Balancing Separateness and Togetherness in Marriage

SEPARATENESS AND TOGETHERNESS NEEDS

 

Two of the most important emotional needs of adults are

the need to be an autonomous self in control of one’s own

life and the need to be emotionally connected to another

person.  Successful couples have to find ways to balance

these two drives which often seem to be in conflict.

An ability to satisfy both of these needs is one of the

major hallmarks of a mature and gratifying marriage.  When

one recognizes that we all have both of these needs, each of

them can be satisfied at different times or even at the same

time.

For most couples, though, it doesn’t work out so easily.

These needs are seen to be mutually exclusive.  In the most

immature relationships, neither need gets satisfied.  The

degree of emotional dependency the partners feel toward one

another keeps them bouncing between fears of abandonment and

engulfment.  The feeling is that I cannot be OK unless you

want the same thing that I want at the same time that I want

it.  Many partners split this conflict.  One partner gets to

hold all the closeness needs while the other holds all the

autonomy needs.  This is what therapists call the distancer-

pursuer conflict.

Emotionally mature individuals are able to acknowledge

that they both have separateness and togetherness needs.

Knowing this, they don’t blame each other as much and the

conflict becomes a more internal one.  That is, the partners

try to understand and work with their own anxieties about

connectedness and separateness.  With this acceptance of

inner ambivalance and psychic complexity comes an

understanding that one’s partner is not the true source of

the conflict.  It comes from within.

At the highest level of emotional maturity comes a

recognition that the needs for independence and connectedness

are not really in conflict at all.  There develops a joyful

appreciation of both togetherness and separateness.  The

feeling is that we are two individuals who can choose to be

either separate or together and can fully enjoy both.

 

 

 

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