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No partner in a love relationship . . . should feel that [she] has to give
up an essential part of [herself] to make it viable.
MAY S ARTON
I'm an artist and my work is very important to me. But I'd like to have a
relationship with a man, too. Unfortunately, I can't seem to do both. As
soon as I fall in love all my passion and focus go into the relationship. I can't
work. All I do is obsess about the man I'm in love with--wondering
whether he loves me, whether he's with someone else when he's not with me.
PRISCILLA, AGE TWENTY-EIGHT
I feel so ashamed. My friends would be horrified if they knew how
desperate and crazy I get when I'm in love. They all see me as a strong,
competent, successful woman who can handle any situation put before me.
But all that strength and confidence go out the window when I'm in love
and I become insecure and dependent, looking desperately to my lover for
any small sign of disapproval, any indication that he's losing interest in me.
LUCINDA, AGE THIRTY-FOUR
In an age when women are supposed to be strong, independent, and liberated,
it is embarrassing to admit that when it comes to relationships with men we
still tend to behave in ways that are far too reminiscent of our mothers and
grandmothers. Let's face it: it's just not politically correct for women to still be
losing themselves in relationships. We're supposed to have stopped all
this foolishness years ago. Today women are expected to maintain a strong,
independent, successful life while at the same time be a loving mate to their
But the truth is far different from the ideal picture some women wish to
paint of their lives. Women are still losing themselves in relationships as much
as they ever were. Many women have received enough information and support
from the codependent movement to help them recognize their reasons for
choosing unavailable, abusive, or alcoholic men. And due to public awareness
and domestic violence programs fewer women tend to stay in abusive relationships,
although the numbers are still alarmingly high. But while many
women are now making better choices, many are surprised to find that they are
sacrificing themselves for their man as much as they ever were. In fact, some
of the women who are choosing more available and more loving men have
found they are losing themselves in their relationships even more than before.
How to Determine if You Are a Disappearing Woman
No matter how successful, assertive, or powerful some women are, the
moment they become involved with a man they begin to give up parts of
themselves--their social life, their time alone, their spiritual practice, their
beliefs and values. They begin to disappear. 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. I call these women "Disappearing
While Disappearing Women come in all ages, colors, and sizes and from
all cultural, socioeconomic, and financial backgrounds, there are certain characteristics
they all seem to share.
If you think you might be a Disappearing Woman but are uncertain, the
following test will help you decide:
1. Do you tend to fall in love quickly and intensely and often feel as if you
are out of control when it comes to the feelings you have for your lover?
2. Do you become less focused and therefore less effective on the job or in
your career when you become involved with a man?
3. Do you tend to spend a great deal of your time daydreaming and fantasizing
about your relationships?
4. Do you spend far more time thinking about the future than dealing with
the present? Do you console yourself by telling yourself that things will
soon get better instead of facing how bad things are today?
5. Do you neglect your friends to be with your lover? Or do you devalue
your own friends in favor of your lover's friends, or drop your friends if
your lover disapproves of them?
6. Do you drop your own interests and take on the interests of your lover in
order to spend more time with him?
7. Do you tend to question or devalue your own feelings, opinions, beliefs,
and knowledge whenever they differ from your lover's?
8. Do you become extremely depressed or anxious when you are unable to
be with your lover for even short periods of time?
9. Do you tend to be distrustful, jealous, and possessive of your lover?
10. Do you need a great deal of assurance that your lover really cares about
11. Do you remain insecure in your relationships no matter how long you and
your partner have been together?
12. Do you tend to feel invalidated, patronized, misunderstood, and unappreciated
by those you are closest to?
13. Are you willing to change yourself to please your lover (including changing
your physical appearance, buying new clothes, working on changing
the way you speak, or trying hard to stop a particular behavior)?
14. Will you do practically anything to make the relationship work?
15. Are you usually not the one to end a relationship? If you are, is it
because you have been forced to face the fact that your partner does not
16. Do you feel so devastated when a relationship is over that you don't
think you can survive the pain?
