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
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-
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.