We are made for relationship. It’s at our core. But, sometimes it’s confusing to try to balance individuality within relationship. What does that look like and how can we do it well?
Although it seems contradictory, the only way to fully become one with your spouse is to hold on to your own sense of self. Wait, what? I’ll say that again. The only way to fully become one with your spouse is to hold on to your own sense of self.
The fancy therapeutic word for this is differentiation. This is Murray Bowen's term referring to the ability to have a sense of connection with others while still holding a clear sense of who you are. The opposite of differentiation is what he calls fusion. The problem with fusion is that it can actually look and feel like love, commitment and closeness. But, what it really turns out to be is insecurity and emotional dependence. (1)
Dr. David Schnarch explains all of this better than I can. “Giving up your individuality to be together is as defeating in the long run as giving up your relationship to maintain your individuality. Either way, you end up being less of a person with less of a relationship... Differentiation is the ability to stay in connection without being consumed by the other person." (2)
Every aspect of your relationship will be truer when both people fully show up. The greatest gift you can give your spouse is a grounded and differentiated YOU!
(1)Bowen, Murray (1978) “Family Therapy in Clinical Practice”
(2)Schnarch, David (2009) “Passionate Marriage”