There is a common theme emerging among Conscious Intimacy’s clients lately which has to do with control and power. Often relationships develop a power struggle with one party wanting to be seen as “right”, and usually it is both partners who want this award. More than that, this power struggle is often a bid for approval from the other, though the behaviours which materialise are usually counter-productive to achieving this goal. What tends to result from this power play is a lack of intimacy and connection with resentment building. Expecting emotional fusion from one’s partner is common, though is often achieved through one or all members relinquishing their individuality. An important concept developed by David Schnarch is that of differentiation. The theory proposes that when each individual in the partnership develops a sense of independence and autonomy within their own lives, they can then come together in a more loving and connected manner.
Schnarch defines differentiation as “your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others – especially as they become increasingly important to you.” We often feel pressure from family and loved ones to follow their ways of being or their ideas about life, and when we differentiate ourselves from others, we become more able to agree and disagree with others without compromising a part of who we are and who we present to the world. Perhaps due to our society and media focussing so vigorously on romantic relationships and the importance of being part of one increase our desire to compromise whom we are in order to make a relationship work? Undifferentiated relationships may experience neediness, desperation for love and affection, and can result in jealousy, unnecessary drama and intolerance for boundaries. So how can differentiation be achieved.
Developing empathy for your partner and creating a space to perceive difficulties both objectively and subjectively is one way of moving towards differentiation. Next time a disagreement occurs try to voice thoughts, opinions and feelings assertively. Using “I” statements is one way of diffusing emotionality and allowing the self to be seen and heard. For example saying “I feel … when you …” can expose your feelings without engaging in a blaming dialogue. Allowing a space for the other to express their thoughts and feelings in a similar manner could illuminate points which may be missed whilst playing a blame game. Even attempt a role reversal exercise which sees you each adopting the position of the other and maintaining that point to see how it might feel to be on the other side of the fence. It may come as a surprise to experience how your loved one feels and create a space for acceptance and empathy.
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