The journey to more self-love is an amazing and at times challenging one, perhaps even more so when in an intimate relationship.

Loving yourself while being in love

Even though I’ve been fortunate to be in very loving and intimate relationships, I still struggle with facing the parts of me I don’t yet love, as well as prioritising my needs over my partner’s.

Sometimes it’s tempting to want to be alone, to not have the painful reflection and seeming distraction from yourself that being with someone can entail. Unfortunately, though being alone can be self-fortifying, your same unlovable parts still exist and often only get spotlighted in an intimate relationship.

Maintaining a sense of self

For those of us who love being in love and find it fulfilling to care for another, it can be an ongoing work to maintain a clear and separate sense of self. Inevitably, boundaries overlap in an intimate relationship; yet there is still a way to keep yourself at the centre of your world and awareness, rather than the other person or the connection you share taking centre stage.

Putting your needs first

oxygen_marriageOne of the ways to do this is to ensure that you put your own needs first. At a basic level, this is not dissimilar from the safety video on planes that encourages the individual to fix their own oxygen mask before looking after their family members. You can’t be of much help to anyone else if you’re not looking after yourself first.

Risking being true to what you want

Especially during the early stages, there can be a fear of hurting the other or of them withdrawing their love if you assert your needs, as in, “no, I don’t want to have sex with you tonight”, or “I don’t want to hang out with you this Sunday, I need some time with myself”. This fear can be difficult to push through. But not asserting yourself or stating what you want will only return to bite you with resentment or an urgent need to withdraw as you feel you’re losing yourself.

In my world, a lover who supports your needs and wants, particularly those for self-love, even when they feel hurt or rejected, is very precious.

Avoiding blame

“Learning to love yourself in a relationship is seeing that you will create the very situations you need that allow you to experience the parts of yourself you cannot love.” – Gay Hendricks Ph.D (from Learning to Love Yourself)

What a gem. If you could really see this, the tendency to blame the other when you feel terrible about yourself, could be largely avoided.

Each time you blame your partner for ‘making you feel like this’ or hurting you, you’re missing a golden opportunity to look inside at a part which is not yet loved. In other words, an aspect of yourself which you still need to accept, embrace, hold or integrate. We all have them.

Dealing with reflection

w1So, when it’s so easy and compelling to lash out or blame the other, how do you bring it back to yourself when you’re hurt?

In my experience, slowing down the interaction is paramount. Sometimes, I literally need to say “time out” to come back to myself, hold what is going on inside me and be present with it. This can be done in a way that is not a cutting off from the other, but an honouring and attending to yourself. Another word for this is self-empathy. Only then can you stay true to your experience AND be present with the other person and theirs. 

Honouring each other’s worlds

Communication techniques, like Authentic Relating and Circling also help immensely. So much pain and difficulty can be caused in relationships when two people’s worlds get entangled. Despite how close you are to someone, you still have separate worlds, experiences, pasts and feelings.

The aim is not to have the same world, but to honour and understand each other’s worlds.

Staying present with your own experience as well as seeing and acknowledging the other’s can be key to sustaining a long-term and healthy relationship.

Being seen and seeing the other

When we enter a relationship, we seek an intense experience of self: to have others see us as we really are and to see others as who they really are. We want to go beyond the masks of the personality and be accepted at our essence.” – Gay Hendricks, Ph.D (from Learning to Love Yourself)

To be seen, you need to remain true to yourself – your needs and desires – while at the same time opening to and honouring the other. This is the true art of intimate relationships.


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