after Losing Yourself in Love
"Woman Overboard!  Nine Ways to Find Your Way Back to Shore "It’s all too easy to lose sight of yourself as an individual when you’re in the midst of a relationship and difficult to move forward once that relationship is over.

At first, it seemed like a fairy tale. Romantic dates, long phone conversations, a beautiful ring, a gorgeous wedding, and a home you loved. He completely changed your life: new friends, new activities, new restaurants, even a new zip code. You did almost everything he suggested because it made you happy to make him happy. But now, despite your best efforts, your relationship is in trouble. You have no idea how you got so far off track and no clue how to figure out what’s best for you. You aren’t even sure who you are anymore.

If this scenario sounds painfully familiar, you aren’t alone. Author Avalon Sequoia Brandt knows what it’s like to lose yourself in love…but the good news is, she has also learned how to find your way back.

“Falling in love with someone is one of the best feelings in the world, but while the idea of oneness is romantic, it can also be dangerous,” says Avalon, author of the new book Still I Love : Loving after Three Divorces (Avalon S. Brandt, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-615-98121-5, $18.95, ). “When you’re in the midst of a relationship, it’s all too easy to lose sight of your own goals, interests, priorities, friends, and more.

“And once those things have been lost, finding your way back to a self-actualized, fulfilling life can feel very daunting,” she adds.

Avalon speaks from experience. In Still I Love, she tells the compelling story of her three marriages and divorces, which she navigated on the long road to earning her degree as an attorney. While Avalon’s story reads like a movie script, it’s interwoven with her heartfelt observations and advice. Avalon’s reflections on how she has succeeded in maintaining her positivity, resilience, faith, and belief in love will speak to anyone who has dealt with a partner’s infidelity, emotional unavailability, incompatibility, or addiction.

“Especially in my first marriage, I compromised myself by allowing my husband to dictate what I did and how I felt—though I didn’t realize that was happening at the time,” Avalon recalls. “For example, I am extremely extroverted and enjoy socializing. Adam was the opposite. So I gave up my socializing, to a point, and spent most of my time with Adam. I poured myself into Adam and gave no thought to my own interests. There was only one thing that I wanted: I wanted to be in love and get married. So when our marriage ended, I had a lot of catching up to do with myself.”

Here, Avalon shares nine experience-tested tips to help find your way back to a fulfilling life after getting lost in love:

If you’re still in the relationship, talk to your partner. If you believe that your own needs and preferences consistently take a backseat to your partner’s, your first step should be to share your concerns with him (or her). Remember, nothing will change if you don’t voice your feelings, which your partner might not be aware of. His response will tell you a lot about the current health (and perhaps the future) of your relationship.

“Having this conversation can be easier said than done,” Avalon acknowledges. “You may be worried that stating your position will offend your partner or drive him away. But that’s a risk you have to take for the sake of your own mental and emotional well-being. The best case scenario is, of course, that your partner makes a conscious effort to meet you halfway and invest more in your interests and priorities. If that’s not what happens, though, you may need to reconsider the relationship.

“In my first marriage, I often found myself home alone while my husband Adam went out,” she recalls. “I would tell him that his actions were wrong and inconsiderate to me—and he’d respond with soothing words. But his hurtful behaviors continued to happen. At the time I wanted to believe that Adam meant his apologies—but in hindsight, I realize that his choices were the writing on the wall. They very clearly conveyed that I was not his priority.”

Avoid romanticizing your partner. If you’re in a relationship, the idea of ending it can be incredibly painful. So consciously or unconsciously, you may find yourself fixating on your partner’s positive qualities and downplaying his hurtful or unhealthy behaviors. Even after the relationship has ended, you might look back with nostalgia.

“To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying and admiring all of the good things about past or present partners,” Avalon clarifies. “But it’s important to be honest about that person’s flaws, too. Otherwise, you run the risk of believing that your partner is ‘perfect’ and blaming all of the relationship’s problems on yourself, which can be fatal to your self-esteem. Romanticizing your partner can also keep you in an unhealthy, manipulative, or controlling relationship long past the point of wisdom.

“My best advice is to listen to your intuition,” she says. “Even if it’s uncomfortable to admit, you know when you’re lying to yourself and mentally covering for your partner. Hold him to the same standards of behavior and accountability that you set for yourself.”

Pay attention to how you’re feeling. In our hectic, mile-a-minute, on-the-go world, many of us are so busy and preoccupied that we don’t take the time to really check in with ourselves and how we’re feeling. Too often, it takes a major event (a health scare, an anxiety attack, or—yes!—the dissolution of a relationship) to wake us up to the fact that our lives are unhealthy and off track.

“That’s why it’s so important to keep your finger on the pulse of your emotions and intuition,” says Avalon. “Whether you’re in a relationship or not, get into the habit of asking yourself, How does this mesh with my values? Am I honoring myself and my goals? Am I being authentic, or am I calibrating my words and actions to please someone else? When you’re more in tune with yourself, you’ll be in a position to make small adjustments when you first notice that you’re feeling ‘off,’ making it much less likely that you’ll wake up one day wondering, How did I get to this place, and what happened to my life?

Make the hard decisions. Ignoring a bad situation or a less-than-ideal reality won’t make it go away. If you’ve lost yourself in love, sooner or later you’ll have to make hard decisions like: Do I move out? Is this relationship officially over? Should I cut off contact? If hanging on isn’t healthy, be honest with yourself. Remember, your long-term well-being may require (and is worth!) short-term pain.

