How to Navigate Evolving Identities Within your Relationship
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
Relationships are kind of like solar systems.
Within our relationships, our identities, interests, and values are like the planets in that they are held in a specific gravitational pull; each element moving in a patterned orbit.
So, what happens when one (or both/all) partners' identities, interests, or values evolves? Well, it can feel like the solar system might implode!
The Great Resignation is About More than Jobs
I’m seeing more and more of that in my work with clients these days.
The “unprecedented” and life-threatening stressors we’ve faced in recent years, combined with sudden isolation and space from the previous influences in our lives (such as family, friends, careers, religious institutions, and more) has given people more space to consider what they actually freaking want out of life.
We are getting in touch with the parts of us that have been exiled so that we could fit in or appease others. And the more we get in touch with those parts, the harder it is to ignore them.
It’s pretty fucking beautiful.
And it can also put a lot of stress on our relationships, which we often developed during particular times during our lives when particular things were important to us.
But, I have good news for you!
Relationships are resilient. And, just like the universe, they are meant to evolve.
Relationships aren’t necessarily “better” or “more healthy” when they are constant and unchanging.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that stability, but our relationships can also be spaces (ya see what I did there?) for exploration and experimentation!
In fact, our earliest relationships are built for said exploration.
In the relationship between an infant and their caregiver, the caregiver both provides (1) a safe haven for the infant to find respite when they are overwhelmed or distressed and (2) a secure base from which the infant can go out and explore the world.
Secure attachment requires both of these things.
Of course, our adult and romantic relationships aren’t exactly like our relationships with our caregivers.
For one, we aren’t as reliant on our partners for survival as we are our caregivers. Additionally, our adult relationships are conditional, meaning we can’t scream and cry and poop 24/7 and expect our partners to happily put up with it. On top of that, not all of us were fortunate enough to have perfectly secure relationships with our caregivers.
But that doesn't mean we're doomed. Our relationships are opportunities to practice new behaviors and values that weren't available to us in previous relationships.
Inspiring Balance and Reciprocity in Your Relationship
In our adult relationships, the concepts of the safe haven and secure base can serve as inspiration for how each partner can learn to support the other. Whereas when we are infants secure attachment is perhaps more reliant on the caregivers emotional availability, in our adult relationships balance and reciprocity are important.
As much as having a sense of togetherness is important - sharing interests and values, doing activities together, etc. - we are also individuals on personal journeys. As such, a healthy dose of separateness can be important too.
Look, it makes sense to feel overwhelmed when one partner announces a big change or names a dynamic in the relationship that was previously concealed. But rather than assume the worst, consider the possibility that this evolution isn’t a threat to the relationship.