Are you putting your partner and your relationship, ahead of you?. I used to be that person who put my partner on a pedestal. Prioritized my relationship above all other things. Their interests, hobbies, their wants and needs consistently came before my own. Basically, I regularly backbenched myself. Why? Because that’s the way I thought I was supposed to do it. 

How did it make me feel though, truthfully? Completely lost.

Like I was moving further and further away from myself. The distance between how I was living, and who I wanted to be became infinity far from one another. Then I’d regularly become unhappy in a relationship, bitter and resentful even. And then somewhat ironically, I’d take that unhappiness out on the person I was in a relationship with.

Was it their fault? No, not really. Only I could hold myself accountable for putting them, at the top of my priorities, leading to me, feeling a bit shitty.

I’ve thought a lot about why I used to do this. Here are my musings.

Selfish, too self-minded, too self-focused, uncompassionate to others

Difficult, hard work, troublesome. I could go on…

Exploring self-priority gets a bad rep, especially for us women.

We are conditioned from an early age to be kind, gentle, amiable, apologetic, understanding, empathetic, agreeable. To think of others first, and ourselves last. And so self-priority, represents an aversion to what a woman should be.

It goes against the expected caretaker role they are allocated. Forever nurturing, always caring about what they can do for others and to make their lives easier, never a focus on prioritizing themselves. Therefore self-priority jars awkwardly against the perception of womanhood, and has deeply affected how I’ve acted within prior relationships.

It sounds quite selfish doesn’t it, to suggest that I put myself before someone else. That even when in a loving relationship, I should be front and center for me. Maybe it is. But also maybe selfish isn’t the bad guy here. Perhaps the villain, is the idea I held onto that it was okay to lose myself in the process of obtaining another. That it was acceptable to put myself last, and hold my loved one in first place. 

The expectation that women should adapt themselves

All in the interests of pleasing someone else. It’s consistently repeated throughout our lives, making sure the message firmly hits home. We, must be better and do better for them. Their needs, come before ours.

This was reaffirmed when I was single and dating, as I regularly came across articles online that suggested that I, as the female counterpart, should and could do more to be more attractive an offering to a prospective mate. Whether it was ensuring I asked them questions so they felt listened too and supported, showing deep interest in their hobbies, smiling more, maintaining a pleasant persona at all times, keeping my body in its best shape, the list was not exhaustive. The general theme, always the same.

Put them first, and you will not only attract them, but it’s how you will keep them, and why they will like you

Now I bought into all this bollox. I was a total chameleon dater, and all my previous relationships were acted out dutifully as a woman keen to adapt herself to whoever I was in a relationship with. But each and every time I ended up in relationships that drained and exhausted me, both mentally and emotionally.

The loss of myself, was something I couldn’t have described to you back then, or even recognized as something that was happening. It was merely a general feeling that something was very amiss. Now, I realized that that something, was a healthy dose of self-priority.

Self-Priority isn’t being difficult or never compromising, or refusing to ever consider your partner or relationship

Although self-priority is so highly linked to selfishness that it seems to suggest this is so. A friend commented recently that I must be really difficult to be with. I’d spoken about how I’d needed some time to myself, so had declined a meet with my boyfriend that night. How I wanted to go away with a friend, and so I did. That my writing is so important to me that sometimes, I’ll replace a meet with time I can allocate to creating a blog. These simple acts of creating a boundary and making sure my regular annual trip with a friend didn’t stop, and putting my passions high on my personal agenda, suggested to them a ‘difficult’ nature.

I don’t doubt, that in some ways I can be. But these acts are not a reflection of a difficult nature. They should be reframed to something more positive. As to me, they signify a much needed confidence in myself and what I require to remain a happy person who is actually enjoyable to spend time with. If I didn’t pursue a passion or dream, then I’d fall quickly into a cantankerous state that would be no good for anyone who knows me.

They also show how much I value other much needed connections, and that my community isn’t now irrelevant just because I have one member in the form of ‘boyfriend’.

For anyone still not convinced, just because how I do things might be considered un-normal, does that make it true?

I don’t disregard that persons feelings or needs completely. My partner doesn’t handle distress alone, and I’m not unwilling to compromise and put their needs ahead of my own at times. Compromise, is a part of any relationship. I’m just unwilling for that compromise to consistently come at the expense of myself. So I’m no longer doing it like I used too. Where it swayed to ‘always’ putting them before me.

Therefore I’d argue, is it not more un-normal to make someone else’s aspirations, dreams, hobbies and lifestyle completely our own? Is it not more un-normal to say No to ourselves, whilst saying Yes constantly to someone else? Is it not un-normal to become so entwined with a person that we lose sight of where we end and they begin?

