On learning not to lose yourself in a long-term relationship

The odd way I handle relationships is directly related to my first boyfriend.  He was way less-than-awesome and became controlling and verbally abusive as our relationship progressed. He told me who I was allowed to be friends with, what I could wear, and where I could go.  I was 16 and convinced that this was simply how relationships worked.  After all, he loved me, right?  I’m 26 now, and I definitely know better.

A lot of bad came from that relationship, but a lot of good came as well.  When I finally got out, I had developed an unbreakable spirit and sense of independence.  I did what I want whenever I wanted, and have mercy on any boy who I tried to tell me what to do!  One of the bad things that came from it, though, was a serious strain placed on my friendships.  I’d spent over a year ignoring them (per my boyfriend’s orders) and treated them very badly.  When it was over, I was left to try and rebuild my own life since I had just adopted his for the past year and a half.  

Fast forward to now, and I have the opposite problem.  I have a wonderful fiancee who pushes me to follow my dreams and be myself and find happiness however I can.  The issue is that I’ve worked for years on being the opposite of the girl who would let a relationship dictate who she was, and because of that, I’m sort of impossible to be in a relationship with.  

Most people around me probably wouldn’t even know I am in a relationship.  I never talk about him.  I don’t use plural pronouns—I say things like “I went to the movies last night” instead of  “we.”  I don’t talk about our life, our plans, our house.  Everything is mine and mine alone.  In fact, unless someone specifically asks about my significant other, he may as well not exist.  This isn’t because I’m ashamed of him or because I don’t love him—it’s more about my inability to admit that my identity is tied to another person, since that is something I’ve tried so hard to avoid doing.  

Neither way of being is entirely how I want it to be.  While I’m not at all sorry that I no longer depend on someone else to tell me who I’m supposed to be,  it’s also unfair to reject normal relationship stuff so much that someone super important to me ends up feeling like I’m ashamed of him.   We’ve been together 5+ years now, and I’m still working on finding that balance of having my own life while still working on developing our life together.  There are some “rules” that I’ve established that have helped us grow as a couple without stunting either one of us as individuals.  

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

I know in the midst of a relationship that seems perfect, thinking of a breakup seems absurd.  But it’s really important not to let that passion create some bad choices.  Don’t quit your job; be wary of moving away from your family; don’t ever abandon education.  Make sure that if things go sour, you can take care of yourself.  

Don’t make a habit out of blowing off your friends.

They were there before the relationship, and it’s important to keep them around throughout it.  You need to have your own life to maintain your sanity.  So go out with friends!  Get some lunch.  Go for walks.  Keep each other filled in on your lives.  Sometimes you may have to break plans because something else comes up, but make sure it’s something valid and make sure you make it up to them.  I’ve learned the hard way that the more you blow people off, the less invites you get.  Eventually, no one will think to invite you to anything.  

Say what you want but be willing to compromise (only sometimes).

If something is important to you, always speak your mind.  There’s no reason to become passive in an attempt to avoid conflict, because conflict is going to happen no matter what.  If you think one of your SO’s friends is really disrespectful, it’s OK to say that you don’t want to hang out with them.  That’s a lot better than going out with them and sulking or fighting with them the whole time.  Compromise only when it’s not that serious.  If you’re arguing over which Disney movie to watch, it’s OK to let that go and compromise.  You’ve got plenty of movie nights in your future, so you’re not giving up Mary Poppins forever.  

[Image via The CW]