When Your Identity Depends Too Much On A Relationship


There are people who define themselves by who they are with. Lots of them. Perhaps a few more females than males.

The effect is to give someone else the ability to determine your value and your happiness. You become hostage to the opinion of another. That is never a good spot for anybody.

Man or woman, one’s basic value is communicated early, from parent to child. Home is the place where identity begins — and begins to be established by the relationship(s) you are in. As time passes we experience life outside. We compete on the playground and in school. With the proper parents and enough applause our sense of being valuable is internalized. Without either, most of us keep searching for a way to increase the market for our presence in both companionship and work.

Those who monitor the applause meter too much are in trouble. You must value yourself from the inside, not from the fickle world’s viewpoint. Yes, you can be today’s hero, but you will eventually be yesterday’s darling, and tomorrow’s has-been. Yet you are the same man or woman. If you don’t know your worth you are like a tightrope walker on a windy day.

One sees the dilemma of insecurity within romantic relationships. Too much desperation, neediness, and fear of abandonment.

To avoid a sense of emptiness, some people must be in love — ecstatically so. Love of a more workaday kind is not enough. They are yearning for the fervid, moment-to-moment drama that carries one away, but cannot be sustained for long. Anything else — the rest of life — pales in significance. Too many seek a permanent level of spousal intensity requiring the partner to give up his day job and plug himself into the wall outlet for some extra energy. Anyone desiring this type of relationship believes only such a connection can make life complete.

You are in trouble when you expect and hope for someone to fill you up; when you are the human equivalent of a leaking gas/petrol tank always needing to be topped off.

You are even more out to sea if:

  • You buy into the notion of Hollywood happiness (as in the movies).
  • You view life as simple. You believe once you find “your soul mate,” you will be happy forever after.
  • You feel incomplete except in those moments when someone else is actively showing you attention.
  • You believe the “head over heels” dazzle and the dog-in-heat randiness of the honeymoon period will never stop. (A while back I heard a middle-aged woman interviewed on the radio following a mild earthquake. “The earth moved,” she said. “I’ve been married 25 years. It’s been a while since the earth moved. I kind of liked it).”


You remain adrift if:

  • You can’t define yourself by your career, your intellect, your integrity, your hobbies, your passions and compassions, but only by the windblown opinion of someone else.
  • You believe a failure to find love is a verdict on your value. (I know many people of great worth who are without a romantic companion).
  • You think happiness resides outside of us, not inside of us, but in another person.

The day the love of your life arrives, even after you remove the bubble wrap, you will still possess the same insecurities as before you placed your order for him with Amazon. You will own all the same strengths and weaknesses yet to be improved, tested or avoided, as you choose.

You assume the soul mate is the key to everything good. That doesn’t make you more secure, but less. You are worthless without him and emotionally dependent.

Moreover, you still need other things: to succeed at something, make tough phone calls, look people in the eye, bounce back from losses, say no, and climb the twisting rope of life.

My advice? Work on accepting what you are, who you are, and learn to be adequate as you are. Not perfect, but good. And if not yet good, on the road to making yourself good. Challenges will still occur even within the relationship. Your bliss cannot be freeze-dried into permanence. No 24-hour dose of love potion is available to keep you walking on air.

Please understand. Love is wonderful. I am a satisfied customer, prepared to give a notarized testimonial and the highest praise to my wife and children.

A good relationship is supportive, warm, high-spirited, passionate, fun-filled, secure, and allows you a springboard to deal with life’s challenges. Love provides a safety net when you stumble. Successful coupling opens you to a possibility of which you were doubtful: your command of a top price on the world’s relationship market.

Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, believed our happiness is not within our total control; and therefore certainly not dependent upon a choice of the right mate. Kant emphasized, however, the greater importance of something beyond happiness: to make oneself worthy of it by dint of moral courage and principle. To him, the highest accomplishment to which any of us can aspire is to be the best we can be; not in terms of success, but as measured by our basic humanity. You will then be someone who can be counted on, capable of taking a risk; a person who stands for something more than his own personal advantage. “A Mensch,” as such a one is called in Yiddish.

Becoming that is entirely in our power.