17. Have you ever had suicidal thoughts because of a breakup?
18. Have you ever entertained homicidal thoughts toward an ex-partner?
19. Do you take a much longer period of time to get over a relationship than
other people you've known, even though you may get into a new one right
20. Have you ever avoided relationships altogether for a significant amount
of time following a breakup because you were so emotionally devastated,
even though you felt lonely and longed for an intimate relationship?
If you answered yes to more than five of these questions, you are a Disappearing
Woman. While you may try to fool yourself into thinking that things
will be different if you could just meet the right man, or if you could just lose
some weight, etc., the truth is you'd be the same no matter what kind of man
you were with, or no matter how gorgeous you become; the truth is you have
a problem when it comes to maintaining your sense of self in a relationship.
If you are like most heterosexual women, you want an intimate, loving
relationship with a man. You long for a committed relationship in which you
can feel free to express your deepest emotions, where it is safe to be your most
vulnerable and most loving. You want a relationship in which you can be yourself,
drop the facades and pretense, and be real.
Unfortunately, like many other women, you may have begun to feel that
your desires will never be fulfilled. Based on your past, and perhaps present,
experiences, you have come to believe that being yourself and being in a relationship
are mutually exclusive.
Ironically, you may have become afraid of the very thing you long for.
Afraid because you realize you have a tendency to lose yourself each time you
enter a relationship with a man, to give up important aspects of yourself or
your life to please him. Afraid because loving a man has often meant sacrifice
You may have come to realize that for you, loving a man brings with it a
tremendous risk--that you will once again put your career, your relationship
with your friends, or your well-being in jeopardy to be with a man, that you will
sacrifice your needs, your values, or your integrity to please and keep a man.
Some women have decided that no matter how much they want a relationship
with a man, it isn't worth the price they end up paying. They've opted to
stay alone rather than risk the loss of self they inevitably end up experiencing.
Instead, they throw themselves into their careers and dedicate themselves to
cultivating meaningful friendships. But most women keep trying, hoping
they will find a way to do it right the next time, hoping they will learn how
to achieve some sort of balance between loving a man and loving themselves.
If you are one of these women, if you still have even the slightest amount
of hope in discovering this balance, Loving Him without Losing You will help
you turn that hope into reality.
It's important to realize that you are not alone. As you read Loving Him
without Losing You you'll meet many other women who struggle as you do to
maintain their sense of self when in a relationship with a man. Today, millions
of women such as yourself are suffering needlessly because they don't understand
why they continue to sacrifice their individuality and their very souls
when they enter a relationship. Far from feeling like an anomaly, you need to
understand that your surprising and often shocking behavior is actually more
the norm than the exception.
The next step will be for you to realize that there are valid reasons for
your behavior. Losing yourself in a relationship is not a sign of weakness, stupidity,
or incompetence on your part, as many women come to feel. By reading
Loving Him without Losing You you will discover that women are actually
culturally and genetically programmed to be nurturers and pleasers; this programming
causes us to automatically set aside our own needs to take care of
the needs of others. You'll learn that even today our culture encourages
women to view the needs of the men in their lives as more important than their
own needs. And you'll learn that women tend to have what are considered
"thinner" boundaries that predispose them to have a tendency to lose themselves
in relationships. Finally, you'll learn that women and men view relationships
from different perspectives--men from the point of view of
separation, women from the vantage point of connection.
Realizing that your behavior is not your fault--that it is part of your cultural
and biological legacy--will help free you from the shame and embarrassment
that have continually whittled away at your self-esteem and
contributed to your behavior.
And it definitely will help you to know there is a way out. Next, you'll
learn specific strategies that will help you curb your urge to merge, strategies
that will help you no matter how extreme your problem is.
Last but not least, Loving Him without Losing You will help you transform
yourself from what I call a Disappearing Woman to a Woman of Substance.
It will teach you how to go deep inside and find your true inner voice and
to discover the wisdom, integrity, and sense of balance that lie dormant
By discovering your inner wisdom you'll learn when it is appropriate
to give and when it is time for you to receive, when it is appropriate to ask
for nurturing and when it is time to retreat and provide nurturing for yourself.
