During the honeymoon phase, it can be easy to throw your whole self into your relationship. It’s natural for one or both partners to take up new interests and make new friends. The exciting beginning phase of a relationship is about strengthening your new connection.
But you and your partner were not half-fulfilled people coming into your relationship. You both had your own goals and dreams. Each of you had lives and other relationships before you came together.
In the long term, focusing on your place in the couple more than on your own needs can make it difficult to find happiness. You run the risk of losing your sense of identity.
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Your attachment style has a large influence on how you act in your relationships. Someone with an anxious attachment1 style can be constantly worried about abandonment. If this is your attachment style, you might find yourself seeking external validation and needing constant reassurance.
If you have this attachment style, taking an interest in your partner’s interests can easily turn into ‘no longer prioritizing your own.’ You may find yourself saying and doing things you normally wouldn’t in order to please your partner.
Another reason someone might lose sight of themselves is difficulty practicing self-love. This person might have low self-esteem or feel detached from themselves. If you fall into this category, you may not know how to connect with your authentic self.
As a therapist, I believe that the healthiest relationships are built on this foundation:
I’m here because I want to be with you, specifically.
In a relationship, honesty is not just about saying what you mean. It’s about being yourself. Your partner can’t know you fully if you don’t know how to be yourself.
Dr. Brene Brown, a researcher studying the power of vulnerability, has learned through her research that you can’t fully experience love if you cannot be seen.
Is your full self the person your partner sees and loves? If you are showing him someone different, then you will find it difficult to feel fully connected.
Working on yourself should be an ongoing process throughout your life, regardless of your relationship status.
You and your partner are two whole people. Focusing on yourself allows you to be a full participant in the relationship.
One of the simplest ways to support your individuality is to take time to be by yourself. There are many benefits to alone time, including getting to know yourself more fully.
Being alone frees you from the judgment of other people. When you’re by yourself, you have space to try something new and make mistakes. You can get to know your interests and passions on a deeper level, and learn what you don’t like without pressure.
Alone time also teaches you to enjoy your own company.
For people who feel anxious about their relationships, building this skill builds resilience and self-esteem. Through opposite action, or going against emotional urges, you can learn to be calm by yourself.
Suggested activity: Rent one of your favorite movies and watch it at home, just you and your cat.
Social connection is one of our basic needs. It’s very important to our sense of self and community. The people we spend time with tend to share our values, and validate our feelings.
It’s important to spend time with your own friends, not just your partner’s. Appreciating old friendships can help you appreciate the person you are now. New friendships remind you that you can have fun with people who are not your partner.
Suggested activity: Schedule brunch or dinner with friends twice a month, no partners allowed!
People who spend time on meaningful activities have been shown to be happier and more relaxed. By spending your free time developing a skill, you can increase your self-confidence. Creating a community around that hobby can reinforce your identity as an individual.
Hobbies can be a source of personal joy, even if you share them with your partner. But finding something that you love is special. Let yourself enjoy it by yourself when you can. It’s a great way of focusing on yourself in a relationship.
Suggested activity: Pick three new hobbies to try in the next month. See if there are local groups to help you get started!
Finances are a touchy subject when it comes to relationships. Many people are anxious even thinking about their finances. If you’ve never been taught about money, you probably fall into that category.
Knowing where you stand financially can help you set your personal goals. These goals will help you carefully weigh options for securing financial stability.
Even if you are not ready to combine finances, this can be important to your relationship. Fights about finances are the second leading cause of long-term relationships ending. You and your partner can make sure you’re on the same page if you already know what you want.
Suggested activity: Learn how to create a budget for yourself. Encourage your partner to do the same, and (if you’re comfortable doing so) compare budgeting priorities.
What are your travel goals? Whether you want to travel to the other side of the world or three towns over, time spent traveling for leisure is good for your mental health2.
Travel can help to keep you from losing touch with yourself. It helps us to break up our usual routines. It encourages your brain to think creatively. New environments create chances for self-discovery.
A dream vacation, even one that’s not possible in the near future, also encourages us to think hopefully.
Suggested activity: Use an online trip planner to plan a getaway weekend with your friends. Boyfriends are optional.
As a professional, I see a lot of people who are discouraged from physical activity due to past criticism.
Those experiences can lead to feelings of anxiety and shame when it comes to “exercise.” That’s why the principles at the heart of the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement are based on inclusivity.
Joyous movement is based on the principle that physical activity can be fulfilling regardless of body type.
You can find so much personal joy in a physical activity that makes you feel good. Moving your body can boost your energy and improve your mood. It can also enhance your sense of self-worth by improving your positive connections with your body. Sometimes, the question ‘how to focus on yourself in a relationship’ can be answered by something as simple as moving your body.
Suggested activity: Try a physical activity that you don’t think of as “exercise.” Consider things like a pole dancing class, roller skating, or even kayaking.
Getting out in nature has many health benefits3. While there are benefits to vigorous outdoor activities like hiking, you might notice that you feel happier simply by sitting outside.
