“It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize the other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is.” -Hermann Hesse
Relationships create some of the greatest joy in our lives. People are meant to be connected to each other, for when we are alone and disconnected for too long, we become lonely and depressed. Relationships take a great deal of effort to properly maintain and sacrifice is a requirement for loving others. Where do we draw the line though, between sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others and standing up for ourselves and what’s important to us? This dilemma is a struggle in basically every relationship that has ever existed and we make many mistakes in trying to find the balance. No one likes a narcissist and no one wants to be a doormat. Self-centered people who can’t make sacrifices for others in order to show them love need to humble themselves and get rid of their pride, while those who let people walk all over them need to learn to value and assert themselves. It’s important to maintain our identity in relationships, especially in romantic relationships. When most people fall in love, it feels effortless to love the other person. At some point on the path though, we have to learn how to choose to love someone when it costs us pain, sweat and tears. It’s not easy, but it is rewarding. In this effort to love sacrificially, many people fall into the trap of thinking they need to change who they are in order to please their spouse or significant other. Sometimes, we think it’s our significant other who needs to change who they are in order for us to love them better. These are lies! Our relationships should never cause us to sacrifice our true identity, but rather, they should be a celebration of loving one another as we really are. To truly love someone, you must be willing to recognize their true identity and love who God’s made them to be. When we try to be someone we’re not in order for people to “love” us better, we are allowing our identity to be stolen from us. You are far too valuable to let relationships rob your identity!
Emptying yourself of who you are or trying to be someone you’re not, leads to anger, resentment and dissatisfaction. Someone who really loves you will enjoy who you are, not demand that you become someone else. In a healthy relationship, you will complement each other, not absorb one another. All relationships require give and take, but don’t neglect yourself entirely for the sake of the other person. Your needs are just as important as anyone else’s. In Philippians 2:3-4, the Apostle Paul says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” While this scripture is humbling and urges us to put others first before ourselves, I believe that many people misunderstand this verse. They can mistakenly think meeting their own needs is inherently selfish. Thus, they believe loving others well and living the right way means to give yourself little to no value and never look to your own interests. I do not believe this is what Paul is saying. He is telling us to put others first in our relationships as a sacrifice of love, but not to neglect our own needs and desires entirely. For example, if you never feed yourself when you are hungry, you would starve to death. It’s not selfish to make time to pursue your passions, unless they completely consume your life. Knowing who we are is not just self-serving, but it can enable us to more effectively bless others. Learning to fulfill our own needs can take away the burden on others to fulfill us. This can free us up to love others well!
Every person’s soul has unique needs. We all have an individual identity, regardless of any relationship we may be in. In a loving relationship, both people should discover who the other person is and learn to meet their needs. Of course, this is easier said than done. No one is perfect! In fact, it’s important to know your identity before you enter into any romantic relationship. I have often observed people who don’t seem to know who they are apart from a relationship and they always seem to “need” a significant other. When one relationship falls apart, they desperately search for the next suitable person and immediately jump back into another one. Why don’t these people pause long enough to get to know themselves first? What are their passions, goals and desires? Fear of being alone and other anxieties seem to be the driving forces here. If you are stuck in this relationship cycle, I urge you to pause and explore who YOU are. Then you can bring the real you into the right relationship instead of expecting the other person to complete you. What about marriage though? Shouldn’t marriage complete you?
Of course, when two people enter into marriage, there is a completion that happens. After all, the Bible says that “a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mark 10:7-8). This is a mystery. Somehow two separate people with two bodies and souls become one. The best way to understand this phenomenon is to look at God himself. The marriage between a man and a woman is meant to reflect God’s perfect relationship as three distinct persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). The three are in full unity with one another and therefore, they are one being. In the same way, even though a man and a woman become one in marriage, they are still different people. A husband and wife may share a similar purpose and destiny as a team, but I will guarantee you they each have their own separate identities. Each one needs to recognize the other’s identity and work together to accomplish their calling and purpose, both individually and collectively.
