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Does Keeping You Mean Losing Me?

Are you in danger of losing yourself to stay in a relationship?

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

In the early stages of a relationship, most people do everything they can to anticipate and provide whatever their partner desires, even when they have to sacrifice other priorities to make that happen.

But often, after the relationship begins to mature, one partner is unable to sustain his or her ability to continue giving at that level, while the other does not have that conflict. What should the more giving partner do when that happens?

If you are that partner, are still committed to the relationship, and believe that your partner is doing the best he or she can, should you give more to fill in the gap? Do you believe that your partner would understand and appreciate your sacrifice and not take advantage of it? Can you live with that imbalance without feeling that you are giving too much of yourself away? Are you in danger of losing yourself to stay in the relationship?

If you are facing this kind of challenge, how will you know how to make the right decision as to whether you can hold on to yourself in this new balance or you will have to leave the relationship to hold on to yourself?

There are five stages that will help you to recognize how you are handling this potential dilemma. If you stay attuned to how you are feeling and do not begin to give yourself away, you may be able to save the relationship.

Stage 1: Blind Forgiveness

You are still totally in love and finding it easy to provide whatever your partner needs, even if he or she cannot continue to give the same anymore. There are moments when you feel a little used when you have to be more available than he or she is, but you write them off, make excuses, and forgive, feeling assured that equal support and investment will return once the imbalance of giving is restored. Your partner’s “reasons” for being less available or having less to give seem so logical, and there is so much good between you that those little lapses don’t seem to matter. You can easily compensate for them, and you do.

Stage 2: Recognizing That the Relationship Is Changing

As time passes, you become aware that the moments you felt equally cared for have permanently set in. Your partner is “busier,” more preoccupied with priorities that make your relationship seem less of a priority. There are still moments of sweetness, but you are finding yourself more often compensating for what is missing for those moments to continue. Your partner seems comfortable with the current situation, while you are feeling less so.

Stage 3: Bringing Up Your Concerns to Your Partner

You’re now convinced that the math is real and that the current imbalance may never go back to what it was. Could you be so afraid to lose the relationship that you are not noticing that you are losing yourself in the process? Is your partner aware that he or she is taking advantage of you or just feeling good with things as they are? You don’t want to lessen the way you love to give, but you also don’t want to feel used or taken advantage of. Your partner seems perfectly happy for you to be more of the giver and may even appreciate you deeply for who you are, but you are feeling increasingly less important.

You have given many subtle signs to him or her that you are sad, down, or sometimes even a little snarky in your responses, but it hasn’t seemed to make a difference. You realize those one-sided reactions are not healthy and, finally, reach out and share your concerns. Your partner agrees and wants to reconcile what is happening, and argues with you that he or she has never been dishonest and that the relationship goes so well because of you.

Depending on the response, you begin to reassess what the relationship provides for you and what you will have to do to stay. Will that be enough for you to stay without giving up too much of yourself in the process?

Stage 4: Assessing Your Past Relationships

Is this situation feeling familiar? Have you not discerned well at the beginning of other relationships as to how much a potential partner can give over time? Did you let your love-blindness overcome your careful evaluation of how that partner allocates resources and where an intimate relationship stands with regard to that distribution? When and how should you have challenged the changing relationship before it became set in the ways it has?

Stage 5: Reassessing Your Values to Make the Right Decision

If you’ve found yourself continually letting your relationships become imbalanced in giving and receiving, ask yourself why you allow that to happen. Your partner, not realizing you have been growing more resentful, may now feel entitled to the present status. Ask yourself at what point you began to feel that discomfort and what stopped you from asking your partner for a rebalance. Mark that place on your internal relationship calendar for future reminders.

Also, realize that over-giving is not always healthy for the other person, either. If one partner is forgiven and excused for giving less and less, the relationship is likely to become more of a symbolic parent–child interaction. The first thing to go is often intimate connection.

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