Maintaining your identity in marriage is not something I ever understood until it was too late. When I separated from my first husband at the age of thirty one, I admit I celebrated my freedom; it was exciting because I had never lived alone. It was nice to have a place to call mine. I even had a celebration/housewarming for my close girlfriends, most of whom were single or also separated from their husbands. I was about to live my best single life…or so I thought.
It wasn’t long before I was curled up in a fetal position on my couch wondering what I was supposed to do now. That’s a common feeling in the stages of divorce. Your identity as a couple has imploded and it now feels like you’re being ripped apart from the inside out. Everything about your day to day living is changing and it’s common to question who you are and what’s next.
My lack of identity started way before the demise of my marriage, though. I think my Dad must’ve sensed my chameleon nature when he told me two weeks before getting married “Whatever you do, keep your own identity.” I didn’t have a clue what he meant and I scoffed at the idea of being separate but equal in a marriage. True, coupling is apart of the natural stage of marriage -the time where you merge social groups, interests, families, etc. Somewhere along the line, though, I mistook “two shall become one” to include thoughts, opinion, decisions and goals. Man was I wrong!
It took me six years to redefine and recreate my identity after divorce. And I realized that it might not have been so hard had I not lost it in the first place. Since starting my coaching business, I’ve learned that losing your identity in your role in the marriage is a key cause of divorce. It’s often what leads to the disillusionment phase of marriage where most couple call it quits.
In hindsight, there were signs along the ways that I was losing myself. Here’s a list of twenty signs that should’ve been red flags:
Here are 20 Signs of Losing Identity in Marriage
You let yourself get talked into doing things that you later resent
Compromise and negotiation is one thing; it’s almost required in a relationship of two people with different interests, goals and dreams. But do you find yourself repeatedly doing things you really don’t want to do? Are you resentful towards your spouse for “making” you do what you didn’t want to do? It’s likely because you haven’t clearly expressed to yourself why you don’t want to do it. And if you’re not clear with yourself first, you really won’t be able to express it to your mate. Your resentment is misdirected. You’re really disappointed with yourself for not speaking up and saying what you truly feel with assertiveness.
Longing for something (hobby, interest, accomplishment) of your own.
There’s nothing wrong with having something all your own. A hobby gives you a sense of accomplishment. It also feeds the part of your ego that longs to have purpose and acceptance. Relationships thrive on mutual commitment, trust, vulnerability and reciprocity – a consistent give and take exchange. A hobby serves as an outlet to refill your tank sort of speaking. So, listen to your intuition. Find a hobby that nurtures your interests, passions and desires. You’ll find yourself less frustrated and may soon feel the sense of void disappear.
Forgetting the people, places or activities that used to bring you joy.
“Where My Girls At?” It’s not just a throwback 90’s song. If you’re not careful you could be asking yourself that question out of desperation. True, some friendships reach an expiration date. Mel Robbins refers to “Leaves, Branches and Roots” and you get very few root friendships in life. Did they leave or did you kick them out of your life – declining invitations you used to accept? What about the place and activities that used to bring you joy? Have you lost the grasp on them, too? If so, it’s time to reconnect. Plug in to who, what and where you find joy.
You can’t tell the difference between you and your spouse. Not having your own opinion; always “checking in” with your spouse.
Being in harmony is one thing. But, are you a ventriloquist – without your own voice and opinion? Do you feel uncertain about how to respond or always give the “safe” answer that your significant other would approve? Have you assimilated to your spouse’s desires, feelings, goals, etc. without any consideration of your own? These are signs that it’s time to get clear on your own core values, beliefs, goals and feelings.
Not feeling free to be yourself or say what you really feel. You want your husband to tell you who to be.
It’s one thing to have no opinion. It’s another to not feel free to say it. Do you shush yourself just as you open your mouth? Do you hesitate to speak up or express your opinion until you’ve “cleared” it with your significant other? Or do you feel unsure how to behave in public? Wanting your husband to tell you who to be may stem from having people pleasing ways, self deprivation, low self-worth or self-esteem. It’s never too late to get a grip on what’s stifling you from being your authentic self.
