Maintaining a good relationship is like looking after a house plant. If you don’t give it enough water and nurture, it shrivels away. If you over-water it, it dies too. In an intimate relationship, you need special times together that feed and nurture the sense of togetherness. Routine and taking each other for granted lets the spark die. On the other hand, you also need breathing space, where difference can exist without the partners being threatened by it. Being together works best when you know how to hold on to yourself as you are close with your partner. Holding on to yourself might mean:
- to speak your truth, even if it rocks the boat;
- to calm yourself if your partner is reactive;
- to stay loving of yourself in the midst of a storm.
An emotionally committed relationship and/or marriage provides a powerful vessel, where the relationship can brew and often heat up. This is a sign of its life. When partners know how to hold on to themselves, they can handle the heat and view this process as constructive. Needed changes can take place without huge drama. Yet for a lot of us it takes a major crisis and/or a good therapist to get through emotional turmoil, external or internal.
Learning to validate yourself, to take care of yourself, as you show your partner who you really are, frees you from needing constant validation and agreement. The more important your partner becomes to you, the harder it also becomes for you to stand your own ground.
Becoming more uniquely yourself by maintaining yourself with those you love and that are important to you, is a process than unfolds over time of many trials.
American psychotherapist David Schnarch refers to it as “differentiation”. “Differentiation is the process by which we become more uniquely ourselves by maintaining ourselves in relationship with those we love.” (Passionate Marriage, p. 51)
If “I need to get away from you to be myself” is not differentiation, but a sign of fusion. It’s a reaction of being too close and not having a sense of choice about it. When we are fused (like Siamese twins) on an emotional level, we may experience security and connection, at the same time we feel anxiety. Our sense of identity is dependent on how the other views us. As we are not able to soothe ourselves, we expect our partner to constantly shield and protect us from anxiety and insecurity; by demanding reassurance; by feeling very threatened with changes in our partner; by needing to control the other. This leads to draining each other. Overfed plants end up drained.
The flame of eroticism requires breathing space in the same way as the roots of a plant. The wish to merge is natural for lovers. The mystery of two people becoming one is a blissful and deeply spiritual experience. Yet it is not a state we can stay in. We naturally move in and out of sink. When we are fused, we fall apart when we are out of sink or alone, or we easily feel trapped and keep “a back door open” unable to connect intimately. We tend to feel manipulated and rigidly hold on to our own beliefs in fear of losing our identity. When you are fused, it’s hard to have a sense of mutuality which means to focus on your own self development while being concerned with your partners well-being. Differentiation is about “getting closer and more distinct – rather than more distant” (p. 74). Resolving your problem in your relationship puts you on trial. Here you develop the qualities that you need to live in a genuinely intimate and exciting relationship.
Mirjam Busch & Rudolf Jarosewitsch
Copyright © 2/2000 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Southshore Beacon #114, Feb2000