Have you ever felt lost, and wondered “who you really are?” I suspect all of us have an identity crisis at one point in time or another, a time in your life that you feel lost and are searching for “you”.
In many ways that’s what a mid-life crisis is. You hit a point that you realize “hey, I’m getting older here” and you question where you are in life, and the decisions that led you there. Some people are largely at peace with the choices they have made and the life they have built, so it doesn’t hit them very hard. Other people look at where they are and wish life came with a rewind button.
It can happen to anyone, at any point in time and it doesn’t matter how old you are. You can be closing in on retirement and still have days when you ask yourself what you really want to be when you grow up.
How do we find ourselves in these spots? How do we lose sight of who we are?
A lot of it comes down to roles. Think of the different roles we play. We all take on a number of roles in our lives and these roles change and evolve along with us.
For family roles at first we are a child, sibling, grandchild, nephew or niece. Over time we may become a spouse, parent, son or daughter in law. To our spouses we are a friend, support, confidant and a lover.
If you are a parent, think of all the roles you play just with your children. You are a caregiver, teacher, friend, disciplinarian (both judge and jury). These roles can sometimes conflict too. You want to be a friend to your children, but when it’s time to be a disciplinarian that needs to trump the friendship.
I’m not trying to give an exhaustive list, but the point is that we are a lot of different things and different people see us in different ways.
If my parents look at me, they see the child that I will always be to them. I’ve been on my own now for longer than I lived with my parents; but although they know I am an adult and a parent to my own children, I am first and foremost their child and they will always see me that way.
Beyond these types of social roles, we develop different interests that in turn become roles for us. We become a musician, a dancer, an artist, an athlete. Even though we may not follow these things as a career we all have aspects of all of these within us (no matter what our aptitude for them is).
When we are younger, we probably dabble in a bit of everything while trying to find ourselves. Some people find their “calling”, other never do. Only a lucky few are able to base their careers off the things that truly interest them. Most of us continue to dabble in our interests on the side, while many of us stop working on that part of ourselves completely.
We play all these roles, and each of them comes with their own fears and insecurities. For example, it’s not really accurate to say that someone is a confident person. Maybe they are confident as an athlete, but terrified as a public speaker.
I was talking to a buddy about all these different roles we play and what they mean to who we really are, and he came up with a great analogy. His idea was that people are like cut gemstones (I’m not sure if it was really HIS idea, but it was the first time I heard it).
Think of a cut gemstone:
People are like this. We have all these different faces or surfaces – and the different surfaces represent different aspects of us. The roles we play, our interests, the sides of our personalities etc.
In our lives we encounter all sorts of different people, and each of those people only sees a part of us – a few aspects of us at a time. They are still “seeing us”, but they don’t see ALL of us. As the picture shows, a person can look different depending on which sides of them you are able to see.
The closer a person gets to you, the more of you they are able to see (which technically would be backwards for the gemstone analogy, but I’ll ignore that for now). Acquaintances only see a few aspects of you, while your closest friends will get to see more sides of you.
Depending on how much you are able to open up to other people, it’s possible that no one ever sees all of you. But you are still all of these different aspects (some of which may even conflict). To me this analogy really works.
So who is the “real” you? Is the real you the person your parents see? The one your children see? Your co-workers? Your friends? All of them are the real you – they are just different aspects of you.
What does this mean for relationships, and specifically for spousal relationships? There are two important things to take away from this.
Your spouse should be your best friend
First, your significant other should be the person who is closest to seeing the whole you. Interestingly, there may be a difference between men and women in this though. Many studies have shown that when asked who their best friend is, men are most likely to say their wives. Women on the other hand are most likely to name another female friend. As a guy, I buy into the notion that your spouse should be your best friend. They are the person you will hopefully spend the rest of your life with.
My dream is to grow old with my wife, and be able to walk hand in hand with her, laughing and loving one another each step of the way. Without being best friends I don’t see how that can happen.
You still need to be You
A while back I had a post that talked about the idea of a marriage box. The idea was that some people expect marriage to come with everything they need while in reality to you need to continue to grow and nurture your relationship. Just as some people expect marriage to give them everything they need, some people go into relationships expecting their spouse to be everything to them.
You hear stories all the time about people who start a relationship and then drop their friends. Their lives and their sense of identity become completely wrapped up in the marriage and in the other person. This is not a healthy approach to marriage.
Think of the gemstone analogy, people are complex and have many facets. The romantic notion of “you complete me” is somewhat true. Couples should be similar in some ways and complement each other in others. But no one person can meet all the different complex and conflicting needs – and we shouldn’t want them to.
Ever if one person could meet all of your needs it wouldn’t be healthy. Time apart and time with other friends is important to a relationship.
Here’s a quote I found (at this site) that I love:
As you give up those things you find fulfilling and important for the sake of the relationship, this places a tremendous burden on your spouse to fill the void of whatever you gave up. And this burden will create neediness and dependency, as well as resentment and boredom.
Every marriage needs space between the spouses. It is within this space that you find energy, passion, eroticism, quiet time, and personal fulfillment.
Balancing the “we” with the “me”
One place I disagree with the guy who wrote the above quote is that in the full article he says your spouse should not be your best friend, as he believes it’s damaging to the relationship. I believe your spouse “should” be your best friend, but they shouldn’t be your only friend.
While embracing being part of a couple (the “we”) it’s important not to lose sight of yourself (the “me”). This last part is where the struggle comes in. The things you did before you and your spouse met shouldn’t stop. They may not happen as often as you are now fitting someone new into your life, but they are part of what made you who you are. Giving that up is not only a disservice to yourself, but also to the long term health of your relationship (well, unless one your things was sleeping around, then ya it probably needs to stop).
Let’s say you love football and your spouse doesn’t. That’s fine – they don’t have to. It’s great if they show some interest in it, and maybe you will occasionally go to or watch a game with them. Your spouse showing an interest in football is really them showing an interest in you, and wanting to share things with you. But if you had friends that you watched football with before, that shouldn’t go away. And you shouldn’t feel like you need to bring your spouse all the time.
It’s important to find things that you can do together as a couple. And it is good to support your spouse in their interests that you don’t share. You need to find a way to balance “you” as an individual with “you” as part of a couple.
Remember though that time apart isn’t really time to be “you”. You are still you when you are with your spouse. Rather time apart is an outlet for different aspects of you. And this is needed in order for you to have the happiness and fulfillment required to allow your relationship to thrive.