For many of us, we are one more month into being quarantined with our partner. While this can be an opportunity to take a break from the busyness and distractions of our “normal” lives and reconnect with our loved one, it is also a time when we can lose touch with who we are as individuals. Within this smaller world of being with one person a majority of the time, it is easy to get into a rut together and begin to take each other for granted. And worst of all, we can fall into old patterns of relating with one another and lose a sense of who we are. On top of that, we are currently cut off from many of our “outside” interests that are unique to us and make up a vital part of who we are. All of these factors can leave us feeling dull and out of sorts. And when our partner also loses touch with their individuality, our relationship becomes less dynamic and exciting.
It’s important that we strive to preserve our sense of ourselves as separate people in these present circumstances. Relationships thrive when two strong individuals bring their distinctive and varied qualities to their partnership. A fundamental factor that contributes to the success of a relationship is that both partners maintain their individuality and that they appreciate and support one another’s individuality. There are lots of practical suggestions for how you can maintain your interests even when you are sheltering in place. However, there are also ways that you can be within yourself and with your partner that will help support each of you as an autonomous individual. The following advice and the journaling prompts are excerpted from Daring to Love. There are also links to additional resources from PsychAlive.org that you might find helpful.
To be a better person in your life and a good partner in your relationship, it’s critical to strive to maintain a strong sense of independence and autonomy and a well-developed point of view. With this as an on-going goal, you can continue to cultivate and strengthen your unique traits and those behaviors that reflect your interests and ideals. Here are some suggestions that support your preserving your and your partner’s individuality:
One common criticism people have is that their partner is immature and refuses to grow up. This is not merely a matter of acting in an emotionally mature manner. Being truly adult involves recognizing early childhood trauma and losses, taking steps to resolve them and understanding how these events helped shape your current actions. It means actively identifying and challenging the defenses that you formed as a child and correcting the negative attitudes or biases you acquired. This eCourse, by Drs. Dan Siegel and Lisa Firestone, will help you develop a coherent narrative to understand how your past is impacting your life today:
Be open and undefended.
Openness involves the ability to be forthright in revealing and expressing your personal feelings, thoughts, dreams and desires. Being non-defensive and open to feedback is one of the most valuable relationship skills you can develop. Rather than defending against criticisms or suggestions your partner may have, you can look for the kernel of truth in what is being said, as it may offer you an opportunity for personal growth. This type of concern with your own development makes you open to changes in your intimate relationship while also retaining your sense of self and your strength and
Honesty is vital for your integrity as an individual and necessary for establishing trust in your close relationship. Even in situations where it is difficult to be honest, it’s best to be truthful. When you are dishonest or deceptive, you are betraying yourself. When you are not honest with your partner, you are fracturing his or her sense of reality. You are also damaging the trust and closeness that has developed between you. Love requires being truthful because it is necessary for building and maintaining the trust that is essential in an intimate relationship. This article offers further advice about how to talk to your partner:
Respect your partner’s individuality.
Encourage his/her unique interests and personal goals, independent of your own. Be sensitive to his/her wants, desires and feelings and place them on an equal basis with yours. This type of interest in and feeling for your partner is altruistic and goes beyond any selfish or self-serving concerns you may have. You may enjoy this interview about relationships during these challenging times from don9ja.com.ng new series, Experts at Home: Featuring Dr. Pat Love
Have empathy and compassion.
Having empathy and compassion for your partner is necessary for maintaining regard for them. This involves perceiving your loved one on a cerebral level as well as on an emotional, intuitive level. Webster’s defines “understanding” as being able “to achieve a grasp of the nature, significance, or explanation of something.” And “empathy” is “vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another.” Therefore, you would be able to “grasp the nature and significance of” your partner and have the ability to “vicariously experience his/her feelings, thoughts, and experiences.” When you understand your partner in this manner, you are aware of the commonalities that exist between you and also recognize and value the differences. This webinar with Sharon Salzberg discusses the value of having compassion for both your partner and for yourself:
Journal Prompts: Your thoughts about you and your partner as individuals.
Reflect on the following prompts and record your thoughts in your journal.
What are some of my personal interests that are different from my partner’s? Am I actively pursuing them?
Do I look to my partner for definition or direction? In what ways do I do this?
Do I regard him/her as my missing piece?
Do I look to my partner to compensate for any of my shortcomings? If so, in what way?
Do I use my partner to relieve insecurities I have or feelings of loneliness?
Am I adult in my life and in my relationship? Do I act childish or parental?
Am I open and non-defensive in my interactions?
Do I strive to be honest in my communications?
Do I have integrity in my life? Do my actions and words communicate the same message?
What are some of my partner’s personal interests that are unique to him/her?
Am I supportive of them? Do I regard them with equal respect as I do mine?
Am I threatened by my partner’s separate interests?
Do I act discouraging or belittling or dismissive of them?
How is my partner different from me? Which differences do I like? Which ones do I dislike?
Am I successful in empathizing with my partner? Am I able to feel what he/she is experiencing as a person?