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Marriage Isn't the Only Struggle

Marriage isn't the only place where we struggle for our individuality. The workplace, good friendships, and parenting also require tact when asserting one's self.

Staking out your own identity is a particular challenge in marriage, but it crops up in other relationships, too. The basic struggle is the same: Figuring out where "I" ends and "we" begin.

  • On the job: Ideally, you want to be part of a harmonious team, but also respected for speaking your mind. Negotiating your level of autonomy is a new task in each workplace, says Morehouse, and some employers are more amenable to exploration than others. Tread carefully.
  • With friends: When a friend says something hurtful, should you assert yourself, or let it slide? Many women back away rather than try to address and resolve the conflict, often out of a misguided desire to be "nice." Deep, meaningful friendships—which can last longer than many marriages—often have something in common, says Morehouse: "At some point, someone was willing to take a risk and speak up."
  • With kids:Think of the mother whose e-mail address starts with "juliesmom." Parents, particularly mothers, get lost in this demanding role, to the point that everything the kids do (or don't do) feels like a reflection of them. The urge to control their kids' lives becomes overwhelming and unhealthy. "Parents who have no sense of self can be very destructive to the people they love," says Schnarch.

    Child rearing is an excellent opportunity to develop your boundaries, says Morehouse. Most likely, you'll be watching your kids struggle with the same issues. At some point, for instance, your kids will probably have to decide whether to go along with the crowd, dress differently or stick up for a less popular friend. Most likely, you'll feel compelled to tell them that standing up for themselves is important. The question to ask yourself: Do you practice what you preach?