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How to avoid losing yourself in love

Every month, Sarah Abell invites you to try a 30-day experiment to improve your love life

by Psychologies

don't lose yourself in love

The project

How do we become a ‘we’ without losing the ‘me’? A couple will often develop their own identity, as a ‘we’, but is there a danger that you can become too similar and enmeshed? Author and marital therapist Andrew G Marshall believes there is, and he recommends personal responsibility as an antidote to losing your identity in love.

The aim

Try to find a balance between being one half of a couple and being yourself. Secure partners encourage each other to have their own identity, interests, desires and differences as they know this will not undermine the relationship.

The theory

According to Marshall, if you feel threatened by the differences in your relationship you are likely to use strategies (often unconsciously) to try to protect yourself from the pain. These might include: controlling your partner, downplaying the differences or overly adapting yourself. Often when this happens in a couple you get one of three combinations:

  1. Control/compliance – One partner is in charge and the other just does what that one wants. The compliant partner will often feel more relaxed and spontaneous when the controlling partner isn’t around.
  2. Indifference/indifference – These relationships are deceptively calm, with little highs or lows. These couples don’t experience much conversation, intimacy or couple identity.
  3. Compliance/compliance – B partners are so keen to keep each other happy that they give up their individuality for a couple identity. They avoid arguments and nobody gets what they really want.

So, what is the answer? Take responsibility for your own needs and reactions. Also try to understand each other rather than trying to convince, cajole or control each other.

Marshall explains: ‘Doing what we want and need for ourselves while continuing to care deeply for our partner is not always easy. However, it can be done by understanding each other’s differences rather than ignoring or protecting against them.’

Try it out

• Take turns being in charge. Set aside two evenings or two days this month and decide who will be in charge for each one. The person who is in charge gets to choose all the activities that you do together. Keep them fun and avoid picking anything your partner would hate.

• Review what you learnt. After your two dates discuss what you learnt about yourself and each other.

• Discuss what you liked and didn’t. Is there anything new that you would like to incorporate into your normal routines?

Sarah Abell is an author, speaker and relationships coach. Find out more at nakedhedgehogs.com. To buy her LifeLabs Practical Wisdom online course How to Save Your Relationship, please click here. You can try a free 3-day taster trial first too.

More inspiration:

Read I Love You But I’m Not In Love With You: Seven steps to saving your relationship by Andrew G Marshall (Bloomsbury, £6.29)

Read Ten lessons from ten years of marriage by Sarah Abell on LifeLabs

Photograph: Werner Dieterich/Westend61/Corbis