Love Advice: How to Maintain Your Identity When in a Relationship

Young romantic valentine's couple

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about couplehood. Usually before you enter a committed, monogamous love match you have a pretty good sense of who you are. Your thoughts, opinions, likes and dislikes. And when you start dating someone regularly it’s a great opportunity to discover new things, or see things through their eyes, as well as sharing your favorite pastimes in the hopes that they will appreciate them as much as you do. Like any relationship, it’s a chance to learn and grow.

But unlike friendships, couplehood carries a much greater chance of “I” becoming “We.” Seeing each other daily, living together and marriage turn you into a unit. Compromise ensues, and sooner or later you realize that you now never make a decision without taking the other person into account. While a certain amount of this is very healthy for your partnership, it can also be scary because it can make you feel like you have lost your sense of self.

Compounding that sense of loss can be the way the two of you are now automatically associated together in social or business circles. Suddenly it can feel like any statement made or opinion expressed by your partner is connected to you…even if you disagree with it! As a single, independent woman, I’ve put together a few tips on how to maintain your individuality while still growing together as a couple.

Keep your circle of friends

There’s an old saying that “Couples need couple friends,” and often this happens naturally. You introduce one other to your friends and various social circles, and if they like each other, or their significant other likes yours, then you all become friends together. But this won’t apply to everyone. Just as you shouldn’t force your friends and significant other to spend time together, you shouldn’t force yourself to only see people that you both like. It’s okay, healthy even, to have friends outside your relationship. To regularly make time to hang out on your own. To spend time doing things you like to do with your friends, but not your partner.

Some couples set aside weekly friend nights where you go your separate ways and hang out with your own friends. Others arrange these outings based on events. For example, maybe you get tickets to a show you want to see with your friend rather than your partner. This leaves your loved one free to get some alone time or see if his/her friends are free.

As much as you love each other, and as inseparable as you are in that first rush of being together, make an active effort to spend time apart. It will help maintain your other relationships, which will in turn keep you from putting too much pressure on your partner to be your Everything.

Don’t give up your hobbies

This can be another healthy reason to spend time on your own. If you like to attend or participate in things your partner finds boring (or even like watching a TV show they don’t), you shouldn’t have to stop just because you are now part of a couple. Most people know this but it happens anyway. Slowly but surely you drift apart from aspects of your life that don’t include your partner. Suddenly, you wake up one day and find that you can’t remember the last time you participated in them. Make an effort to stop this from happening by reminding yourself WHY you love what you love. And then the real trick is to keep your partner involved by telling him/her about what you’re doing. Even if your partner is not personally interested, he or she should love hearing about what you’ve accomplished or what has you so excited, just because of their feelings for you. And vice versa.

It’s okay to say yes, and okay to say no

Checking in with each other as a couple and making plans together is part of being a couple. There are two traps to be aware of with this: asking for permission before you can say yes to something, or having it be taken for granted that you’ll come along somewhere when you really don’t want to.

Regarding asking permission, find the sweet spot between being able to make your own decisions and being courteous. Work out a system with your partner about how you’d like to go about making plans. For example, you can go over dates and plans at the beginning of each month together, which then lets you know when you are free for events with friends during the rest of the month. Language plays a part as well. When a friend asks you to do something, responding that you’d like to but just have to doublecheck dates with your partner is a lot more empowering than telling your friend that you “have to make sure it’s OK” with your partner. It may seem like a small adjustment, but over time it can make a big difference.

It’s also important to be able to let your partner know when you don’t want to be included in plans – even if he/she has already committed you. Having someone commit you to plans without first consulting you can feel very controlling over time, and cause problems down the line. Ideally, over time, the two of you will develop a sense of what types of activities you like to participate in together, and which activities you are better off doing on your own.

When in doubt, just think how you would feel in your partner’s place. If it’s something that  would make you feel trapped or taken for granted, then make sure to change your behavior or talk to them about theirs. Don’t let things get too comfortable so that you end up taking one another for granted, and remember how lucky you are to have one another.

If working together, draw a line

Most businesses frown on coworkers dating, but it happens all the time. Many people have their first serious relationships with someone they met in school. When we get older work, is where we spend the majority of our time and meet the largest variety of people, so it feels like a natural transition to do our socializing there.

If you and your partner work for the same company or in the same industry, it’s up to both of you to draw an ethical and emotional line between your jobs and your relationship. Just try to remember that when working, the work itself comes first. Be professional, focused, respectful and stick to your honest opinions and beliefs. Don’t compromise your opinions out of deference to a romantic relationship (or even a friendship). Go home everyday knowing you did your very best and deal with any emotional fallout where and when it belongs. At home and off the clock.

Speak up in public

Last but not least, a bit more about not compromising your opinions out of respect for your relationship. Once people know you are together they start to assume you are one person. That you share similar views and always agree. So if you are in a challenging, “opposites attract” kind of relationship, this can be very frustrating. How often have you been at a social event – or worse a professional one – and heard your partner make an argument you don’t necessarily agree with? The instinct is to not cause drama and keep quiet until you are alone. But by doing this, you have condoned their viewpoint in the eyes of everyone who heard it and that can affect how others see you.

We spend a lifetime learning how to speak up, state our opinions even when we know they are controversial, and establish our personal and professional reputations. So don’t stop now! It may cause some drama in your relationship or put your relationship on display in public, but you must remember to speak up and speak out! Make sure everyone knows who you are and what you think, or else you’ll find your partner always speaking for you. And if the person you are dating constantly says things you find offensive, incorrect, or insensitive, then think twice about who you are dating and why you are dating them.

One caveat to this – if your partner is working on a project that is especially meaningful to them and you have a difference of opinion with what or how they are doing it, talk to them in private about it. It can feel like a huge betrayal to have the person who is supposed to be your biggest supporter come out in public with a surprise difference of opinion. If your partner at least knows you have opposing thoughts or viewpoints, he or she will be prepared to deal with them in the workplace.

Being in love is one of the most magical experiences in life, but being yourself is a necessary ingredient to making that relationship as fulfilling as possible and to lasting as long as possible. Never lose yourself, and make sure you and your partner love each other for who you both really are.