Is that really what love should look like, or does that sway into co-dependency, toxic attachment styles and even a little self-betrayal?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been through this experience of losing themselves when entering into a relationship

Although, perhaps there are few who did it so expertly as I. And that’s exactly how I ended up unhappy in my relationships. I glorified self-sacrifice in the name of ‘love’. What mattered to me, mattered less than what mattered to my partner. What they wanted, or needed, always came first.

I think my main problem was that I didn’t have the best relationship with myself. And so I sought worth and acceptance from my relationships. Which lead me to prioritize their needs and happiness, as more important than my own. They became my source of happiness, too. Which also affected my levels of unhappiness if they weren’t feeling great.

I’d often sacrifice my own mental health and wellbeing in order to fix / save / help the relationship

I’d feel unable to express my own needs or desires, as they didn’t conform to what the other person wanted. I lived in this perpetual state of wanting to make my partner happy, even at the expense of making myself unhappy.

When one partner takes on a care-taker role for maintaining the happiness of both, putting their needs behind their partners, sacrificing themselves at times to keep the relationship afloat, this can be a sign of co-dependency. And I admit, the definition seems to conceptualize my prior reality. Although if we have very limited boundaries, or none at all, we can’t maintain any balance in our lives. It can slowly leave us feeling unfulfilled and miserable.

“The person who betrays themselves for the needs of their partner will never feel fulfilled. The best way to avoid becoming co-dependent is to have a strong sense of self. Practicing putting yourself first gets easier over time. It is the best way to avoid slipping into a co-dependent state.” By Best Self.

If I didn’t treat myself as worthy, then I would never find self-worth

If I didn’t treat myself as worthy of time and attention, how else would I lower my standards, boundaries, hopes and dreams, to accommodate theirs?. If I got fully into the answer to that question, you’d be here for days. So I’ll summarize like this.

If I didn’t start treating myself as worthy, then I would never find self-worth. I’d continue to stay in relationships I should leave far sooner, for so many reasons. I would keep committing to situations that did not make me happy in any way, but that made them feel good, and seeing that as how a healthy relationship should be carried out.

My aspirations, my passions and hobbies, would keep being slowly lost as I so heavily focused my time and attention on pleasing them. My self-worth, would continue to be heavily attached to how my partner perceived me. And because of that, I’d keep exhausting myself, emotionally and mentally, carrying the responsibility of pleasing them and in making sure that they were happy, that they were getting what they needed at all times.

Self-priority isn’t just important, it’s fundamental to wellbeing

For me self-priority has become mandatory. I’ve learnt how powerful and necessary it is to ensure that the connection you have with yourself, is a constant priority. When single or otherwise. To check in with me, my thoughts and feelings, regularly. If I am not feeling happy, to find ways to be happier. If I am not feeling connected to myself, to put into action things that would strengthen that bond. To prioritize myself. And in doing so, not lose that connection from myself and increase my self-worth.

Self-priority, was something I learned a lot about after committing to single for a time. Yet it’s also something I’ve held onto in relationships since. It isn’t selfish. It allows me to be a better person, and therefore a better partner.

It ensures that I practice regularly checking in with my own desires and needs outside of my relationship. This is entirely healthy. I’d argue that it helps any relationship become stronger, in fact. When you prioritize being the best version of you, and are separately able to be happy with yourself, and create your own happiness, that allows you to provide your partner with that best version of you.

I offer you this piece of self-learned wisdom if you’re relating to any of this blog

Look after you. You are the most important person in your life. If you aren’t prioritizing yourself, you’re subliminally sending out a vibe that no one else has to pay much attention to you or your needs either. You are also subliminally sending that same message to yourself, and that shit eats away at you.

Self-priority isn’t selfish. It’s a positive action that creates a connection to self, and leads to self-awareness and a happier state of mind. If you are not nurturing being the best version of you by knowing and practising the mantra of ‘I matter’, then you can’t be the best person for anyone else either.

Consider it the same as if the oxygen masks dropped on a flight. It’s you first, then you can take care of everyone else. That’s pretty much a metaphor for how I do relationships now tbh.

By Amy Roullier
By Amy Roullier

Amy is the Founder and Editor of The Authentic Optimist. She talks all things life. From the highs to the lows, to all those messy bits in-between. She is a writer, rambler, lover of carbs (her true soulmate) and she is especially passionate about dispelling myths about women in their 30s. Amy lives in Lincolnshire with her two greyhounds.