By discovering and developing your integrity you will refuse to stay with
a man who doesn't appreciate and totally accept you the way you are.
By developing a sense of balance you'll learn that no one is all good or
all bad, that there are many shades of gray. You'll come to understand that a
healthy relationship has many ups and downs and is based on give-and-take,
intimacy, and autonomy.
Loving Him without Losing You will:
- provide strategies to help you avoid getting involved too quickly with
- show you how to stop idealizing the men you are involved with;
- offer suggestions for how you can stay out of fantasy and remain
focused on the present;
- offer insight into why you tend to devalue your own opinions and
beliefs and offer encouragement and strategies to help you begin to
stand up for them;
- encourage you to value solitude and show you how to tolerate it better;
- show you how to develop a more substantial sense of self and create a
life that you will be less willing to discard for a man;
- show you how to develop better relationships with the opposite sex,
from dating to flourishing in a committed relationship;
- show you how to maintain your sense of self while in an intimate, committed
Who Will Benefit Most from This Book?
Those of you who've had a long history of losing yourself in relationships will
probably benefit from this book the most. It will help you discover the reason
why you have developed such a pattern and offer you strategies to help you
break it once and for all.
This book will also be of particular interest to those who are currently in
a relationship in which they have submerged their needs or given over their
power or individuality. Some have lost so much of themselves in their relationship
that they feel it is impossible to change or to leave the situation, even
though they are desperately unhappy. This was my client Beth's predicament:
I realize I've allowed my husband to control our lives. When we married
I was young and naive and I'd just left my parents' house, where my
father completely dominated my mother. I ended up marrying a man just
like my father and for many years I guess I thought it was normal to not
have a say in decision-making, to center my life around my husband's
needs. But as I've gotten older [she's now thirty-nine] I've come to realize
that it isn't normal and it isn't healthy. I feel stifled. Sometimes it
feels like I can't breathe and I just want to run away. But I'm afraid to
venture out on my own, and besides, I love my husband. It's not entirely
his fault. After all, I've allowed him to control me.
I'm the one who has to change. I'm the one who has to start acting
different, and when I do, he actually responds fairly well. I just don't
know if I have the strength and wherewithal to keep it up long enough
to change the dynamics in our relationship. It just seems so much easier
to give in and maintain the status quo.
This book will also benefit those of you who are so fearful of losing yourself
in your relationships with men that it prevents you from experiencing true
intimacy. This was the situation with Shawn, age twenty-three, one of the
women I interviewed for the book:
This is my first serious relationship. But instead of being happy because
I'm in love, I began to feel myself becoming less and less my own self
and more and more a part of him. Like I was gradually disappearing, like
the Cheshire cat in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Even though I still love Mark I finally had to break up just to see if
I'd feel better alone. We see each other now as friends but whenever he
starts talking about getting back together I start to feel smothered. I
love him but I just don't think I know how to have a relationship and be
myself at the same time.
Loving Him without Losing You will also help those who have experienced
so much pain because of their tendency to lose themselves in relationships
that they are afraid to get involved in another one. This was the case with
my client Jenny, age twenty-seven:
There's this man at work who's very interested in me. We've had lunch
together a few times and he seems like a really nice guy. But I'm afraid
to risk it again. After my last relationship ended I couldn't sleep, I
couldn't eat--I lost fifteen pounds in two weeks. I became so weak and
so distracted I couldn't do my job and almost got fired. I'm just getting
my life back on track and I don't want to mess it up again by getting
involved in another relationship.
No matter what situation you are in, whether you are just beginning to date
or have a lifetime of losing yourself in relationships, whether you are married
or single, whether you still have hope of changing or feel your situation is
hopeless, Loving Him without Losing You will help you understand your
behavior and discover ways to begin changing it immediately.
One of the first steps will be for you to understand exactly how
women lose themselves in relationships. This will be the focus of the next