Huffpost Divorce
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Vicki Larson Headshot

Why Do Women Lose Themselves in Marriage?

Posted: Updated:

Perhaps Eckhart Tolle said it best: "When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world."

And when it comes to losing touch with themselves, women seem to do that best, especially when it comes to relationships. (Although, true, Jesse James believes he lost himself while being married to "some Hollywood actress," aka Sandra Bullock, but he appears to be a lone male voice.) That's what I did; in one of my first Huffington Post blog posts I talked about how I had "given up parts of myself" in my marriage. But, why? It certainly was never asked or expected of me. No one told me to stop doing many of the things I enjoyed, but I did anyway.

Sadly, I'm not alone. There are literally dozens of self-help books on the topic. Psychoanalyst Beverly Engel, author of "Loving Him Without Losing Yourself," calls it the Disappearing Woman -- what happens when women lose track of what they believe in, what they stand for, what's important to them and what makes them happy just because they happen to be in a relationship.

"No matter how successful, assertive, or powerful some women are, the moment they become involved with a man they begin to give up part of themselves -- their social life, their time alone, their spiritual practice, their beliefs and values," Engel writes. "In time, these women find they have merged their lives with their partners' to the point where they have no life to go back to when and if the relationship ends."

Maybe that's why when many women divorce, it feels so freeing. Suddenly, they have time to return to the things they love or find new interests. There's no one to tell them not to do that, even if it's their own voice inside their head that's been telling them. They don't have to please anyone other than themselves. And, of course, that independence, vitality and renewed passions are exactly the things that make her attractive to someone new.

So why aren't we doing that in the relationships we already have?

Because we think we're being nice. Actually, we're being anything but nice -- to ourselves and to our partner.

By tossing away our own passions and interests, women lose their authenticity. "She'll pretend to agree when she doesn't really agree, she'll go along with things she doesn't really believe in, and if she does that long enough, she'll no longer know what she feels," Engel says.
There can be no truly happy outcome to that.

And, the more we give up of ourselves, the less we are the woman our sweetie was attracted to in the first place, says Sherry Argov in "Why Men Love Bitches: From Doormat to Dreamgirl -- A Woman's Guide to Holding Her Own in a Relationship." "The nice girl thinks she's giving up something to get something better in return. She gives up control over her own life. When the time comes for her to get what she expected, she winds up disappointed. In addition to being empty-handed, she's depleted."

We find ourselves in this dilemma because many women have been brought up to see a romantic partnership as the main event of their life, or so argues author and critic bell hooks. How many women do you know who will break plans or give up a favorite activity for a guy? Not that it's not OK to do that from time to time or for certain situations; it's just that somehow in the togetherness of coupledom too many of us forget to have a life of our own. Instead, we look to our partner to fulfill all our needs -- and get frustrated and resentful when he doesn't. Then we see the problem as something wrong with him, and not us.

Now, we've made him the heavy.

"You feel unfulfilled because you're not being yourself, and it's a burden for a guy to feel like he's the center of your life," the late therapist Martha Baldwin Beveridge writes in "Loving Your Partner Without Losing Your Self."

Can a divorce be far behind?

But perhaps times are changing; in a survey last year of 5,200 singles, more women than men in a committed relationship said they "need personal space" and want nights out solo.

I can only hope they actually act on it.

A version of this story appeared previously on Vicki Larson's personal blog, OMG Chronicles.