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Formerly St. Louis Center for Family Development
Two people wearing black pants and denim jackets hold hands and stand against a blue wall.

Maintaining Your Sense of Self in a Romantic Relationship

There is a scene in the 1999 romcom “Runaway Bride” where Julia Roberts’s character, Maggie, tries eggs cooked in a dozen different ways: from poached, scrambled and fried to Eggs Benedict and more. Why?

She has always prepared her eggs in whatever way her romantic partners preferred. And after four failed relationships, she doesn’t know how she actually likes her eggs.

This scene is a helpful and light-hearted illustration of how important it is to maintain one’s sense of self in a romantic relationship. There is a lot more to consider than your choice of breakfast protein. Let’s dig in.

Relationships Help Shape Our Identity

Humans are social beings. Relationships and the sense of belonging are integral to our happiness and wellbeing. This can include:

  • Our relationship with the world;
  • Our relationship with the community;
  • Family dynamics;
  • The ability to make social connections with new people and acquaintances;
  • Friendships;
  • Romantic relationships; and,
  • Our relationship with ourselves.

Our relationships are important and receive much of our time and attention. Because of this, they also help inform our identity: Mother. Husband. Aunt. Brother. Dog Parent.

A person can lose their sense of individuality when their relationship becomes the top priority — commonly, the wants and needs of a romantic partner become more important than self-love and self-care. As a relationship grows and progresses over time, it can become easier for a person to start thinking in terms of “we” without remembering to stop and think about “me.”

The Importance of Self-Love

Many of us know someone who has been entirely consumed by a romantic relationship or have experienced this ourselves. When you first fall “head over heels” in love, you may find yourself wanting to spend every spare moment with your partner. Their happiness brings you joy. Meeting their wants and needs can provide a sense of purpose and direction.

By dedicating your efforts to someone else at the expense of self-love and self-care a risk to your mental wellness could develop. It could even turn into a toxic, all-consuming relationship that causes you to feel closed off, or isolated, from all other connections.

Your relationship with yourself is the foundation of all other connections in your life. It is important to have love and respect for yourself in order to nurture healthy relationships. And it is never too late to take back control of a romantic relationship you feel you have gotten lost in.

How to Maintain Individuality in a Romantic Relationship

If you or someone you know has gotten lost in a marriage or romantic connection, you can work to regain your sense of self with these suggestions:

Make time to continue or return to your hobbies and interests.

Also, support your partner in continuing their own hobbies and interests. You will be able to have fun, exciting conversation about your individual pursuits!

Stay true to yourself and your desires.

Your partner’s happiness should not come at the expense of your own. Here, it is important to recognize the difference between making occasional small sacrifices and building a pattern of behavior.

For example, while it is perfectly acceptable to compromise on a dinner plan when you are craving sushi and your partner would rather have pasta, it would be problematic if your partner always has the final say on your dinner menu — especially if you begin to silence your wants and needs to avoid having a confrontation.

Nourish existing relationships.

Your friends probably understand that your partner is a high priority — but they are still deserving of your love and attention, too. Make time when you can, even if it is just a cup of coffee between classes or a walk around the park after work. Encourage your partner to do the same as well.

Schedule time for yourself.

Some refer to this as “quality space.” Much like quality time spent together, quality space can help you maintain your individual identity which will ultimately nurture your relationship with others.

Pursue meaningful goals.

You and your partner may have some common goals, like saving for a vacation or raising children together someday. Even so, you can still nurture your own sense of purpose by pursuing individual goals, such as:

  • Achieving a promotion at work;
  • Starting a blog;
  • Getting 8 hours of sleep a night;
  • Eating healthier;
  • Training for a 5K, 10K or marathon;
  • Volunteering for a nonprofit that is close to your heart; or,
  • Reading one new book every month.

Know when and how to say “no.”

Don’t feel pressured to participate in something that doesn’t interest you just because you want to please your partner. Similarly, you should feel confident in setting personal boundaries and communicating respectfully to your partner when those boundaries have been violated. Their response should be equally as respectful.

Speak up for yourself and your needs.

A healthy relationship is one where you feel cared for and supported. Communicate to your partner if you feel your emotional needs have been neglected. It may also be beneficial to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional.

Build Healthy Relationships with Sparlin Mental Health

At Sparlin Mental Health in St. Louis, we understand that relationships can be complicated and recognize that people and relationships are capable of growth and change. A professional therapist can help you develop the skills to nurture a romantic relationship while also pursuing  your own wants and needs.

Sparlin uses evidence-based treatments to help individuals and families overcome common relationship concerns. Our team of compassionate therapists will listen without judgement to help you move forward on your journey to mental wellness.

Are you looking to take back control of yourself? Schedule an assessment online or call our office at (314) 531-1155.

Read more about identifying relationship difficulties.