Is anyone else out there watching the Apple TV series Shrinking? It follows the life of a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) therapist who (after the death of his wife) decides to embark on an experiment of sorts as a psychological vigilante. It's great and worth checking out, but it really got me thinking about what I would do if something happened to my husband. More to the point, who am I without my husband?
It's normal to isolate when you're in the throws of a new romance. Many people do when they first meet their person. NRE (New Relationship Energy) can be all-consuming. However, once that romantic relationship stabilizes, experts agree that it is essential to continue nurturing and maintaining your other relationships - be it with friends, family, or both. Those networks are what will save you when the sh*t goes down.
When it comes to identity, I certainly find that sometimes I can't tease out what is me and what is us. I imagine the removal of us would be devastating. Identity shapes so much of how we exist in the world, and research has shown that the lack of “self-clarity” that comes with grief due to loss of identity is correlated with higher rates of depression and post-traumatic stress.
So how do we prepare for that? I'm not talking about the administrative aspect of death (wills, directives, funerals). I'm talking about the emotional part and potential identity crisis. I'm a planner, and some form of planning makes me feel that I have some control, even if minute.
So. What do psychologists say?
First and foremost, see the second paragraph of this post. Cultivate important relationships outside of the one with your romantic partner. Know exactly who you would call when the aforementioned sh*t goes down, and make them aware if they aren't already.
Secondly, spend some time thinking about what life would look like if your loved one were gone, as best you can imagine.
Thirdly, establish who you are inside and outside of your romantic relationship. According to studies, people with a strong sense of self-identity are better at navigating major life tasks, crises, and establish better intimacy with others.
Don't know where to start? Ask yourself, " Who am I without my person?"