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How Focusing on Yourself Will Improve Your Relationship

Laura Richer, Seattle Therapist

Aug 14, 2023

It is easy to lose oneself in a relationship. Our culture promotes the myth of romantic rescue. If only you can find “the one,” you will have your “happily ever after.” This myth perpetuates that two half-fulfilled people coming together will create a healthy relationship and complete one another.

In reality, all relationships take effort, whether a new relationship, a long-term one, or a relationship starting over.

Two whole people caring for their emotional well-being are the keys to a successful romantic relationship. If this is not present, all sorts of obstacles will present themselves. Jealousy, projection, ignoring red flags, arguments, and an insecure attachment are a few.

What does it mean to focus on yourself?

Focusing on yourself means to accept your primary relationship is with yourself. Some people fear that attending to their own needs is self-centered. Others may feel that if their partner maintains their identity or has alone time, it will be detrimental to the relationship.

Even if you desire to be the most loving partner, you must fill your cup to have something to give. Self-love is required to be able to share your love with another. It is impossible and not advised to be selfless – in fact, this will lead to resentment.

Working on your identity outside of the relationship by maintaining your friendships, hobbies, and self-care practices is essential. Spending time on yourself will bring much personal joy and self-discovery that will feed positive energy into your partnerships. Who have you been? Who are you becoming? What do you value?

If you make your partner the only person responsible for your own happiness, how might your relationship inspire growth rather than putting all the pressure of your fulfillment onto the relationship?

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How to focus on yourself in a relationship

A new relationship can be intoxicating. Initially, it may feel like the other person has the power to complete life. You may unintentionally neglect old friendships and lose sight of your personal goals.

Over time this can create resentment and cause your relationship to turn sour. It can be easy to start blaming your partner when you do not pay attention to your basic needs or lose contact with your friends.

People who invest in themselves and have a strong sense of self-worth are attractive to others. Other relationships outside of your romantic relationship and time spent on one’s activities and goals are a large part of who you are. That is most likely what attracted your partner to you in the first place. Losing touch with your own identity outside of the relationship harms your self-confidence and overall happiness and ultimately will not feel good.

1. Spend time alone

To feel happy in our relationship with others, we need to feel whole and complete within ourselves. It is essential to create space to have enough time with yourself. Time apart can allow you to focus on self-discovery, realize your goals, and become your best version. This ultimately can help you connect with your partner on a deeper level.

Unfortunately, that romantic line from the nineties movie Jerry McGuire “You complete me” perpetuates the toxic myth that an outstanding love could save you from yourself isn’t true. Other people do not complete us. Connection is vital in our lives. However, the connection you have to yourself will dictate what kind of relationship you have with others. A better translation of that line might be -“you challenge me to see myself and what is possible as well as inspire my growth and evolution.”

Spend time alone and explore ways to enjoy your own company. Cultivating self-love is an ongoing process that requires your authentic self. Without alone time it isn’t easy to know what is true for you outside of the influence and desires of others. This makes it difficult to set boundaries or connect meaningfully because you will be unclear about what you truly desire.

2. Maintain your own friendships

Friends are crucial to our happiness and have a tremendous positive impact on our mental health. Connection to individual friends or a community can help relieve stress, create space to explore common interests and offer a network of support outside of your relationship. One person can not be our everything. That is too heavy of a burden to bear. It really does take a village to create a healthy mental and emotional life.

A friend may offer support or experiences that our family member or romantic partner may not. Professional advice from relationship experts and research points to the need for romantic partners to share common values. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they will share common interests. You may love watching sports, playing tennis, exploring art museums, or debating politics. However, you could find yourself with someone who checks all of the significant compatibility boxes but doesn’t enjoy some of your favorite activities.

That doesn’t mean you should let go of all of your favorite free time pass times. Friends are people with whom we can share common interests and continue to focus on what we enjoy. If you or your partner sees friendships as a threat, there is work to be done on the relationship. Healthy partners support each other in their outside interests, including friendships with others.

3. Focus on your personal growth

Personal growth is an important aspect of a fulfilling life, whether you’re single or in a relationship. Unfortunately, many people stop doing this kind of work once they’re established in a long-term relationship.

Make a deliberate choice to enhance your self-awareness, develop talents, and improve your potential by practicing habits and activities, such as continuous self-education through reading, listening to audiobooks, and watching informative videos, attending seminars and workshops, maintaining spiritual practices, mindfulness & meditation routines, and anything else you would like to develop within yourself.