Romantic relationships and marriage change your life and are intended to be a blessing, but they do not determine who you are in Christ. Regardless of what people say, what God says about who you are is most important. Relationships may come and go, but who you are in Christ stands firm forever. What if your relationship falls apart? (I do not wish that on anyone, but it happens to so many.) You are still YOU! Do you even remember who you are without your significant other? What do you love to do? What are your skills and talents? What has God called you to do? I encourage you to take back your identity by seeking Jesus and his Word to find who you are. Identity firmly fixed in Jesus can never be lost.
Identity theft in relationships is most prominent in abusive or controlling relationships. Whether the abuse is physical or emotional, it can rob you of who you really are. People in these kinds of relationships should not try to seek freedom and identity on their own. If you are in an abusive relationship, get help! Call 911, seek out a counselor, find a ministry or other people and services to make sure you are safe. Once you are safe, then you can begin the healing process and reclaim your true identity. No relationship with anyone other than Jesus is worth losing your soul for. As Mark 8:36 points out, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Some circumstances require you to let go of a relationship in order to find your identity. I pray you will have wisdom to know when to hold onto a relationship and when one needs to be severed.
Romantic relationships can rob us, but what about the parent and child relationship? I want to be careful here since I am not a parent myself, but I can’t help but mention a common issue I’ve observed for years. Since parenting is one of the most challenging full-time jobs anyone can ever have, it is easy to become completely consumed by the role of “mom” or “dad.” Parents love their children dearly and make sacrifices for them constantly, but there is a danger in wrapping your entire identity up in being a mom or dad. I find that mothers are particularly susceptible to this thief of identity, although fathers are not immune. When parenting is the only part of your identity that you recognize, it can be easy to forget who you are without your kids. Sure you are busy carting your children around to sports games and school events (at least in the pre-COVID days), but who are YOU? What were you made to do outside of being a parent? What are your skills, talents and abilities? Parents who don’t know who they are, tend to put unhealthy pressure on their children to fulfill themselves, and they may tend to live vicariously through their children. Children may not fully understand this pressure while they are young, but when they grow into adults, they usually become aware of this unhealthy dynamic. What happens for these parents when their kids finally leave home: an identity crisis! The sadness that comes from empty nesting is normal and natural, but for parents that never found their true identity, it’s truly terrifying! These parents may realize they don’t know who they are without their children in the home and panic. This has led many marriages to fall apart shortly after teens leave the house. The husband and wife suddenly find themselves staring at a stranger across the room. In a desperation to find themselves and the purpose for the rest of their lives, they abandon their marriage. If this is you, there is no need to panic. You and your spouse can rediscover who you are together. If you just feel like “friends,” that’s ok! You do not need to seek a divorce. Support one another as you search out who you are and what you want to do. God still has a plan for you, even if you can’t see it yet. You may just find fresh lifeblood pouring back into your marriage as you see each other in a new light. It’s worth a try!
Marriage, dating, friendships and parenting can all contain meaningful relationships, but no relationship is more rewarding than a friendship with Jesus. God is the only one who can show us who he has made us to be in his kingdom. He has a purpose and a calling for each and every life. As we get to know Jesus, he will share with us more and more about our identity. This puts us in the healthiest and most joyous place possible to connect with the people around us. If you have never had a relationship with Jesus, today is the best day to start! Invite him into your life and let him reveal who he created you to be. Before he formed you in the womb, he knew you (Jeremiah 1:5). I promise you will never be the same in the best ways possible. Trying to figure out your identity without Jesus is like trying to see your reflection in a rock. Good luck seeing your true likeness! God has also given us all kinds of tools to help discover different aspects of who we are. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). Personality tests can be a great springboard for learning more about yourself and others. It’s truly a passion of mine to help people discover who God has made them to be. This insight can set us on the right course to developing joyful and meaningful relationships. If you are interested in learning more about how I can help you in this discovery process, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message on The Overcomers “Contact” page. What are you waiting for? Don’t let relationships rob your identity any longer! Let’s ask Jesus to help us transform our broken relationships into ones of beauty. Remember, “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).