Relationships are a dance in which sometimes one person leads and sometimes the other does. The dance can be awkward – especially if you are first learning the steps or when you have a new dance partner. Perhaps your partner crowds you and steps on your toes, or maybe he bobs and weaves and makes you dizzy. Often, however, we feel pulled in different directions at the same time. One pull is towards growing closer to the beloved.
Western religious marriage rites celebrate the idea of “the two becoming one flesh.” The other pull is towards safety and independence, and it can be just as powerful as this urge to merge. We fear being engulfed by the other, becoming lost in love. Both of these urges are normal and understandable. If you had no desire to mesh with your partner, you might as well be roommates. But healthy relationships allow each partner to maintain his identity, distinct from the shared identity as a couple.
There is a dynamic balance that allows both connection and detachment. We’ve all grown up with the myths about relationships that are pervasive in our culture and in the media. Models of healthy relationships are rare.
One model most of us have tucked away somewhere inside us – for better or for worse – is the model presented by our parents. Did your parents model a healthy blending of connection and closeness, while also permitting individuality and distinctness?
Balance means sometimes putting your partners’ needs before your own – but not always doing so. Your partner may need more support around some challenge in his own life, for instance, or around a particular problem or challenge.
Being supportive of each other and feeling that support back is part of the joy of being in a relationship. But if you are always doing the supporting and rarely feel that backing in return, it’s time to change course. Another clue: if you find that after entering into the relationship you find that you no longer have time for your old friends or old hobbies and activities that had great meaning for you.
Or you are constantly rearranging your schedule to accommodate the needs, or potential needs, or your boyfriend. Do you know your own needs and desires, or do you find yourself just going along with your partner in everything from what to eat for dinner to what you want out of life?
Knowing yourself can be difficult, but it is not your partner’s job to give you the answers – even if you hope that he will. This taking responsibility for yourself is for you to do.
Make some time for yourself. Find pursuits that are yours alone, as well as ones to share with your boyfriend. Exercise, read a book, visit friends. Spending every moment with your partner isn’t necessarily a sign of your deep love and commitment, and it can become boring! Better to find a balance – there’s that word again – between things you do together and things you do by yourself.
Losing your identity and your sense of yourself is not a testimony to your great love for your partner. It’s a problem, and one that can undermine a relationship. Only when you have a sense of yourself can you truly connect with another in a healthy way.
John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org.