In a society that insists upon packed schedules and maximized productivity, self-care can feel like a luxury. Our energy is focused outward, towards infinite to-do lists that seem to expand each year as we further fill our lives. In this hectic climate, our relationships may fall to the wayside and become valued not for the light they bring out in us, but for their comfort and convenience. It’s all too common to get lost in the ease and routine of a relationship that is not fulfilling – and to lose the drive to find fulfillment in ourselves.
We’ve all watched a friend lose their sense of identity in a relationship that was uninspiring, unsupportive, or even toxic. However, as a person’s fire slowly burns out, they are usually the last to notice. They simply watch the world around them grow dim, and often don’t realize there is a problem until they are completely burnt out. Thankfully, there are many signs to look for in your relationship to determine whether your partner is sustaining or stifling the growth of your inner self. Take a moment to ask yourself the following questions:
Why do I make sacrifices for my partner?
Every relationship requires compromise, and, by extension, sacrifice. However, the sacrifices you choose to make are not nearly as important as your reasons for doing so. Are you eating at that gross pizza place with the roaches on the floor because you want to see your boyfriend smile – or because you’re anxious for him to think you’re as laid back as that blonde he plays video games with? Do you keep your mouth shut about his long work hours because you support his professional ambitions – or because you just don’t want tonight to end in a screaming match? Did you let him spend all that money on Superbowl tickets because of the fun time he’ll have – or do you look forward to having the upper hand during your next fight about the finances?
Making sacrifices in order to avoid conflict or ensure that you have the moral upper hand can be even more detrimental to your relationship than refusing to sacrifice at all. More dangerous still is the decision to sacrifice because you feel that your partner’s needs are inherently more important than your own. It is in these non-genuine sacrifices that we begin to surrender not only our choice of movie or vacation locale, but our sense of integrity and concept of self.
Who does my partner expect me to be?
It is necessary to have expectations of your partner, and vice versa. However, when your significant other has expectations that you are unable to meet, you may end up feeling that you are not enough. By contrast, an unwillingness to meet your partner’s expectations can breed resentment on both ends. Is your partner’s vision of you, and of your relationship, aligned with your own ideas of who you want to be? More importantly, is your partner willing to adjust those expectations throughout your relationship? Your relationship should allow you the freedom to grow into a new person – as Matt Walsh put it, “When I met (my wife) she was a 22-year-old college student. Now she’s a 27-year-old mother of two.”
So, what is the right answer? Who should your partner expect you to be? Yourself, of course – or whoever that turns into.
Do I like who my partner has helped me become?
Each of us is changed by our significant other, but rarely do we stop to evaluate our internal (or external) upheaval as it is happening. A girl who is witty and competitive may bring out the best in the star of the debate team – or the worst in someone more vulnerable and insecure. A husband who brings home a large paycheck might enable his wife to give her whole self to a no-income passion project – or he might eliminate her motivation to work at all. The person you become in the context of your relationship may not be who you expected – but is it someone you are proud to be?
Ideally, your partner will help you turn into a person you never expected to be in a good way. Jim Gaffigan once mused, “Why would a lazy guy become a parent of five?” Many people find themselves nurturing, leading, and inspiring their significant other in ways that they never dreamed possible. Healthy relationships encourage that sort of thing. There’s nothing wrong with becoming someone new – just make sure it’s someone you love and respect.
Is fear keeping me here?
Does a bad relationship feel better than no relationship at all? It might, if you have not yet grown to love your own company. When you depend on others to fill you up, the end of a relationship can leave you feeling hollow, which can hurt. The obvious solution is to find ways to fill yourself up, but that is much easier said than done. It takes time and courage, patience and self-love.
Change is hard, and venturing into the unknown is even harder. More often than not, we fall into old and familiar habits rather than taking risks and embracing new possibilities — even if they could potentially make us happier. We are taught that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, after all. However, in this instance, the risk is likely to pay off tenfold – because when you let go of a bad relationship, you are not left with nothing. You are left with you, unencumbered.
Does my partner make me feel important?
Is the work you put into your relationship appreciated? Are your sacrifices seen, and are your needs and opinions heard? Or is it all just background noise as you play a supporting role to your significant other?
A partner who belittles you could contribute to low self-esteem, which could in turn contribute to behaviors that cause them to see you as even more insignificant. It’s a sad cycle, but it’s very real. You may even become willing to put up with unacceptable behavior, because you don’t feel that you deserve to have anyone at all. This mindset can manifest in small acts, like interrupting and shushing, or in large ones, like cheating. Whatever the action, the important thing is the way that your partner makes you feel.
A good relationship can enhance your sense of self, and ultimately your life and identity, helping you become more than you ever thought possible – and a bad one can leave you shrinking smaller and smaller, until you cannot see yourself at all in the person that you have become. Sadly, this can make you less likely to leave the very situation that has made you so small. So, do you sink or swim? Do you collapse in on yourself, or do you rise up? Finding yourself alone can be terrifying at first, but you may just grow to love the person you discover.