It happens all the time. At first, your new love relationship felt great. But, over time, you started to notice cracks in the foundation. Maybe your spouse changed, or started to show true colors that were there, but hiding, all along. Or, maybe you are the one who is changing. Maybe you committed to someone else before you knew yourself, and buried parts of you are starting to show up. Perhaps you entered into this relationship with unrealistic expectations. You thought you could change him with your love, only to discover you’re exhausted. Or, maybe you slowly started to set yourself aside in order to meet some clear, albeit unspoken, expectations. You notice yourself wondering about any of the following:
- “Why was I first drawn to this person?”
- “When did he start treating me this way?
- “How did I get so lost in this relationship?”
No matter how it happened, you are discovering that you have lost yourself in love. Instead of becoming more of the person God wants you to become, you’re a remnant of yourself. Instead of feeling confident, clear, and ready to serve others as a team, you notice yourself consumed by this relationship. You might be:
- feeling anxious all the time
- trying to control his behaviors
- resentful even as you try to keep the peace
- going through the motions; pretending like things are fine
- numbing out your feelings through food, substances, or entertainment.
Over the past two decades, I’ve worked with hundreds of women who feel lost in their most intimate relationships. Many of them aren’t sure why or what went wrong. Often, they are angry at their spouse and convinced he is the one who needs to change. Sometimes, he is the main source of the problem. Sometimes he isn’t. However, whether it’s his fault or not, the truth is: change can only start with you.
When you start to lose yourself in a relationship, you can feel stuck, angry, and overwhelmed. The natural tendency is to try to change the other person.
However, you will never reclaim your own sense of self by trying to change your loved one. That’s like trying to change what you are wearing by dressing up a mannequin.
Instead, if you want to be in a healthy, loving partnership with someone else, you have to start taking steps toward becoming faithful to yourself.
Being Faithful to Yourself
Let me back up a minute. In last week’s blog post, I discussed Erik Erikson’s 8 stages of development. Each stage represents a key milestone every one of us needs to overcome in healthy ways. In the the first 4 stages of your development, you learn to navigate the world around you. Depending on how you were parented, you begin to formulate a perspective on the following key questions:
1. Can I trust other people?
2. Can I trust myself?
3. Am I capable?
4. Am I enough?
Each of these stages builds to a critical point of your development as you step into adulthood. This is the stage where you establish your own sense of self—what Erikson calls “identity.” According to Erikson, this is the point at which you settle into an honest understanding of who you are, your strengths, needs, limitations, and values. Establishing your identity is the time in your life when you make a commitment to being true to yourself. Erikson used the term “fidelity” to describe this process. Confronting your identity means confronting this key question:
5. Can I be faithful to myself?
As Christians, we understand what it means to be faithful to God. But, we don’t often think about what it means to be faithful to ourselves. A synonym for faithfulness is loyalty. When you are loyal to someone, you stick by them through thick and thin. You show up for them when they are hurting. You honor the best of who they are.
You likely know how to demonstrate this kind of faithfulness to God. But, God is also faithful to you (Lam. 3:22-23; Psalm 91:4). And, faithfulness is a fruit of God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:22). What if part of what God wants is for you to learn how to be faithful—to yourself?
Faithfulness is learning how to honor yourself, as you might honor others. It can be summed in the following statements:
- I know who I am.
- I know what I value.
- I am committed to what I value.
Learning to be faithful to yourself is key to learning how to be faithful to someone else. The problem is that many people leapfrog over this critical stage of learning how to be faithful to oneself. Instead, most people rush right into the next stage of development.
Being Faithful to Someone Else
You guessed it, according to Erikson, the next key stage of development is the one related to committing to someone else. Erikson called this stage “intimacy” and it’s when we learn how to create a partnership with someone else. It can be summed up with this key question:
6. Can I commit to someone else?
There is a reason Erikson placed Identity before Intimacy in his stages of development. When you know how to be faithful to yourself, you are more equipped to show faithfulness to your loved one. Healthy intimacy is a partnership. It isn’t all about their needs, and it’s not all about yours. It’s learning how to say “yes” to yourself AND stay connected to your spouse.
Committing to yourself means:
- Understanding your needs.
- Caring for your mind, heart, and body.
- Honoring the unique gifts God has given you.
Committing to someone else means:
- Understanding their needs.
- Caring for their mind, heart, and body.
- Honoring the unique gifts God has given them.
Imagine if both you and your spouse were wholeheartedly committed to yourselves, to God, and to each other? All three matter. And, when all three are at play, beautiful things start to happen through our marriages.
Ideally, we would learn how to be faithful to ourselves before entering into a committed relationship with someone else. But, the good news is this: it’s never too late to reclaim a healthy commitment to yourself. You can take steps toward becoming more faithful to yourself right where you are. In fact, the best gift you might have to give your intimate relationship is a stronger commitment to the work of becoming more faithful to your God-given self.
Next week, we’ll dive into the details of how.