4. Pursue your dreams and goals

It can be challenging to find a compatible partner, and you might feel grateful when you finally do. It can be easy to lose sight of your goals when you are so excited about merging your own life with another. Once you are in a committed relationship, finding ways to focus on your individual life may be more challenging.

Carefully weigh your options when it comes to focusing on what is in the best interest of your relationship and what is in your best interest as an individual. When you have found a compatible partner, there will naturally be an intersection between the two.

Letting go of future dreams and goals for the sake of your relationship will take a hit on your self-esteem because you will no longer be investing in yourself. It will also cause you to resent your partner even if they never wanted you to give up on you. Focus on your goals to realize the person you want to become. Not only will this cultivate your happiness, but it will also make you more attractive to your partner.

5. Practice self-love and care for your own needs

Self-love and care are the practices you implement to care for your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. The activity itself does matter all that much. What matters is the intention of self-compassion behind it. Common examples of self-care include writing in a journal, focusing on meditation, moving your body, eating nutritious foods, or simply creating space to explore things you enjoy.

Caring for yourself includes offering yourself the same love and compassion you would show your romantic partner or best friend. This means letting go of comparing yourself to others or trying to live up to other people’s standards. It also means trusting yourself and tuning in to your inner wisdom for guidance when you need answers.

People who take good care of themselves know how to consider their partner’s needs, but not to the point of self-sacrifice. Focusing on your needs allows you to live your life in a way that is congruent to who you are and attract the right relationships. Relationships that require you to sacrifice your well-being are never worth it.

6. Stay in physical shape

This have very little to do with how you look. It is all about how you feel. Feeling good in your body translates into feeling good interacting with others. Staying in physical shape is not about maintaining a certain body weight or muscle mass. Instead, it is about doing the things that allow you to take the best care of your physical body, including getting enough rest, eating foods that benefit your overall health, and exercising.

Our bodies change over time. We don’t need to strive to look like we did in our youth. However, we can work towards maintaining physical health and well-being to live life optimally. When we don’t feel good in our physical bodies, enjoying our interactions with others isn’t easy. This will hurt our ability to stay engaged with a partner sexually, mentally, and emotionally.

7. Establish financial independence

Financial autonomy and stability are vital for your self-confidence and keep you from feeling ‘trapped’ in your relationship. Despite your relationship status, it’s important to maintain a degree of financial independence. This doesn’t necessarily mean keeping your finances completely separate from your partners, but it does mean remaining informed, involved, and capable when it comes to financial matters.

To establish and maintain financial independence in a relationship, use joint accounts for shared expenses and separate accounts for personal spending and savings, practice budgeting your personal finances, learn savings and investment strategies, improve your financial IQ, and make financial plans for the future.

Money can be a sensitive subject within relationships. If you feel like your partner wouldn’t understand your choice to establish financial independence, consider approaching the subject with the assistance of a licensed professional during a couples counseling session.

8. Care for your mental health

The quality of our mental state affects how we think, feel, and behave. It also informs how we handle stress, connect with others, and make important life choices. Just as caring for your physical health will positively impact your mental state, caring for your physical form can improve or prevent the mental conditions sometimes associated with a physical illness. For example, managing stress and anxiety effectively can positively impact conditions such as heart disease and chronic pain.

Mental health challenges can significantly impact how we interact with others. Specifically in romantic partnerships, conditions like depression and anxiety can affect:

  • Your libido
  • Limit your desire to engage in the activities of daily living
  • Restrict your ability to express positive emotions like love and empathy
  • Make it difficult to communicate
  • Lead to feelings of isolation for you and your partner.

We can not give what we do not have ourselves. Caring for your mental well-being allows you to be emotionally available to your partner. We will all experience mental health challenges at some point in our lives. Grief, loss, and stress are part of the human experience. There’s no right or wrong amount. However, when you intentionally focus on your mental well-being, you are more apt to overcome these challenges and more likely to be there for others.

Healthy relationships encourage personal growth

A relationship that requires downplaying strengths or triggering traumatized / negative parts of our personalities is unhealthy. While we can learn from these challenging experiences, they are usually draining and destructive long-term.

Healthy relationships encourage and foster growth. A positive relationship can create a safe space for individuals to explore and develop their potential. Your partner can act as a mirror where you can examine and experience various parts of your personality you may not see or be aware of. If you’re struggling to figure out how to focus on yourself in a relationship, consider individual therapy to get the support you need to be your best self in your relationship.

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