Losing Your Identity in Marriage
When we search for our forever partner, we dream of someone who finishes our sentences, shares our ideals and goals, and so much more. When we find that person, it can be fulfilling...sometimes overwhelmingly fulfilling.
Unfortunately, being so close to another person can morph you from two individuals into a single unit—a couple. And you may feel like you're no longer you if you don't have your partner to "complete" you.
That's when the trouble begins.
Becoming a single unit
The first few years of marriage can often prove difficult as couples struggle to find a lifestyle that suits both partners. As routines are built, potential conflicts are negotiated and compromises are made, the marriage stabilizes.
In the early stages of any marriage, individual activities are less frequent, replaced by events planned for both parties. The couple may enjoy spending time together so much that they are rarely seen apart. While this may seem great for the marriage, it can sometimes be stifling for the individual, ultimately undermining the union.
As partners, we may begin to feel out of place when we're by ourselves, and as the years pass, little by little, we might even forget what it's like to be alone. For many partners, this is a comforting feeling, but for others, this can feel suffocating.
Complications of losing your identity
Successfully becoming one-half of a whole means your marriage is working, technically. However, the longer you're married, if you're not careful, pieces of your identity could be sacrificed for the "good" of the marriage.
Eventually, we begin to lose little things like our hobbies, and then weekly nights out with friends. Maybe the sports car gets traded in for a family vehicle, the hobby memorabilia goes into storage. And then, there's a major life event, like a child graduating from high school or a parent dying, that brings us back to earth, and we wonder how we reached this point in our lives.
If you've been there, you'll know this is a telling moment in every marriage, forcing us to reflect on who we were and how we got here, and to begin to assess how happy we are. Our hope is this reexamination of our lives and the choices we've made will be a positive affirmation that will encourage and motivate you to further heights. But for some, this can be a turbulent time in a relationship, leading to poor choices, such as burying yourself in work or having an affair, or physically or emotionally stepping away from the marriage.
Embracing the union
Whenever a situation like this arises, we have two choices—stay the course or start making changes.
This is often described as a midlife crisis—a stereotype in modern culture, but real nonetheless—and often the result of a pattern of codependency caused by the perception that sacrifices have been made to our core values in order to make our partner happy.
Chances are if you've lost part of your identity in your marriage, your partner has, too. Instead of calling it quits, take time to reflect on the things you miss as a couple. Talk to your partner, and the two of you can make a list of activities and feelings you'd like to reintroduce to your marriage. This provides an opportunity to refresh your relationship and reignite the sparks that led to your getting married in the first place.
The trick is to not shoot down different perceptions your partner may have, but rather to open up and tell your partner the truth about everything you're thinking about, especially as it relates to your own identity. Most important of all—listen.
Fair warning, though: This takes work.
Maintaining your identity
In addition to making a list of everything you miss doing as a couple, make a list of your own interests and encourage your partner to do the same.
Start by listing the things you once liked to do and consider if you'd still like doing them. No need to make any huge commitments here—if you once owned a motorcycle, don't go out and buy one, but maybe borrow a friend's for an afternoon to see if it's still fun. If it's not, move on. There will be other activities you used to like that you'll rediscover and love.
Remember, despite any wishes, you're not the person you used to be: You're wiser, more mature, with lots of life experiences. Get to know the person you've become and find a balance between maintaining your identity and making time to be with your partner.