How do relationships impact our sense of identity?

close up photo of two person s holding hands
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The very idea of a relationship challenges our personal identity. But relationships are a necessary part of life, and by themselves, they do not define us. In fact, we are constantly in relationships whether we like them or not.

We have all been in relationships where there were no chemistry and no true emotional connection. These were the flings that turned into marriages, which eventually became serious relationships. The person we were involved with at the time may have been someone else entirely. When we get to know another person, we enter into a new relationship that is more substantial than what we had at the start.

As long as you’re in a committed relationship, you will identify with the other person and share similar characteristics, attitudes and goals. So how do relationships influence our identity? Identity formation occurs when people who have never known each other develop a deep and enduring relationship.

New relationships give people a new image of themselves. They become aware of their uniqueness, their value as a unique person, and of the worth of romantic attachment and commitment. The formation of relationships opens our eyes to our innermost self and our personal truths. It helps us realize who we really are. It can also help us become more emotionally connected to that self and to other people.

While some relationships inevitably lead to lifelong commitments, many simply define success as a point at which two people continue to go together. Successful relationships may be marriages, friendships, co-parenting arrangements, professional relationships, etc. Successful relationships help us understand ourselves and others. In short, successful relationships shape our identity.

When a couple splits and remarry, the children from both relationships are placed in the care of another parent. This arrangement affects not only the children but also the siblings. Thus, the new family dynamics create tension and stress, leading to poor communication between the partners.

In one study, couples who moved in different homes but stayed in contact via letters and phone had similar patterns of communication after their first four-year marriage. Their verbal and non-verbal messages conveyed messages about their expectations and values about the other partner’s role in their lives. Interestingly, those who did not mingle until later in their relationships did not communicate any such concepts, indicating that for them, the identity of the couple was at stake, the quality of the relationship depended on this one instance of “mucking in” to establish a more permanent identity.

Our sense of who we are, our sense of worth, our level of intimacy with others, our sense of pride and identity formation all depend on relationships we have with those we love. In sum, we are more than just our physical attractions, we are individuals with special qualities.

It is easy to confuse relationships with self-esteem. However, the two are different. The concept of a partner is important as it determines our emotional response to another person. It is the relationship between the partners that determines the self-esteem or self-image.

When we feel we have reached a certain measure of success in a relationship, this builds up our ego (which is also the concept of our security). This becomes our sense of worth, our value. This is why it is so important that we allow ourselves to feel good about being with someone else, building our ego (which is also the concept of our security) higher.

There must be some level of trust in the relationship, otherwise our ego cannot be built up and sustained. Therefore, it is important to build the relationship with trust as early as possible in the relationship. This means that we should share something, in return for something, this creates a bond and will grow into a stronger relationship.

The important thing is not so much how do relationships shape our ego, but how do we manage relationships so that they do not damage our ego. We can achieve this by listening to our partner, encouraging them, respecting them, looking out for them in their times of need and so on. We do not have to give everything we have, nor do we have to take everything they give. What we have to do is make sure that we take enough for them, but also make sure we give them enough for themselves.

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