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How to Maintain Your Sense of Self While You're Part of a Couple

11/26/2014 05:56 EST | Updated 01/26/2015 05:59 EST
Aron Mifsud Bonnici via Getty Images

In North America today, single people outnumber married people. Our culture today promotes the single life -- we are working longer hours, we treat ourselves more, we go on spontaneous trips -- even though society still promotes family life as the "norm."

But we still continue to believe two is better than one. We say there are two peas in every pod, and so many songs tell us pairing up and being with another is more enjoyable than being on our own. Even independent Samantha from Sex and the City realized the benefits of not being alone when she couldn't get her jewelery off without having someone to help her.

It makes me wonder, when we pride ourselves on being independent, strong, and are always so busy trying to get ahead, are we missing out on that solid relationship that helps make us even stronger, better and more self aware to who we actually are and what we need?

Like many people, I have been single and in a couple and the more I think about it, I believe the key to having a great relationship is not to lose your sense of self. It is possible to be both attached AND autonomous. There's a lot of talk in the media lately about "conscious uncoupling" but what about conscious coupling? How can you be a couple and still maintain your sense of self? What should you do and what should you look for when coupling up?

Opposites really do attract.

By having separate interests you get to enjoy time apart and focus on yourself. This helps keep you interesting and interested in learning about your partner's hobbies. You don't need to find a partner who has EVERYTHING in common with you in order to be a great couple. In fact, having a boyfriend or girlfriend who likes different things than you -- whether that means hobbies or that they're from a different culture altogether -- can open your mind and expand your world! They might introduce you to a new activity or you might ignite in them a new passion. It's always a good idea to be open to new ideas and ways of life.

The important thing to consider is whether your differences make you expand or contract; are you learning, growing and evolving? If not, you might want to ask yourself if your relationship is stifling or limiting you, because that's not growth. But when your partner is into different things than you it helps you live up to your potential and that just makes you a stronger pair.

Don't lose yourself.

Sometimes you can get overwhelmed by your partner's interests and let go of your own. Try not to let this happen! Continue to do what you love. Often you start to become what the other person wants you to become, as opposed to who you are and who you are meant to be. Hence why many couples grow apart. It's hard to grow together, but it's not impossible. You have to stay committed not just to the relationship's growth but to your own as well.

In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert says, "I disappear into the person I love. I am the permeable membrane." It's a great quote because I bet a LOT of women can relate to it. Especially the part where she says she will give everything of herself to her man until she becomes exhausted and depleted. She knows this isn't a healthy way to relate to someone and that she needs time to herself to "discover what I look like and talk like when I'm not trying to merge with someone." We can ALL use time to get to know our true selves and stop getting lost in the person we love.

Respect one another.

Mutual respect and admiration are big in my books. When you have a partner you respect, you want them to respect you too, and that creates a strong bond. We strive to be better people around the ones we admire. I've mentioned this before, but the way I make decisions in life (even minute ones) is to ask whether my actions would make my son proud. If you were to act in relationships bearing in mind a desire to make your partner proud, what would you do differently? You wouldn't want to let them down or have them lose respect for you, and your partner should behave similarly towards you. Always treat others the way you'd want them to treat you. You'll find yourself less likely to tolerate bad behaviour if you truly respect yourself and they will be at their best if they respect you.

Remember that not all couples are a perfect match and not all singles are living it up.

Before you go daydreaming about the way things could be, don't forget that each scenario comes with its own ups and downs. It's all too easy to think the grass is greener on the other side of the relationship, but what we should be doing is being grateful for what we HAVE while we have it, not wishing it away. You are responsible for your own happiness and you can't place all the weight on your partner's shoulders, or the lack thereof. Practice and express gratitude even in the hard times -- especially then! -- because those are the times when we show our true colours. Besides, if you're giving off good energy no matter if you're single or attached, you will attract better energy back to you.

Determine your core values.

Yes it's important to remain independent in your relationship but ultimately the point of having one is to be a team, and the best way to act like a team is to have a common goal. What are your core values? What do you want out of life? Does your partner want the same things? As different as you both may be, you do need something to hold you together...something strong and compatible. Your shared core values is what you'll build the foundation of your relationship on. Your hobbies will change, your passion for one another may come and go, but as long as the foundation on which you stand is strong, then you will last.

The best way to be a good couple is to be a good person. Keep yourself interesting and interested, continue to evolve and grow, treat others and yourself with respect, and stay true to your core values. This is the only recipe I know for a successful relationship, with yourself or your partner!

How do you maintain a sense of self in your relationships? What's your advice for being independent in a couple? I would love to hear from you...

xo Natasha

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