It is very common for individuals to lose themselves within a relationship. People stop hanging out with their friends, stop playing guitar, stop pursuing strength; they stop doing the things by which they defined themselves previously. It is important to be fully present in a relationship and to fully give yourself to your partner, but you must maintain a self to give. You must resist the impulse to give up everything you are as an individual for the sake of your partner. This leads to two people melting into an arbitrary goo of what was once individual people. Neither of you particularly cares what you do, where you eat, what movie you see, how you spend your free time, or how you define your relationship. You simply end up on the couch ordering pizza and watching Netflix every Saturday night, complaining about how boring your lives are. You stop having sex, and then you stop having any sort of a relationship at all. You are an empty vessel devoid of all vestiges of uniqueness or purpose to life. You have to start over, and you have to start first by defining again who you are as an individual.
Instead, maintain your independent self, and bring that with you to your partner when you are together. If you love seeing live music, don’t stop that passion. The right person will go with you to shows, even if he or she is not that into live shows. This is because you are valued as the unique individual you are with the passions and interests you have, and your happiness is their main concern. If your partner likes obscure sporting events, watch them with him or her. The passion, excitement, and joy from your partner will make the experience far more enjoyable, regardless of whether or not you like seeing competitive cheese rolling.
For success within a relationship, find yourself first, and then be that person every time you are with your significant other. Your partner will appreciate you more for it, and if they don’t, knowing to move on becomes easy. Find your independent self, and you will find happiness.