Suggested activity: Invite a friend on a trip to the local park and have a picnic.
Often, losing your sense of self can take the form of walking through life on autopilot. You can counter this by practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is another word for awareness. Building this skill begins with deliberately bringing your attention to your senses and this present moment.
Even just five minutes each day is enough time to get better at being mindful and focusing on yourself in a relationship or outside of it.
Suggested activity: Identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. (You can change the order to fit the situation. For example, 5 things you can taste when you sit down to a meal.)
Without a routine, focusing on what’s important to you can be difficult. Distractions can pull you away from focusing on yourself in a relationship. Other people’s goals can get in the way of your own.
Routines don’t need to be complicated or take up your whole day. Developing a routine simply means setting time aside for specific tasks.
I have a routine of waking up in the morning that is very different from my partner’s. It’s important for me to start my day my way because my needs are different from his. I feel better when I have time to prepare for my day and have a hot cup of tea before I get started. He rolls out of bed 5 minutes before his first virtual meeting.
Keeping my routine helps me to honor myself. And setting time aside for your various needs can help you do the same.
Suggested activity: Set aside 1 hour every week for a task that helps you feel more like yourself. Pick a time that is not likely to conflict with other activities. Make that hour a priority. Don’t let anyone interrupt or overtake it. That means friends, family, and especially your partner.
You might find yourself neglecting these tasks if you’re too focused on your partner. If you tend to lose yourself in a relationship, explore ways to care for yourself.
Self-care is not the same as being self-centered. Self-care is all of the things we do to make sure that we are healthy and able to engage in daily living4. But caring for yourself is not limited to doing the bare minimum.
Add self-love to your care tasks by making them enjoyable when you can. You could address body aches with a hot shower and ibuprofen. But you could also take a hot bath and enjoy relaxed muscles and improved blood flow.
Taking good care of yourself is a priority in a healthy relationship.
Suggested activity: Create reminders for your health-related tasks. Consider using a self-care app, like Finch, for extra support.
Do you know what is most important to you?
Values are the principles that guide your actions. Knowing and living by your values improves your sense of self-worth.
In a relationship, it can be easy to focus on your partner’s values before your own. That’s not too bad if your values line up pretty well. But if you forget to prioritize what is important to you, you can be left feeling empty, frustrated, and anxious.
Suggested exercise: Identify your top five values. Think of these as your Guiding Stars. No matter what situation you find yourself in, practice working toward at least one of your values. This will help you learn how to focus on yourself in a relationship and know yourself better.
I encourage clients to start journaling if they haven’t already. Keeping a journal or diary can be more than just writing about your day. Journaling can be a powerful tool for self-discovery and overall wellness.
We can’t write (or type) as fast as we can think. Because of this, when you write, your mind has to slow down. You can examine your negative thoughts instead of skimming past them. You can explore what you feel grateful for and why. Journaling can also be a tool for building self-compassion.
Suggested activity: Set your phone on silent and start a timer for 20 minutes. Take this time to answer a journal prompt to promote your connection to yourself.
There are no good or bad emotions, only pleasant and unpleasant ones. All of them serve an important function. They are important for communication, motivation, and survival5. I encourage people to develop an understanding of their emotions and the associated physical sensations.
Anger is one of my favorite emotions to encourage clients to explore in meaningful ways.
Anger is an indication that something is wrong. The feeling can range from vague annoyance (a pebble in your shoe) to complete rage (important boundaries being violated). But most people don’t know they’re angry until they are acting on it.
This is how a lot of people experience other unpleasant emotions. A deeper understanding of how you experience them can help you to address problems ahead of time.
Suggested activity: Explore exercises that will help you understand your emotions. Practice thinking of all of your emotions as useful.
Creative expression is one of the best ways to learn how to focus on yourself6 in a relationship. There’s no wrong way to be creative. Whether you write, paint, use coloring books, or make music, you can learn about and express yourself.
Taking a half-hour once a week to engage in a creative activity can reduce experiences of anxiety and depression. It can also help you feel more confident as your skills improve. You don’t need to make your artistic works complicated, just enjoyable for you.
Suggested activity: Set a timer for 10 minutes and draw a tree. Once the time is up, use this interpretation guide to see what your tree says about your personality.
Boundaries are important to a healthy relationship. Your boundaries describe what you are willing to do and what you aren’t. When you invite someone to respect your boundaries, that’s a request.
Boundary: This is my ice cream, and I don’t want to share it with anyone.
Request: Can you buy your own ice cream? This one is mine.
When you know what your boundaries are, you can take control of maintaining them. Think about what you need to achieve those goals.
Once you know what you need, you can start making rules for yourself. These rules will help you know when to make requests and when to say no, making focusing on yourself in a relationship easier to accomplish.
Suggested Activity: Take a half hour to fill out this worksheet and explore your boundaries.
Whether you want to own your own business or want to ask for a raise, it’s important to focus on your career goals. It’s hard to find happiness in the work you do if you lose yourself in your relationship. Looking to the future can help you build your career the way you want it.
