Do you feel like you disappear when you are in a relationship? You may want so much to earn your partner’s approval or avoid rejection that you see yourself through their eyes. You’re hyper-focused on their happiness, which, over time, makes you feel unimportant and maybe even invisible. What you want or feel doesn’t seem to matter. And this can be downright depressing.
If you feel like you disappear when you’re in a relationship, you may find that you are very sensitive to what poker players call “tells.” You are quick to pick up on, and read meaning into, even the slightest of your partner’s behaviors. However, you are not necessarily accurate at inferring their inner experience. For instance, if you notice that your partner is a bit withdrawn, you may tend toward inaccurately assuming the worst – such as lying or infidelity. You are also likely to absorb your partner’s emotions, which overtake your own emotions. As a result of being so focused and sensitive to your partner, you may find that you have a stronger sense of your partner than you do of yourself.
It is important – for the sake of yourself and your relationship – that you practice focusing on yourself. Regularly ask yourself questions about your inner experience related to different areas of your life, such as: What do I think? What do I feel? And, importantly, ask yourself, How do my thoughts and feelings differ from my partner? You want to make sure that you are allowing for your own reactions, not just responding to your partner’s reactions as if they were your own.
One indication that you might need to come back into yourself is being convinced – have absolutely no doubts – about what your partner will think or feel, or what they are currently thinking and feeling based on little feedback. That’s a problem because as much as you may believe you know everything that’s going on in your partner, you don’t really know until they explain it. And so misunderstandings are likely to follow. Also, if you feel as though you are psychologically in their experience, then you are likely not in your own. Eventually, giving up yourself in deference to your partner’s experience will lead to you feeling unimportant and not cared about. (And think about it, how can your partner know and care about your experience when you don’t share it?)
If you find that you are either confused about your own thoughts and feelings or absolutely convinced that you know what’s going on for your partner, you might benefit from taking a moment to reflect before reacting. Choose to be curious. Wonder about your inner experiences, and then try to imagine different possibilities for how your partner may be thinking and feeling. You can do this with small decisions, such as what movie you want to see, or with big discussions, such as how you feel about each other. If you have trouble doing it in the moment, practice by reflecting on your experiences after the event. You can always go back to your partner to discuss your new realizations. You may also find it helpful to talk with a friend who is supportive of you learning to “find your voice.”
By “getting” your own experience as you try to “get” your partner, you are nurturing within you a sense of being a valued person. While you will still want your partner’s love, you will not be giving yourself up in an effort to earn it. Instead, you will be bringing your full self to your relationship – and being fully present in a relationship is the only way to find true love and acceptance.
Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.