You Are the Sun: How to Avoid Losing Your Identity in Relationships

A happy couple where the woman maintains her independence laughing in the forest.

I’m a BIG believer in therapy. I think everyone should be in therapy. We are all constantly growing and changing and struggling and overcoming. We all have things we could use an unbiased person to help us work on.

For me, one of my big struggles has always been maintaining my identity in relationships. Honestly, relationships of any kind. Romantic and friendships. I struggle to find balance between my personal life and my professional life. I can be guilty of becoming single-minded; for example, I’ll go through phases of life where I morph into such a social butterfly, I let my work completely slip. Or I’ll get so caught up in the guy I’m dating, I’ll lose touch with my friends for a season. Or I’ll get completely wrapped up in work and allow it to completely eclipse everything else.

Where does this lack of balance stem from? Well, for one thing, I’m human. I think humans in general struggle with balance in their lives. But in my case, and I suspect this is true for a lot of people, it’s also because I tend to attribute my worth to other people. How other people are treating me or responding to me or loving me or not loving me tends to be the compass I follow for determining how I’m going to treat myself or love myself. That’s why I often get so wrapped up in other people and in earning their approval or time or love or attention that I completely lose track of myself.

And that, my friends, is a recipe for a completely unbalanced life. Why? Because it’s all backwards. YOU have to determine your worth, and then other people will fall in line with your beliefs. If you wait around on other people to decide how you’re going to feel about yourself on any particular day, you will always be miserable, unhappy, and unfulfilled. If you wait around on other people to “complete” you, you will always be unfinished. No matter what Jerry Maguire said.

Or, as my therapist put it so succinctly a few weeks ago…

“You are the sun in your solar system. Everyone else in your life rotates around you. You do not rotate around them.”

Good grief, did you just hear all the mics in all the land drop after that, or is it just me?!? It reminded me of one of my all-time favorite Grey’s Anatomy quotes, said by Cristina to Meredith about Dr. McDreamy:

“Don’t let what he wants eclipse what you need. He’s very dreamy, but he’s not the sun. You are.”

How many of you, like me, have surrendered your sunlight to stand in someone else’s shade? Last year I got into a very serious relationship with someone, probably the most serious relationship I’ve ever been in. We fell in love and things moved very fast and we were talking marriage and everything. And I was so excited to find this great love that I completely, and I mean COMPLETELY, surrendered myself to the relationship. Which sounds really lovely and romantic in theory, but in reality, tends to spell disaster for a relationship.

Why? Because when the other person met you, they fell for the you that had a life other than them. And when that busy, vibrant, full life gets pushed to the side in order to make the relationship the center of your universe, everything gets thrown off balance. In my case, when I met my ex, I was finishing up my fourth book and spending lots of time with friends and had tons of other things going for me and my life other than that relationship. In other words: I was the sun. And I was shining brilliantly. And that’s who my ex fell for.

But slowly, a little at a time, I made him the sun. And I stopped shining. And the more I made him the sun, the darker and colder our relationship became. I even went against my gut several times at key moments in our relationship in order to keep him happy, and keep him as the sun, at my own expense. For example, he pushed me to meet his two small children really quickly and it felt way too fast for me. But I was scared to speak up and say so, for fear of hurting his feelings or making him feel like I didn’t want to meet the kids (I did, just not so quickly). Ultimately, I went with his timeline instead of my own. The same thing happened again the first time he told me he loved me. I knew I was on my way to falling in love with him, but I wasn’t quite there yet and wasn’t ready to say the words. Yet I went against my gut and said it back because I didn’t want to push him away by seeming noncommittal or like I wasn’t as into him as he was me.

Yes, the more I rotated around him and the more I sacrificed my needs for his wants, the more our relationship deteriorated. You can guess what happened next. He broke up with me one Monday night in a ten minute long phone conversation that wasn’t anywhere near worthy of the seriousness of our relationship.

Where did I go wrong? I made him the sun. I didn’t maintain any sort of balance or set healthy boundaries in the relationship. And the relationship spun off its axis until there was no way to recover.

So how can you make sure you remain the sun in your relationships? Here are a few easy tips:

1. Maintain your life outside of him.
Don’t be that girl who completely bails on her life, her friendships, and her hobbies for any man. You don’t need to see him every night of the week. My ex and I would often sacrifice sleep to spend time together and wind up exhausted and miserable the next day. That inevitably leads to resentment and is not a healthy foundation for a relationship. Keep going to the gym, keep having girls’ nights out, and keep up with your self-care. A relationship is designed to add to your already awesome life, not become your life.

2. Set healthy boundaries and listen to your gut.
Establish how many days you’re going to see him in a week and don’t apologize for it. If you’re not ready to take a great big relationship steps like meeting the kids or saying I love you, don’t. A relationship that isn’t a two-way street is a dead-end road.

3. Finally, throw out the notion that you need anyone or anything to “complete” you.
You’re already a whole, complete person just as you are. Or as I like to say, you are the cake and a relationship is the icing. With or without the icing, a cake is still a cake!

One of my favorite quotes by Jennifer Aniston says this: “A relationship isn’t going to make me survive. It’s the cherry on top.” So in other words: YOU be the cake, the sundae, the sun. Let him be the icing, the cherry, and the stars in your solar system. That’s how to maintain your identity in relationships, and how to have your cake and eat it, too.

Mandy Hale

Bestselling Author

Blogger turned New York Times bestselling author Mandy Hale is the creator of The Single Woman social media movement that has revolutionized what it means to be single. The author of four books, Mandy’s empowering message reaches millions of women across the world every day.

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