Can I Be Married and Still Be Myself?

Can I Be Married and Still Be Myself?

Northern lights, our last night

Photo By Ben Husmann

Create Your Own Story!

By Irene Savarese

First, I want to thank Daria for asking me to contribute to her series: “What is the Story of your Marriage?”

In this post, I will give you a bunch of questions to help you create your own story – the story of your marriage! My objective is to throw light on the issue of “how you can feel intimately connected to your partner AND at the same time feel that you are true to yourself and your core values.”

Individual Life Goals – Know What You Want For Yourself

  • Who are you? I know this is a huge question, but consider your core values, passions and dreams.
  • What do you fear? Do not skip fears! What you fear gives an indication as to what kind of support you need. You want to be honest to your partner so she/he knows what you worry about and what your challenges currently are, for you to be a happier partner. If you feel alone with your problems, make sure you tell your partner so he/she can be there for you!
  • What strengths and vulnerabilities are you bringing to your relationship? Be proud of what you bring to the relationship and be aware of issues that are currently a challenge for you.
  • What kind of family did you grow up in? Who did you run to for support when hurt? How are you alike/different from your mom/dad?
  • What kind of partner are you in relationships? Look at former and current relationships. Do you see a pattern?

Try This: What do you see yourself doing to be happy? Write down your vision!

Couples Goals – Know What You Want To Create Together

Couples Goals has to do with how you would like to see your marriage/relationship progress.

Try this: Talk to your partner about:

  • What kind of marriage/relationship have you always dreamed of having?
  • What were you imagining when you first met/got married?

These questions clarify your expectations.  Make sure you listen to your partner and do not get caught up in focusing on how your partner’s expectations are different from yours.

Now continue with addressing how you would like your relationship to progress:

  • What kind of marriage/relationship would you like to create?
  • How would you like your marriage/relationship to be in 1 year, 2 years and 5 years?

Know What You Need To Work On

  • What you need on the other hand is a different matter, which have more to do with the issues or problems you are currently struggling with in your marriage / relationship.
  • You might need to work on your style of communication and especially how you respond to your partner when discussing difficult issues or are feeling distressed. These issues often (but not always) have to do with how your first family (family of origin) related to each other.

Try this: Ask your partner what he/she thinks are the main issues you are struggling with in regards to your relationship. You might find it difficult to hear, but remind yourself that you also have an opinion on your partner’s shortcomings.

Differentiation – Know That You Are Two Different People

To feel intimately connected to your partner, you need to be curious about who your partner is so that you can work together as a team! What are your partner’s life goals and goals as a couple?  Do you have an idea of what she/he wants and needs?

  • Make sure you know your partner’s values and priorities, interests and passions, likes and dislikes, goals and dreams, wants and needs, and here it comes again – fears and worries!
  • Remind yourself that you are a separate person with different emotions. To ensure effective communication, you need to be able to separate your own emotions from your partner’s emotions. Both are important and need to be validated for you to be able to address distressing issues and get what you want.

Try This: Ask your partner how he/she prefers to be supported. This will reveal different styles of support. Some people like advice right off the bat. Others like to vent and by themselves figure out what to do later when the problem has been mulled over. Don’t forget to tell your partner what kind of support you prefer.

Communication, Respect and Honesty

Respect and honesty towards yourself and your partner are the most important advice I can give you if you want to increase empathy and intimacy in your relationship. However, to be honest is not as easy as you might think! Honesty toward yourself – and ultimately towards your partner – entails that you know yourself, where you are coming from and where you want to go!

Try This: Make sure that you stay calm when you address important and difficult issues with your partner. Make an effort to treat yourself and your partner with respect – fight fair!

  • Listen to your partner’s perspective.
  • Remind yourself not to take everything he/she says personally.
  • Remind yourself not to judge, criticize, interrupt or complain.
  • Ask how your partner would like to see the issue resolved.
  • Talk about how you see the issue resolved and what you are going to do about it.
  • Discuss one topic at a time and stay on task and in the present.
  • Keep emotionally connected. Understand how your partner feels about issue.

Negotiation – What Is Your Dilemma or Disagreement?


