How to Maintain Yourself in a Relationship

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(or “How Not to Lose Yourself in a Relationship …”)

In high school, a strong, stern woman—a social worker, a woman from my church—sat down to lunch with me and declared there were two kinds of people in this world: givers and takers.

“Which do you think I am?” I asked.

“Oh, you’re a taker,” she said, matter-of-factly.

I didn’t think to counter her opinion. She was right. My father, while encouraging in so many ways, also let slip a good number of times how selfish I was. So naturally I must be the taker type. No question. It did feel ouch, though.

Still, if I’m the taker type, why has it been so easy to lose myself in my romantic relationships? (In others too, but let’s focus on this type.)

Losing myself in relationships has taken many forms over the years. Trying to satisfy and keep my partner has led to things like dimming central parts of my personality, like singing, because my boyfriend cringed when I sang or compromising core values because my boyfriend felt my choices were juvenile and selfish and frustrating and “we are in love.” Compromising then created a domino effect of avoiding certain friendships and places like church because I felt like a hypocrite and like I was living a double life.

While fifteen-plus years of this, an extremely painful breakup, and Jesus acting as my dating coach have strengthened me to believe I won’t lose myself in these core ways—beliefs, values, personality—I am not immune to what I call “codependency flare-ups,” or getting a little too wrapped up in what Melody Beattie calls the “property lines” of my partner.

I found this happening with my guy recently as I started to feel a little too consumed with him—like too many of my thoughts and feelings were focused on him, that my evenings were full of activities that were important to him, that I was missing my girlfriends and was I giving my writing enough time? Stuff like this.

I think this is somewhat normal in early dating. You are excited and giddy and there is so much to learn about the other person. It’s easy to lose balance.

It can even happen with good stuff. I had waited years to find a guy who loved Jesus as much as I did, and so I found myself kinda going along with all the groups he wanted to be involved in and serve in until I was starting to feel overwhelmed and overbooked.

So one night over home-cooked meatloaf with an older couple who adopted us and who feed us and pray with us, I blurted out my feelings. It seemed a safe place to do so, with this couple who provide not only warm food and hugs but also relationship wisdom gleaned from years of marriage and raising ten-plus kids (whew!). P.S. Having spiritual mothers and fathers and mentors is an awesome thing (and a future blog post!). So I blurted out my concerns that while I love serving and doing things together, J. and I aren’t married, and I wanted to make sure I was honoring the activities and ministries that God wanted me to be involved in. In other words, I wanted to honor the stage of relationship we are in and not rush ahead while honoring the plans God has for me now. I asked for their prayers as I navigated my schedule and made decisions. My guy was not offended and in fact praised my honesty.

I think it’s also normal for couples to have moments they need some breathing room—a night with the girls, a night with the guys, a night to themselves, stuff like this. This shouldn’t be cause for immediate panic. Communication, of course, is key. Still, I don’t think it’s healthy to make every waking moment about your relationship. Yes, there will come a day, most of us hope, when we will be waking up each morning in the arms of our spouse (who will never snore, have bad breath, or steal the covers cause those things don’t happen when you’ve met the perfect person, right? Ha.).

But in everything, even in marriage, in each and every relationship, we are to put God first.

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

—Exodus 20:3 (NIV)

 

***

“In all your ways submit to him,

and he will make your paths straight.”

—Proverbs 3:6 (NIV)

 

 

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So yeah, I was feeling a tad too consumed with my guy and my relationship, that perhaps I was neglecting myself and my needs, that I needed a refresh. A pause.

For me, this pause came in the form of an autumn walk in the park.

I had woken up that morning with a heart receptive to God and His answer to these feelings, asking Him, “Lord, please speak to me …”

And that still, small voice in my spirit said, “let’s take a walk …”

That afternoon, a warm and sunny autumn afternoon, I laced up my Brooks sneakers and took a walk in my favorite park with the gazebo and pond and ducks.

As we walked, I talked to my God, aloud but in a whisper voice so passersby didn’t think me too crazy.

And on this walk, I began by asking forgiveness for putting this relationship ahead of everything else. I released one by one my concerns, fears, and worries. I prayed that God would restore this relationship to its rightful place. That He would teach me healthy boundaries. That He would teach me how to maintain myself in the midst of this partnership. I released the relationship again to Him, letting go and letting God. I knew He had brought this man into my life, and I wanted to honor the gift. I wanted with a pure heart for God to direct it again in the way it should go.

I came home that day and made a list of ways to retain myself in a relationship, things I could do to maintain balance, keeping my relationship as one part—yes, an important part but one part—of my rich, full life.

 

***

The other day, my friend Becca came down to visit. As we sat on my couch sharing our hearts, me drinking gingerbread iced coffee (which by the way is amazing!) and confessing how I felt overbooked, my friend casually mentioned her concerns for me because I was a giver.

“Wait, what? Do you really think I’m a giver? Not a taker?”

I couldn’t believe that Becca, one of the most giving people in the entire universe, thought this of me. This was a girl who not only taught full-time but went to grad school while also serving her parents who battled health issues (and somehow still found time to make the most beautiful craft projects). She thought I was a giver?

“Of course I do! You’re a giver. Do I need to bop you on the head???”

I love that Becca and I can talk to each other like dudes. Haha.

First of all, this whole idea of people being either a giver or a taker is ridiculous because we all have selfish moments and giving moments (but I know Becca meant this word to encourage, and I’ll take it!).

Still, I think we spend a lot of time overcompensating for lies the enemy has embedded into our minds and spirits.

If you’re feeling today that things are out of balance in your relationship, that you’re neglecting your needs or other relationships, or that you’ve run a bit too fast ahead, I recommend putting on some walking shoes and taking a walk or putting on some worship music and finding a quiet place to sit. Then ask for our Father’s forgiveness, release the situation to Him, and ask Him to redirect you and the relationship. Ask Him to restore it to its rightful place. Give Him back the reins (or reign).

Just lay it all down at His feet. Each and every bit of it.

What’s meant to be will be. Let go and let God.

Be blessed …

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