“Yes, love is all about sacrifice and compromise, but it’s important also to establish a limit. You shouldn’t have to throw your whole life away to make a relationship work. If you have to lose yourself to please your partner, you’re with the wrong person.” ~Beau Taplin
When I was twenty, I fell in love with a man who became my everything. My close friends watched me becoming someone else because I found myself trying to ceaselessly knead myself into someone who would perfectly fit into this man’s world, even if it meant betraying myself in the process.
I changed my worldviews to fit in with his. I changed my dreams and ambitions to better align with his. I gave up friendships I valued that he wasn’t comfortable with me having. There was nothing I wouldn’t have sacrificed for this relationship and its survival.
The relationship was only ten months long, but in that very short space of time, it became the center of my universe. When the relationship ended, to me, it almost signaled the end of my life. I did not see any life beyond that man or the relationship I had with him.
At the end of that relationship I was forced to go into the hard journey of self-discovery. By the time I turned twenty-two, I realized that I would be in grave danger if I continued defining myself and centering my life on men and romantic relationships.
The end of that relationship and the devastation that came with it made me vividly aware of my tendency toward engulfment. I found myself being someone who allowed romantic relationships to over consume her and take up her whole life.
And now, eight years later, my idea of what a loving partnership looks like is so different and much more freeing. These are the truths that I had to learn the hard way that have allowed me to love my partners without losing important parts of myself in them.
1. A relationship or partner will never meet all your needs, so stop expecting them to.
My relationship broke because I placed a heavy burden on it to be my everything.
Many of us give our partners a god-like status and expect them to satisfy our every whim and need.
I looked to my partner to be for me what I had never learned to be for myself, thus putting on to him a responsibility that was always mine to carry.
I now firmly believe that whatever our partners give us should merely be a drop into what we are already overflowing with because we did the work of nourishing our lives first before looking to a partner to do that for us.
One is bound to lose themselves in partners that give them things that they don’t know how to give to themselves—like love, validation, and confirmation of their worth.
2. Controlling your partner is a sure-fire way to lose the love you fear losing.
I feared abandonment so much that there’s nothing about my partner I didn’t try to control. I wanted his obsession with the relationship to match mine. That was my twisted way of trying to put on a leash his love and affection for me.
The downside of losing ourselves in love is that when our partners don’t lose themselves in the relationship like we do, we quickly equate it to lack of love, rather than having healthy boundaries necessary for the thriving of any healthy relationship.
In retrospect, I cannot imagine how suffocated my then-partner felt about my misplaced efforts. The thing I feared most ended up happening because he could no longer take the extreme lengths I would go to in order to have his love.
3. A healthy relationship will not change you, but encourage you to be more of who you are.
It’s hard to maintain a strong sense of self in relationships when you don’t know who that self is. If you don’t know who you are, people can easily scrunch you up into versions of who they desire you to be. It’s so much easier to resist a relationship changing you into someone you know you are not when you have a clear sense of yourself.
I still believe that love should always be transformational. But if love changes us, it should always be for the benefit of ourselves and our life purpose, not to please our partners or to meet their idealistic fantasies of what a perfect partner looks like. Love can only do its work in us when we allow ourselves to be fully seen, loved, and accepted for who we are.
4. You should never neglect other areas of your life because of a relationship.
There is nothing as thrilling as meeting a possible soulmate. It’s tempting to lose yourself in the new relationship and change your regular routine so that you can focus on this exciting new part of your life. This never turned out well for me.
By the end of my relationship, I had enmeshed myself so deeply in this man’s world that I did not have my own world to go back to. My relationship became the most important thing, and I lost sight of every other beautiful thing I had going for me before I had him.
A healthy relationship should never alienate us from our own lives but should be able to peacefully co-exist with all other parts of our lives.
5. Your individuality should never be a threat in a relationship.
I know we romanticize the idea of becoming one with our partners. We know the poems about becoming so intertwined with our lovers that we don’t know where we end and they begin. But love should never mean losing sense of who you are as an individual.
We don’t have to be spitting images of our partners for love to mean something. When your partner first met you, they fell in love with your individuality, and it would cease to be love if you had to change the very things that drew them to you.
Sacrificing ourselves for relationships will always be an act of self-betrayal. Loss of self is a cost of love I have sworn to never again pay. A healthy relationship is one where we can find a balance between being independent and interdependent.
6. Be okay with loving in small doses.
Love does not have to be all-consuming to be real.
I struggled a lot with loving at a slow pace; I wanted everything, and I wanted it right now. I gave too much too soon hoping to get my partner hooked on to me. But now I understand that love takes time and it matures with time. It’s okay to keep certain parts of your love to enjoy and share later with your partner once the relationship has solidified and become more grounded.
We want to stuff ourselves with love and affection and get shocked when we lose our balance in relationships. Love is much more satisfying when we savor it bit by bit, a day at a time.
For me, surviving a relationship that was my everything, first and foremost, meant learning to develop my sense of self-worth (outside of my romantic relationships).
It’s easy to lose yourself in a relationship. When you feel unlovable, you subconsciously believe that you need to give yourself up to avoid rejection. You can also find yourself obsessing over this one connection because, “Wow, someone finally loves me,” and you will do anything and everything to try and keep that connection.
Life had to take me on a journey of learning that happiness can be found anywhere and not only through romantic relationships. When I discovered the idea of “multiple streams of happiness” centering myself, my life, and my joy on a romantic partner became close to impossible. Because now, in my late twenties, I have many beautiful things about my life that bring me great happiness, and should I fall in love again, it would merely be one of the many different streams that fill my life with joy.
Now, on the other side of engulfment…
I want my future relationships to be filled with freedom.
I want a love where we can be apart while being beautifully together.
I want my partner to have many other beautiful things about their life outside of me without feeling like I am not enough for them.
I no longer want a love that I drown in but a love that will always let me come up for air; a love that puts me on steady ground, and never a love that I feel lost in.
I want a love that reminds me that before we belong to each other, we will always first belong to ourselves.