Should you achieve such a lofty human estate, I’m willing to bet two things:

  • Your chances of finding love will increase.
  • You won’t be dependent on love to know your real worth.

The first image: Русский: Нелли Жиганшина и Александр Гажи (Германия) на чемпионате мира по фигурному катанию 2012. The second photo is called Kissing the War Goodbye, a Times Square, New York photo taken on VJ Day (August 15, 1945), the end of World War II. Both are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

22 thoughts on “When Your Identity Depends Too Much On A Relationship

  1. “Love is wonderful. I’m a satisfied customer.” ….perfectly said.

    It’s funny you posted this because I’ve been working on the exact issue with my adolescents in IOP. I have to remind myself on an hourly basis I was once that obsessed on relationships and finding happiness through others too. It’s such a big deal at that age to be dating someone, and they just can’t seem to handle life if they’re not. Great perspective as always Doc. 😀


  2. Because I should have been asleep a couple of hours ago, a brief brief comment. Your post, as usual, is excellent, and also as usual, those are lessons I need to learn. But I wanted to comment on the photo. When I was about seven it was an ice dance such as that one that gave me such intensity of feeling and moved me so much I was weeping hard. what a beautiful image, though I know it illustrates the ‘dependance’ and being held up by another, that means we are less capable of bearing our own weight….


    • drgeraldstein

      It is ironic, isn’t it? Closeness as a kind of double-edged sword. The intensity of feeling taken care of that, at the same time, makes us a bit too vulnerable.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I spelled dependence wrong, but in a very appropriate way in this case 😉 the temptation of the double edged sword is to believe that with ‘perfect’ closeness, one is safe in one’s vulnerability….but the danger of that temptation is very well illustrated in some of your other posts as well….


      • drgeraldstein

        Yes, dance was on your mind. The dance of life, too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I think it was. And childhood. May I be cheeky and ask if you dance and whether ice dance is a particular favourite to watch, or was simply (!) a beautiful and appropriate image? Talking about the dance of life, it reminds me that I was also thinking about ‘performance’ a couple of months ago in therapy. I started to think about the performance of therapy, of life, of blogging. The quest to be more authentic in the sense of being free to express who one is, without fear of acceptance and without always needing to please….


      • drgeraldstein

        I’m no great dancer, but will watch ice dancing from time to time on TV. Re: performance, I think if one is making a public presentation of any kind, one must be aware that it is a “performance” unless you are a natural performer. Since I am not the latter, I had to learn how to “occupy the space” and enlarge my natural presence. With time and practice (giving speeches) it became increasingly natural. I hope I’ve answered your question.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You have, and more….! Sorry I started to waffle on about performance as a bit of a ‘stream of consciousness’ without there necessarily being a question in there, but it was interesting to hear about your speaking experience…. Thank you so much, and I will try not to make a habit of it – I don’t want to be too inquisitive or pry!


      • drgeraldstein

        No problem with asking. I can always say no. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for yet another excellent article, Dr. Stein.

    I particularly like your advice: “Work on accepting what you are, who you are, and learn to be adequate as you are. Not perfect, but good. And if not yet good, on the road to making yourself good.”

    It took me several years to get to the point of self-acceptance of both the good and not-so-good. When that happened, my relationships with others changed for better.


  4. on the same subject of ice dance – and sorry to go off topic somewhat – this is still one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen (though this is not the dance mentioned in my last comment).: https://youtu.be/1JjbwtM_E3g


    • drgeraldstein

      It is lovely. It also got me to thinking about how dancers and choreographers choose their music. I found the two Bach pieces fairly labored (the interpretations, not the music itself). Perhaps these were simply easier to dance to and the timings fit the requirements of the competition.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. lovedeferredisnotlost

    Beautiful. Thank you for this.


  6. Dr. S, your writings are always such a welcome respite. 🙂 Hope all is well with you.


  7. Beautiful. Thank you for this.


  8. Ah ha! That’s the word I’ve been looking for to describe you and your posts: Dr Mensch.


    • drgeraldstein

      As much as the essay was about not being dependent upon another person’s opinion for your self-worth, I’ve got to say you made my day. It will be a long time (perhaps never) that I will again hear such a nice compliment. Many thanks!


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