Constantly apologizing for asking your spouse to accommodate your wants or needs.
Would you rather accommodate other’s needs than assert your own? When you do ask for what you want, are you always apologizing for being a burden or causing inconvenience? Concern for others is not always a sign of a major problem. But, do you find yourself feeling bad about asking for what you need, setting boundaries, or saying no to your spouse? Increasing your self worth and self esteem will build your confidence to say Yes to yourself.
You don’t know how to behave or what to do when he’s not around.
If you feel an unsettling sense of loss and emptiness when he’s not around, you’ve likely poured everything solely into the relationship. As the old saying goes “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, meaning occasional time apart can be healthy. But, if you feel like you can’t cope with even brief absences you’ve lost your own identity. Use alone time to nurture your own interests, reconnect with family and friends or just recharge.
Asserting yourself with friends or family when not in the company of your spouse. Being defensive and easily offended.
Do you find yourself lashing out to friends and family or being assertive the way you wish you were with your husband? If you feel intimidated and lack courage to assert yourself with your spouse you may become imbalanced in your emotions. Next thing you know, you’re looking for ways to sooth your ego in less confrontational environments. Emotional intelligence is not only the awareness of emotion but being able to control and express them in ways to reach a mutually beneficial outcome. With practice, you will gain the confidence to speak assertively with your spouse.
You feel out of control in your life.
Are you struggling to blend your life with your significant other? Do you scoff at the idea of not having complete control in every area of your life? Maybe you long for the independence you had when you were single. If this is true, your identity and how it fits into this new ‘world’ may have you shaking in your boots. Here’s the truth: you’re always in control of you. Make time for yourself. Reconnect with your values, beliefs, hobbies, interests and desires. Create your day and balance quality time with self care.
You don’t recognize yourself anymore. You just don’t feel right/uneasy.
Growth is a necessary part of every living being. As you grow, you may feel an acute awareness that something is ‘off’. That can be scary. Are you growing away from who you were to who you are becoming? What are you learning about yourself? It’s when you neglect the time for self reflection that you are often met with an unfamiliar reflection look back at you in the mirror. Validate your worth. Acknowledge your growth. Adjust yourself – inside and out. And step into your greatness.
You turn down invitations from your friends. Feeling only connected to his friends but disconnected from yours.
Velcro serves a purpose on clothing – not in your marriage. Becoming one with your spouse doesn’t mean you become ‘none’ with everyone else. Blending social groups adds to the spice of your new relationship. And even though it sounds cliche’, it’s true: absence makes the heart grow fonder. If for no other reason, it gives you something to talk about. But, it also adds perspective to your marriage. Being able to distance yourself provides an opportunity to appreciate all that’s right in your relationship – all the reasons that make being around each other that much enjoyable. So, give each other room to breathe, explore a variety of perspectives and benefit from different types of relationships.
Your friends have told you you’re acting weird.
We don’t see ourselves the way others do, and close friends are even more likely to notice when you’re changing. To be fair, change isn’t always bad. In fact, it’s necessary to grow in life. But a friend telling you you’re acting weird is a signal that you’re morphing into an unrecognizable person. It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to ask for more input but give yourself permission to see yourself from their eyes. Try it on for size first before dismissing it. If it’s not valid and doesn’t fit, you’ll at least have insight into what’s important to your friend and why they think you’re acting weird. And it could be an opportunity to catch yourself from completely losing touch with the people who are important to you.
He’s all you ever talk about.
There’s nothing more boring than hearing someone talk about the same thing over and over again. And while you may think it’s cute or a sign that you’re so in love, it’s actually not. All it really shows is that you’re completely disconnected with yourself and the world around you. But, you can explore and reconnect with yourself by practicing mindfulness. Start by consciously observing how often you talk about your spouse. What prompts you to want to talk about him? Own what you are feeling, without judgment. Then intentionally shift the conversation. Show interest in the person you’re talking to instead. Ask questions. Connect with them at the heart and let the conversation flow.
