How To Maintain A Strong Sense Of Self Once You've Found Your One True Love

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How To Love Yourself & Practice Self-Care When You're Married Or In A Relationship
Love, Self

Between rom-coms and fairy tales, you may have grown up starry-eyed and heart-thumping with the idea of spending happily-ever-after with "the one." No harm, no foul, right? After all, if people didn’t yearn for connection and commitment, our species would need a miracle to continue.

Thank goodness those hormones that drive lust, attraction, and attachment actually work. If they didn’t, couples wouldn’t have those early days of swooning through a Gershwin musical to catapult them down the aisle. And when the rose-colored glasses come off, they wouldn’t have the memories of all that made them fall in love in the first place.

What fairy tales and movies ending in lavish weddings don’t tell you is that “The End” is really “The Beginning.” They are, after all, sources of entertainment meant to help you escape the doldrums of daily reality and allow your imagination to temporarily come out from hiding.

What they don’t show you is the way love and relationships pass through predictable stages. And they also don’t show you why or how single people, consumed with the hope of becoming part of a couple, often lose their individual identities once they enter into a relationship.

This loss of self can be the devastating, especially if the relationship ends.

RELATED: 10 Characteristics Of Women Who Are Comfortable With Being Alone

Losing one’s individual sense of self to a couple identity can also be disorienting. When kids leave the nest, a partner dies, or the relationship goes through a crisis, you need your own sense of identity.

These unplanned-for moments call upon “who you are” in order for you to carry on with life. And going forward is tough to do if you are shackled to an identity that requires the other person’s presence, opinions, beliefs, and desires to survive.

The key to keeping your identity once you're in a relationship is tucked in that handy cliche, “Love yourself first.”

Before you roll your eyes and put down the Hallmark card, consider why this mantra never goes out of style.

In order to love something — authentically, anyway — you have to know it. Likes, dislikes, beliefs, values, talents, quirks — all of it. You have to care about its highest good. And you have to nurture it into a confident embracing of all that defines it and stirs its spirit.

You would do all this for a child. Heck, you would probably do the same for a puppy. And when you fall in love, you do it for your partner. So why isn’t it an automatic assumption that you should do the same for yourself?

Keeping your individual identity in a relationship isn’t about safeguarding yourself in preparation for being alone, it’s about bringing the fullness of who you are to your relationship from the start.

By being comfortable with who you are as an individual, you have the grounding necessary to build a healthy, lasting relationship with another person.

Here are 5 self-care tips for maintaining your confident and unique sense of self while building a healthy marriage or relationship.

1. Treasure your friends and families.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a disappearing friend who has found new love? It sucks. Suddenly everything you did together comes to a screeching halt. And when you do get together, it’s never just the two of you doing your ritual “friends” stuff, because their partner is along for the ride.

Don’t be that person who can’t see past a romance to remember the anchors that kept them from drifting over the falls. Make time to be with the special people in your life who were there before you found your one true love.

Your significant other needs the same treasure trove of friends and family. Encourage one another to nurture those relationships. Doing so will make the times when everyone comes together that much more special and comfortable.

2. Date yourself.

Yes, you need regular date nights with your partner. But you also need them with yourself.

There are always going to be movies you want to see that he has no interest in. And surely there is a knickers-only golf tournament you want to play in that she will be happy to see photos of.

Take yourself to a patio lunch on a spring day. Go to an art museum and feel your heart swell with appreciation for beauty and talent. Attend an expo on a favorite topic. Pack a picnic and sit by a lake with a favorite book.

If your partner finds your company worth having along on a date, you should, too.

RELATED: 10 Easy Ways To Show Yourself The Unconditional Love You Deserve

3. Learn to love your time alone.

This isn’t about preparing to be alone in the big picture. It’s about nurturing your relationship with yourself so you have more to give and receive in your relationship.

This extends to the little moments, too, such as driving to work, working in the yard while your partner works inside, taking a walk by yourself and journaling.

Think of these times as being with yourself, not by yourself. Even that slight shift in perception is a statement of self-value.

4. Make self-development a commitment.

Even though you are in a relationship, the only person you have control over is yourself. You hear it all the time, and for good reason. By constantly working on yourself, you bring vitality to your relationship. You also serve as inspiration for your partner, children, family, and friends to do the same.

Keep learning and growing. Take classes that strike your fancy. Keep a self-help book on your nightstand. Journal. Meditate. Consider therapy to unlock any blockages from your past and to give you tools to propel you forward.

5. Set healthy boundaries up front.

Boundaries are about knowing and agreeing that "where I end, you begin.”

Boundaries aren’t about walls, they are about limits that prevent enmeshment and the consuming of one another.

Having healthy boundaries starts with a healthy identity and a healthy sense of self, and that starts and is fueled by being comfortable being alone.

When it comes to keeping your identity in a relationship, ask yourself, “If I weren’t in a relationship with someone else, would I be OK?”

The answer needs to be a resounding, “Of course!”

Kahlil Gibran’s book "The Prophet" offers some of the greatest wisdom about relationships and marriage, including this excerpt from the poem "On Marriage":

     "Sing and dance together and be joyous,
but let each one of you be alone,
     Even as the strings of a lute are alone
though they quiver with the same music."

Only by keeping your own identity in a relationship can you work toward wholeness.

Healthy relationships are the product of two people, always striving toward wholeness in themselves, seeking to create something exponentially wonderful together.

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Dr. Jerry Duberstein and his partner Mary Ellen Goggin offer private couples retreats, couples counseling and coaching via telephone, Skype, or in-person in the quaint seaport, Portsmouth, NH. To learn more, schedule a 1/2 hour complimentary consultation.