Have you ever heard the saying “You are who you’re with.”? If not don’t feel bad, I think I just made it up. Still it encompasses the effect that the people we spend a lot of time with have on us. This statement takes into account the view society has of us and the changes in our own behavior, conforming to the quirks of those around us.
A perfect example of this is our family, the group of people who we spend the entirety of our early development with. They are the basis from whom we develop a reputation in society. They also structure our development, making us who we are psychologically. This goes into the debate between “nature” and “nurture” which doesn’t have to be a debate at all because one can’t exist without the other. But that is another conversation.
From our family we start to spend time with our friends. They give us language and mannerisms we never got from home. These are often the things that make mom go “What did you just say?!?” and dad to take out the belt! Probably the greatest influence during our young adult and adult years are the relationships we call romantic or love. These relationships are the ones we tend to put the most time and effort into making strong and lasting.
In these relationships we spend hours trying to figure out the other person, and in doing so, we run the risk of losing some of our self. So many people start to see themselves as a part of a relationship, dependent on the other for identity. This is not entirely true, but it is a risk that you run when you spend an increased amount of time with someone and want that time to develop something more.
This loss of self is not a wholly bad thing. There are moments that it gives great pleasure and laughter. For example, I was with my beautiful girlfriend and one of us said something and then both of us just looked at each other and burst out laughing. A little later we heard a song and both said the exact same thing at the same time. You know you’ve been spending too much time together when the memories and reactions to things are exactly the same. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, just a little scary at times that you have become so much a part of another person that you share the same memories and thoughts at times.
Still, there is danger in becoming this close to someone. If you replace the image of yourself as a person for the image of yourself as part of a pair you have lost something that is part of the beauty of relationship. An amazing part of becoming close to someone is that you do so as yourself, not what the world or someone else thinks of you. The deeper you go the easier it is to be yourself, but also the temptation becomes stronger to give up yourself for what you think will make the relationship last. There is truth to the idea that relationships where you can be yourself are the relationships that strengthen you.
That being said, you may ask whether you should allow yourself to change because of a relationship. The answer is inside you and your interactions with the world around you. If you are being demanded to change then it probably will not help you grow. However, you are constantly changing, whether you’re in a relationship or not. Change is how we grow and become who we are going to be. Relationships, being powerful and beautiful, can lead us to a depth of change and growth that we could never experience on our own. Welcome the opportunity to grow and be willing to give yourself up in the process of moving deeper into relationship with yourself. Only through a depth of relationship with our self can we find a meaning and depth of relationship with another.
If you are interested in exploring self-disclosure and how powerful it is in a relationship check out a tool of interpersonal relationships I am developing. The article is called “Positive Psychology and the enhancement of your relationships”.