If you don’t know where to start with forming career goals, consider Ikigai, a guide to a joy-filled life. Ikigai encourages you to combine what you love and your skills to fill a need in the world.
Suggested activity: Take an hour to learn more about your dream career. Identify three skills that will help you get closer to that career. Pick one to focus on for the next week. Check your local library for career-building resources - they’re free!
We are our own worst critics.
It’s hard to carry positive energy in your life if you’re focused on the ways you fall short. That’s why one of the first self-care practices I work on with my clients is positive self-talk7.
This doesn’t mean focusing only on the good and ignoring the bad. In order to live a complete life, you have to find a balance. For every negative thing you notice about yourself, tell yourself something nice. It can be about your mind, body, or spirit.
Learning this act of self-love is an ongoing process for many people. Sometimes it’s good to talk to a professional for a bit of support. A qualified specialist will be able to teach you mechanisms for how to be yourself in a relationship through self-love.
Suggested activity: Identify one aspect of your personality that you don’t like very much. Write down one sentence that describes that part of yourself, from the perspective of someone who loves you.
For example, you might call yourself bossy, but your best friend would say you always know what you want.
Everyone makes mistakes. The feeling of guilt can be difficult to shake, and the memories hard to forget. Many people distract themselves with their family, career, or relationship.
Emotions drive us and help us communicate with others. Ignoring your emotions keeps the people in your life at a distance. That distance impacts you, as well. It’s one of the ways you might lose sight of yourself in your relationship.
Suggested activity: Write a letter to yourself about the things you’ve learned from past negative experiences. Make sure that you include a commitment to not making the same mistakes in the future.
There are many health benefits to making relaxation a regular part of your routine. But a lot of people don’t actually know how to relax.
Your muscles are constantly contracting throughout the day. When you sit, stand, or walk, you are using multiple muscle groups to hold yourself upright. Your muscles can become tight in the face of that consistent work.
Yoga can help you prepare your body to release tension by loosening tense muscles. Getting a massage from a professional can be helpful if you find it difficult to release tension on your own.
Suggested exercise: Lie on your back in a comfortable position and practice Belly Breathing. If you spend a lot of time using your hands (yes, typing counts!) then try this stretching routine for hands.
The phrase “we need to take a break” can be very scary. But taking time for self-love might be the key to knowing and focusing yourself in a relationship better.
Taking a break is not an excuse to avoid confronting issues in the relationship. If there is a conflict, it’s best to face it head-on as a couple.
If you think taking a break would be beneficial, it’s important that you and your partner have a conversation about what that looks like. Discuss your intention for that time apart, and the rules both of you will follow.
Keep in mind: Taking this step may lead to the end of your relationship. It’s a risk that both you and your partner need to understand. Even if you both do everything “right,” there’s no guarantee you’ll stay together.
Suggested activity: Spend 30 minutes writing down activities for improving your self-love. Rank each activity between 1 and 10 for how important it is to you. Then, ask yourself if any of those activities are impossible to do without putting some distance between yourself and your partner.
These tips and suggested activities are just some of the ways you might develop your personal identity. The best ways to focus on yourself are going to depend on your needs. If you struggle with feeling confident in your identity, consider looking for support.
If you want to develop your career or work on finances, you might talk to a trusted mentor. A spiritual leader can help you understand your place in the world. A professional life coach can help you work on prioritizing yourself. A mental health professional can help you address medical factors that might interfere with your goals.
The answer to this is simple, but not necessarily easy: Communicate.
Being honest with your partner about needing time to get to know yourself can make you feel vulnerable. The ability to open up about something you’re nervous about is an important skill in any relationship.
Make sure you avoid starting a fight. Bring up your concerns and needs calmly, ideally when both of you are relaxed. State how you feel and why without blaming. Let him know what you need to do to meet your own needs, and how you think that might impact the relationship. Validate how he feels during the discussion.
Changing how you treat yourself will often change how you treat your partner. Because of this, even positive changes take an adjustment period. Keep lines of communication open. Share your successes, and make sure to show him you appreciate his support.
You learn more about yourself and feel stronger in your identity. Focusing on yourself helps you know and meet your needs. It helps you to be a better version of yourself. It helps you to become a better partner.
If you’ve struggled with your self-identity, consider speaking with a trusted mentor, spiritual leader, professional life coach, or therapist. Anyone you work with will bring their unique expertise to help you on your path to learning how to focus on yourself in a relationship.
Learning to love yourself is a lifelong process. Your relationship with your partner doesn’t mean you can no longer work on your relationship with yourself. Taking time to focus on your own needs is not selfish. It’s a step to improving all of the relationships in your life.
Taking a break is risky because there’s no guarantee that it won’t be the end of the relationship altogether. If you think that focusing on yourself requires a pause in your relationship, talk it out with your partner.
Losing your sense of identity in a relationship is easier than a lot of people think. Being true to yourself takes practice. If you don’t know how to practice self-love or how to focus on yourself in a relationship, you’re not alone. I hope you will be able to use these tips to find yourself and long-term happiness.