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Balancing Act

Is there a possibility that you have become ‘too involved’ in a relationship, to the detriment of other aspects of your life? If so, it’s time to read the warning signs and restore the equilibrium!

By Nirmala Sivanathan

Anyone who has been in a relationship will recall the initial excitement of being with that special someone. Your heart skips a beat whenever your partner is around, you experience a rush of excitement, and you just can’t get enough of him or her. That’s perfectly normal — at the start. But what happens when, over time, you become so dependent on your partner that you are afraid to venture out on your own? Or when you invest so much time and energy into your relationship that you begin to neglect the other important areas of your life? Here are some tell-tale signs that you are becoming too wrapped up in your relationship and tips on how you can keep it healthy and romantic.

Sign 1: You neglect your friends

When Emily was a final-year undergraduate, she fell in love with a fellow student who lived in the same hostel. “Once we became a couple, we spent every waking moment together,” she recalls. Emily recounts that she and her boyfriend wouldn’t participate in school activities, preferring to spend time exclusively in each other's company.

After being inseparable from her boyfriend, Emily struggled to cope when the relationship ended a year later. “Everyone else at the hostel had their friends and their cliques, and I didn’t,” she says. “I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about how I felt. I felt like I didn’t have any close friends to confide in anymore.”

The Expert’s Take: According to Ho Shee Wai, a registered psychologist at The Counselling Place, feeling caught up in the passion of a new relationship is normal. “In most cases, things eventually settle down and you and your partner will go back to having a more balanced social life,” she says.

The best way to avoid neglecting your friends when you’re in a relationship, she advises, is to make a conscious effort to meet up with them.

“Have a fixed day of the week where both of you spend time with your own friends and family,” suggests Shee Wai. And if you can’t bear to leave that partner out of your social activities, organise double or group dates with other couples and friends.

Sign 2: You feel stifled

Intimacy is important in forming a long-lasting relationship. But breathing room is also important. Diane learnt to create space in her relationship the hard way.

Several years ago, her boyfriend of three years told her that he wanted a break. “He told me that I was ‘suffocating’ him and that he ‘felt stifled’ because it seemed like he was expected to spend most of his free time with me,” she explains.

The couple took a two-month break, cutting off all contact, including phone calls and texts. After that cooling-off period, Diane and her boyfriend talked it over and they agreed to give the relationship another try. In that conversation, she agreed to give her partner some space for his own activities.

The Expert’s Take: Shee Wai says that a healthy relationship is one in which each party is independent in his or her own right, and not one in which partners are overly dependent on each other.

If you are in a relationship that is proving to be stifling, you can take steps to ensure that things get back on a healthier track. You can start by encouraging your partner to socialise more without you. According to Shee Wai, an example of how you can do this is by saying to your partner, “It’s been quite some time since you met up with your friends — why don’t you call them to see what they are up to? You used to really enjoy playing basketball with your buddies.”

Sign 3: You give up your interests

Sometimes, we lose ourselves when we invest too much time in our relationships. That was exactly what happened to Manisha when she started dating her boyfriend, Jamie. “I used to be a fan of live music,” she says. “Every weekend, I would frequent bars where bands played. But things changed when I met Jamie.”

Manisha explains that Jamie never asked her to stop going to concerts and live performances. She stopped because she felt she could not have fun without him there. Instead, she would go along with what he liked to do, such as bowling and watching movies.

The Expert’s Take: Scenarios such as the one Manisha found herself in can put some strain on a relationship. “Your interests are a part of who you are and how you express yourself,” Shee Wai explains. “Giving them up for someone else puts pressure on your partner and can even lead to resentment in the long run if one party feels he or she gave up more than the other did.”

Instead of giving up your hobbies or interests, look for creative ways to get your partner involved. “Or if your partner is not keen on your hobby, do it anyway and use that as an opportunity to enjoy some time apart,” Shee Wai suggests. To avoid hurting your partner’s feelings by your need for “me-time”, make an effort to validate his or her feelings and tell him or her how much you will miss them.

“Express to them how important it is for you to be doing what you need to be doing,” adds Shee Wai.

Sign 4: You constantly crave your partner’s attention

When Jason was offered a position in his company’s New York office, he and his then-girlfriend agreed that it was too good an offer to pass up. “We had been together for four years, and we decided that she would join me in New York before the year was up,” he recalls.

When he arrived in New York, however, Jason’s girlfriend started asking him for frequent updates over the phone. “I was constantly glued to my phone texting her halfway across the world even when I was out with my colleagues,” he recalls.

The distance and the stress of being apart took its toll on the relationship, and the couple began arguing. Ultimately, Jason’s girlfriend decided that, instead of joining him in New York, she needed to stay in Singapore to be with her family, and they ended the relationship.

The Expert’s Take: According to Shee Wai, your relationship should not be the be-all and end-all of your life. She adds, “A red flag for an unhealthy relationship is when one person is unable to spend time alone without ‘checking-in’ with his or her partner.”

If you feel that your relationship is getting too intense or isolated from the outside world, find a way to tell your partner that you need room to breathe without hurting his or her feelings. Shee Wai advises that you can start by telling your partner that you love and trust him or her, and then share your thoughts about the importance of balancing time between your relationship and the other priorities in your life. Discuss the issue until there is agreement from both parties.

Find yourself!

Think you may be too wrapped up in your relationship? Here are some ideas on how you can regain your independence.

  1. Catch up with the friends you have neglected. Pick up the phone or write an email to an old friend. It might be tough to break the ice at first, but it is a start.
  2. Rediscover hobbies or interests that you used to have. One way to start is to look for interest groups in your neighbourhood community club and sign up for them.
  3. Pick up a new hobby — something that you have always wanted to do but have never done. Perhaps you have always wanted to become a certified scuba diver or you have been keen on taking up a dance class. Read up on ideas about where to go and what you need to start these activities, and be adventurous!

This article was first published in DUET magazine.