“My marriage to Adam taught me the lesson that wishful thinking won’t make a bad situation better,” comments Avalon. “That’s why, during my second marriage, I made the decision to look for a separate apartment without my husband’s knowledge. He wasn’t willing to take responsibility for his regular nights out, drinking, gambling, and aggressive behavior, so I knew that it was up to me to decide what my future would look like. After a lot of thought and inner struggle, I admitted that while I wasn’t yet ready to end the marriage, putting physical distance between my husband and me was the only way I would feel safety and peace.”

Stay close to (or reconnect with) your family and friends. When you lose yourself in love, it’s common to drift away from family and friends. Maybe you’ve been focused primarily on your partner and haven’t invested much in other people, or perhaps you’ve purposefully put distance between yourself and loved ones who questioned the wisdom of your relationship. Whatever the reason, it’s time to reconnect and repair any damage that’s been done.

“The people who love you and who have known you for years will keep you grounded and remind you of who you are, if you allow them to do so,” Avalon promises. “Throughout my marriages, my friends and family stood by me and supported me when I wanted to give up. They also served as a great sounding board. Looking back, I wish I had listened more closely and taken more of the advice that they offered instead of allowing my desire to be in love and in a marriage dictate my decisions!”

Take yourself out to dinner. …And start doing other activities solo, too! Go grocery shopping, see a movie, take a walk in the park, or go to a worship service with only yourself. Essentially, says Avalon, challenge yourself to go about your routine as an individual, not as one-half of a couple. If you want to reclaim your life after losing yourself in love, you must learn to be confident and comfortable on your own.

“After my second marriage ended, I made a special effort to discover life beyond being a wife,” recalls Avalon. “For me, a big part of that was exploring and enjoying the spectacular dining scene in Washington, D.C. At first, it was strange learning how to enjoy a meal alone. I got curious looks from maître d’s, waiters, and other diners. But over time, I began to dwell less on what other people were thinking, and to savor each satisfying bite of my meals. Sounds simple, I know, but learning to enjoy a meal alone became a crucial survival tool that enabled me to reconnect with myself after a disappointing marriage.”

Get back into an old hobby. Before immersing yourself in your relationship, what did you do for fun? Where did you find fulfillment? Return to those activities. When you focus on something that you, and only you, enjoy—not something you shared with your partner—you’ll jump-start the healing and growing process.

“Pull out your flute or your art supplies,” urges Avalon. “Join a community softball team or hiking group. Sign up for a book club or cooking classes. Go back to school. Developing yourself is empowering and motivating, especially after you’ve been in the habit of doing what your partner preferred. One of the best decisions I ever made was applying to law school after my second divorce. Not only was I finally pursuing a goal I’d had for years, I was keeping myself moving forward and focused on the future.”

Help someone else. As Avalon has pointed out, it’s important to concentrate on your own needs and desires after losing yourself in love—but she also warns against becoming too self-focused and isolated. Serving others, she says, is one of the best ways to combat feelings of loneliness while making connections with others and regaining personal purpose.

“In my thirties, I started and ran a ministry to help young adults become spiritually mature and personally grounded,” says Avalon. “My goal was to provide them with the tools to handle new freedoms and to navigate common pitfalls and temptations that might get them off track. I remembered the difficulties I’d faced, and I wanted to help others avoid some of my mistakes. I believe that I did make a difference in some of their lives, and that is one of the legacies of which I’m most proud.

“I have come to firmly believe that my success is not measured by whether my relationships are successful, by how much money I make, by what my job title is, or by the house I live in,” she adds. “It’s measured by the positive impact that I have on others’ lives.”

Show yourself some TLC (emphasis on the L!). You may have had a relationship that ended badly, but you don’t (and you shouldn’t!) have to live without love. For the sake of your present and your future, you need to learn to love yourself. Create and savor your own rhythm in life, no matter what others may say. Only when you have discovered and embraced who you are can you love others freely and unconditionally.

“Even after my divorces, love is still the center of my existence,” confirms Avalon. “Yes, I still hope to find a lifelong romantic partner, but that desire no longer dictates my happiness and drives my actions. Instead, my number one goal and priority is to value, honor, and love myself. I affirm this intention by looking into the mirror each morning and saying with a smile, ‘I love you.’ Then, I show myself love through actions big and small, starting by luxuriating in a long, hot shower!”

“I fell quickly and deeply in love with the men I married, and, especially in my first two marriages, temporarily lost parts of myself as I invested in and clung to those relationships,” concludes Avalon. “But here’s the silver lining: Those experiences forced me to stand on my own two feet, to seek out survival tools, and to focus on and invest in myself. I have serenity because I know my heartaches have equipped me with everything I need to live a life of fulfillment.”

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About the Author:
Avalon S. Brandt, Esq., is the author of Still I Love : Loving after Three Divorces. She was educated in the Baltimore City Schools. In 1994 she graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law. She is currently employed with the law offices of Saul E. Kerpelman, which represents children for injuries resulting from childhood lead exposure. Prior to joining the Kerpelman firm, she was a partner with the law offices of Wilson & Brandt, providing legal representation in custody, divorce, child abuse, and criminal defense cases.