  • To negotiate core values – where you feel your integrity is at stake – are so much harder than negotiating interests and concerns. As Ellyn Bader says: “You can’t really say in negotiation, ‘I’ll give up my spiritual beliefs for you.’” (The Quest of the mythical mate by Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson).
  • Do not expect agreement the first or even second time around. Negotiation is a process and you have to give it time and be patient.
  • Be aware if you have a tendency to focus solely on your own goals. Make sure you are open to suggestions from your partner – listen and learn!
  • Be aware if you have a tendency to give in too quickly because you feel uncomfortable disagreeing.

Try This: Imagine what the benefits would be for your partner if she/he were to agree with you.

  • Similarly, consider what the benefits would be for you if you went with your partner’s ideas and wishes.
  • Look for a middle ground where you both can stand.
  • Finally, let the discussion rest for a bit, and come back later to continue. Remember, it is not realistic to negotiate big issues quickly.

The process involves that you first understand yourself, what you want and why. Second, that you understand your partner’s perspective; wishes and reasons.


Leave a comment in the box! I cherish comments and answer all questions!


BIO: This post is written by Irene Savarese, a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Mental Health Counselor in private practice in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She is the author of “Relationship Counseling Blog”. If you wish to go to her blog, click here To go to her web site click here  You can also connect with Irene on Facebook and Twitter.

13 Responses to Can I Be Married and Still Be Myself?

  1. I think this is a great article. Too many marriages wind up following ONE partner’s goals and dreams and never get back to the other partner. Marriages are lost this way. I am also glad that my partner and I talk about how to make BOTH of our dreams come true and fit together together on a regular basis.

    • Adrienne, glad that you talk about both your dreams. Are you also talking about worries and challenges? A good way to do that is to ask: “What is keeping you away from…” and “What can I do to support you?”
      Thanks for taking the time to respond!

    • LOL – one step at a time Scott! :) Irene is a licensed marriage counselor after all – she just wrapped months of therapy session up into one post. Don’t go overboard!

      Thank you again for reading and commenting. :)

  2. Scott, Daria is so right. I wanted to get as much as possible into one post. One step at the time. What would you say is the most pressing issue for you and your wife at this point?
    P.S. I loved your post!

  3. Hi Irene – Such a sophisticated piece! So many nuances and so many questions! Marriage is definetly more engagement of our totality than we realize! A very thorough post! Hmm, I better get going here with some of these questions for myself! And I love the part about realizing that discussing/compromising on some core values is just not possible! This is such a tragic example…but I wonder about the Madoffs….how much can one know and how much does one ignore?

  4. Great question Kathy,
    This is the part where we have to do some individual work to be the best person and partner we can be. If we don’t, we too easily get sidetracked, and perhaps go with whatever our partner wants. So, always ask yourself: “Is this right or wrong according to my core values?”
    Thanks for your kind words. I did put a lot – perhaps too much info – into this one. As Daria says, I put months of work and discussion points into one post. Please don’t think that you have to do all. It is meant as suggestions to create your own story of the marriage you want.

  5. Thanks Athena, your comment warms my heart. It was exactly what I intended – my heart is heavily invested into helping people get the marriage they always wanted.
    All you need is to be focused on what is most important and make an effort communicating. I like to help people with “how to communicate” and provide questions they can use to move forward from where they are at.

  6. I think that this blog post addresses an important idea: In a marriage it is important that both spouse’s goals & dreams are given consideration.

    Even though the divorce rate has decreased over the past 5 years, there are still way too many marriages which end in divorce nowadays. One reason is because one spouse is just along for the ride & their feelings are not truly considered.

    I am happy that my husband and I have always avoided that particular pitfall.

    Thanks to Our Mom Spot for directing me to this blog!

  7. This is overwhelming! And, it’s important. As someone who’s not in her first marriage, I can attest that having these honest conversations and evaluations is critical to staying connected. If I had a dollar for everytime I felt misunderstood, I’d be rich. Thanks for providing so much wisdom – and free of charge to boot!

  8. You are welcome,
    A part of growing up for real is the have the courage to be painfully honest and vulnerable.
    Misunderstandings often makes us upset. We have several options. One option is to insist on being heard. Here we have to careful not to lecture or blame. Another option I often see, is to withdraw emotionally and/or physically. When we realize what we are doing we can change.

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