06/05/2012 01:57 EDT | Updated 08/05/2012 05:12 EDT

How to Be Yourself While Being in Love


You fall in love. It's fun, it's sexy, it's oh-so exciting. But it can't last. Like everything, love changes over time. Passion wanes and life interferes, because, let's face it, being IN love is all-consuming. The enormous amount of time and energy it demands is not sustainable.

Sooner or later, you have to get back to some semblance of your "normal" life, your pre "I'm-in-love" life, and back to pursuing your career, seeing your friends and family, and so on. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, in fact it's essential to the health of your relationship.

Some call the initial blush fusion, a time when you meld together and lose yourself. It's that joined-at-the-hip stage. This is what most people seek, because in giving yourself, through the other person and the wholeness you form, you come to understand yourself. Plato talks about this in terms of eroticism: two sides of a sphere come together to form a complete sphere. You fall in love with something unrealized in yourself, something you desire.

The love may or may not last, but in order to keep growing yourself (and what is life without growth?), you're going to have to separate to some degree. I think of it in terms of having a child. From the moment you give birth, there are incremental steps toward separation. The biggest and most emotionally painful leaps come in adolescence. The child must separate in order to grow and establish her own identity.

In the context of love, we must re-establish our own identity (perhaps a new and improved identity under the wash of a new love). The essential second step of love is delimitation, from the Latin, delimitare or boundary. This is where you draw lines between yourself and the other to define who you are. In other words, you keep your separateness.

Without this, there is a danger that you will become so incorporated into the "us-ness" of couple-hood, that you will stop growing as an individual. Inevitably, this inertia spreads to your relationship and it too withers and dies. This demise is often masked by a sort of mercantile exchange (you do "x" and I'll do "y"), but this exchange allows you to only function as a couple, not to live with love.

Delimitation is fraught with difficulties. Our popular culture fosters a belief, from fairy tales to films, that fusion is the ultimate goal of a relationship. Without this fusion, couples often feel their love has died and they await the end. Or in an attempt to delimitate, one partner may significantly limit access; in effect, they close off, sometimes to protect themselves, sometimes out of neglect, but rarely out of desire to do so. Communication is the key to moving from fusion to delimitation.

The trick is to delimitate and at the same time keep connected. To instill separateness, but not to separate. In genuine love separateness is respectfully maintained and nurtured.

Progress in relationships is fraught with danger, but essential nonetheless. Remember that change is the essence of life.

Barbara Sibbald ( is a two-time novelist, editor at a leading health journal, and an award-winning freelance journalist. The above is derived from The Book of Love: Guidance in Affairs of the Heart, a novel (General Store Publishing House), Now available as an e-book.