The ability to give your heart to someone else while staying true to yourself can be a bit tricky. It’s easy to get swept up in the two-become-one vortex in romantic relationships—to be treated like Peter Pan and his shadow, all sewn up and forever trailing one another. It’s natural to want to spend all of your time with someone that you’re wild about, but also so crucial not to lose yourself in the process. Regardless of whether the relationship lasts, you are responsible for your own heart, your own brain, and your own life—your top priorities no matter how in love you are! Here are some ways to make sure you’re looking out for number one and still enjoying your twosome.
1. Cultivate Your Own Hobbies
I’ve been with the same dude for about 800 years. When people ask me how we’ve stayed together for so long (aside from the obvious answers of, like, being in love and being best friends), I answer that we’ve always encouraged each other to cultivate separate interests. You don’t always have to like the things your partner likes!
This sounds obvious, but it can be hard to internalize, especially if you’re SO IN LOVE and eager to please your partner. I didn’t realize this wasn’t healthy behavior when I was in high school, and tried to shape myself, as Amy Rose so beautifully details in “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” “into someone else’s idea of the perfect girl/partner/friend.” If my high school boyfriend thought something was dumb, I agreed. If he thought something was cool, I agreed with that, too—even when I was internally screaming, This is so boring! or This band sucks! I was afraid to make those opinions known, because I thought that loving someone meant loving everything they loved, which is very much not the case! You don’t have to sell yourself out in order to be a good partner. If someone truly loves you, they love all of you—even the bits of you that befuddle them, like your raging interest in geology, or love for a certain band—and they don’t put you down for following your own interests.
2. Take Responsibility for Yourself
Kindness is key in all things, but make sure that you don’t take advantage of your partner’s kindness, or vice versa. If you find that you’re always the emotional rock, or the one who makes decisions, or the one who always ends up paying or driving or “taking the high road,” or the one swallowing your own needs in order to attend to theirs, it may be time to reexamine the relationship and consider how balanced things are.
If you’re always giving, giving, giving, and never receiving anything in return, that’s a giant warning sign that you might be sacrificing your own health and well-being in order to support someone else. It cannot fall on one person to be “the responsible one,” because that creates an opportunity for the other to remain irresponsible and sets up an environment that fosters dependency and bad habits. Support has to go both ways, otherwise you run the risk of being taken advantage of. You really have to look at you and your partner as a team.
3. Spend Time Apart
I know you’re in love, and I know you just booked a one-way ticket to Makeout City, but trust me on this one: If you want your relationship to last, you need to step outside of it once in a while. Don’t forget your friends (and don’t let your partner forget theirs). Make concrete plans to spend time apart, and encourage each other to keep up strong friendships and make time for the non-romantic cohorts in your lives.
It’s also super important to spend some time alone! Just being by yourself, reconnecting with who you are when nobody else is around—giving yourself time to think or sleep or draw or watch a silly movie—will renew your spirit and give you the opportunity to figure out who you are at the moment.
Being out on your own and having fun—laughing with your friends, spending time with your family, staring at the ceiling and zoning out blissfully while a favorite record plays—will remind you that you don’t NEED your partner around to be a complete, happy person, and will make you appreciate them that much more when you do spend time together.
4. Ask for Outside Help
There are times when relationships can get very messy from the inside, particularly when one partner absolutely depends on the other, and no one else, for emotional support. If you find yourself struggling to tend to your own emotional health under the weight of supporting your partner’s, it may be time to ask for outside help. It is OK to recognize that love can’t fix everything, and that some needs go beyond our reach.
If you are in a situation where you feel swallowed up by your partner’s issues—if they’re self-harming, or depressed, or if your partner starts threatening that they “can’t live without you” or noting that you are “the only one who will ever understand,” please consider talking to a trusted adult or counselor. I know it’s hard and it may feel like a betrayal, but: IT IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO SAVE ANYONE. The most loving thing you can do is get your partner the proper help they need, both for their sake and yours.
Be firm and say, “I love you, but I think you need to talk to [a parent, a counselor, a trusted adult].” Remind your partner that you care about them, but that your own mental health and wellbeing is at stake, too, and that getting help isn’t just a benefit for them, but a benefit for you and your relationship as a whole. Speak to them the way you’d want someone to speak to you: gently, supportively, and with care.
Once you start disappearing into someone else, it’s hard to find your way back. When in doubt: Remember that the two of you—and your love—stay stronger when you remember to love yourselves the most! ♦