He’s all you ever think about.
Movies and television can make being consumed with thoughts of your spouse seem so romantic. But, here’s the thing: it’s not. That’s called infatuation or even obsession. If you find yourself unable to think about anything but him it could be a recipe for disaster soup. Think about it: is there absolutely nothing else in life that you’re interested in? I doubt it. So, if he’s all you ever think about this could indicate that you’re longing for something that is missing. You could be using him to fill a void. What are your core values? How fulfilling is your life overall? Do you have hobbies, dreams or desires that you’ve not tapped into yet? Having other interests besides your spouse is indicative of a healthy relationship built on allowing individual expression.
You’ve given up on your dreams, goals and purpose.
Have you compromised pursuing your dreams, goals and purpose for the ‘sake of the family’? Even if you’ve agreed to postpone or slowly pursue your dreams, still pursue them. Maybe you want to be an interior designer and right now it’s not financially possible to get that degree. You can still nurture your desire in other ways (decorating your friend’s or own home, make a scrapbook of your designs, etc.). Giving up on entirely on what you desire can eventually turn into resentment and contempt. So, stay connected to the interests that light you upon the inside!
You’re disconnected from the things that make you feel like you.
During this pandemic many of us have felt the affects of being socially distanced from people, activities and things that make you feel like you. We wouldn’t have chosen to feel isolated and disconnected. Yet, sometimes in marriage that’s slowly what happens. We can get busy doing all the wife and mother stuff that one day we look up and we don’t recognize ourselves. You can’t even put a finger on exactly what’s missing. You just don’t feel like yourself. Self care is often the first thing we trade off. But, like I always say to my clients ‘You can’t give from an empty cup. Fill yourself regularly so that you can give from an overflow, not a deficit.’ This not only benefits you; it also models for others how to take care of themselves.
Your confidence has deflated.
Were you more confident before marriage? Beyond popular belief, confidence is not automatic. You must nurture it. And let’s face it, your identity continues to evolve even after marriage. So, what once was enough to make you feel confident may no longer be enough. New environments, challenges, interests, etc. may threaten our abilities to adapt, overcome and persevere. Self awareness and courage is needed to stretch and grow.
You’ve compromised your standards.
Speaking of courage, let’s talk about standards. In your desire to be on common ground with your mate, have you compromised your core values and beliefs? Maybe you just don’t like conflict. You’d rather acquiesce, put your true feelings aside than be in opposition and enforce your standards. Eventually, you’ve morphed into someone you don’t recognize and maybe even ashamed of. Now, you’re afraid to turn back to the ‘old you’ for fear of losing him. Breaking news – There’s an impending cycle of disillusionment, confusion and bitterness waiting to meet you. When you deny yourself the right to have your own standards met, it’s only a matter of time before the person you did all this for matches your own behavior. Be true to yourself if you want peace of mind.
You miss your single life.
Do you find yourself daydreaming on the good ole days when life was simple as a single person? It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed. Our subconscious mind has a way of recognizing any change as a threat – whether it’s real or not. Your expectations of marriage, learned patterns of behavior or past disappointments all play a role in how we define ourselves. It could just be that it’s time to make a few adjustments to reconnect, redefine or recreate your identity. You definitely shouldn’t ignore it, though. Try implementing any of the suggestions mentioned and see how it goes.
You’re unhappy but afraid to say so.
Communicating our true feelings takes emotional intelligence and courage. And if you already have a pattern of being a people pleaser, it could be tempting to just suck it up and keep it moving. Give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling – all of it. And if there’s a deeper reason behind afraid to express yourself, seek help. You deserve to be happy and to honor your feelings.
So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s also why I’m passionate about Marriage Identity. One of the greatest commandments is to ‘love your neighbor as yourself‘. When you’re married, your closest neighbor is your spouse. So, really loving yourself is a prerequisite to loving your mate.
Do you know who you are and how to love yourself?