Working with Couples

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I believe the foundation for healthy, realistic relationships is developing, Differentiation, where both partners have a firm sense of self and are able appreciate their differences and their similarities. This means holding onto yourself, values, and staying true to what you want in life, while sharing your life with a partner. Accepting partners for who they are is important, but not at the expense of who we are or our values. For a relationship to be healthy, and it needs to recognize and foster each individually, but to be realistically sustainable maintaining it needs to be mutual.  practicing open, on-going, honest communication. Considered another way, if a relationship is a mutual investment, yielding returns, they’d be wise reinvesting some of their returns through practicing open, on-going, honest communication. Not only will it potentially increase the return on their original investment, but inspire renewed involvement in investing together.

Analogies aside, here’s why I encourage developing differentiation

In the words of Jay-Z, Differentiation is knowing confidently, “What you eat, don’t make me shit.” It relies on having self control, and allows each to have distance from the negative interactions that otherwise create emotional stand-offs.  This might mean taking a time out from arguments so you, or your partner, can settle down, or simply the ability to disagree.  If partners are able to manage themselves, they are less likely to use control, or pressure to change the other, to make themselves feel better. Undifferentiated partners confuse staying locked in emotional standoff with reasons for staying in a relationship. Although it is difficult upsetting the established equilibrium of any relationship, it only takes one partner developing differentiation for the relationship and over time their partner, to change.

Some Characteristics Differentiated Partners

• Maintaining a clear sense of who you are within the relationship.

•Maintaining a clear sense of perspective.

•Committed to a willingness to engage in self-confrontation.

•Acknowledging our faults, projections and distortions of reality that  protect us from ourselves.

•Learning to tolerate the pain involved in self-exploration.

Differentiation resolved the most common dilemma I’ve seen couples face: the desire to be in a committed relationship, and the wish to remain independent. However, acknowledging this challenges our belief that commitment and independence are mutually exclusive. Often couples don’t recognize the potential dilemma this belief places them in until they are confronted with having basic differences. In reality, the difficulties are less about differences, and more about the ability to have them. Because rarely will couples acknowledge their differences and work with these, but instead automatically insist each should make compromises.

Unfortunately, our values cannot be compromised. Trying to puts partners at odds, feels alienating, and ultimately leads to resentfulness. Left unchecked we begin to confuse ordinary disagreements with our unresolved differences around values. Instead they become arguments about our values, but really who we are. If one partner tends to spend money and the other save, their expressing the need to save, even if appropriate, may be received as judgement. On a deeper level, the saver’s reaction might be about not feeling valued or cared for. Because practical values are being confused with emotional, it’s difficult for the partner who spends to distinguish whether they’re being criticized for spending, or for their spending in particular. Because neither can clearly distinguish which it is, if they accept the criticism, they may, in turn, feel they’re being controlled, yet by defending their spending, thus themselves, their partner’s feeling they’re not valued or cared for may increase. Not only does this reinforce the negative attributes we project onto our partner, but erodes our incentive to honestly participate any disagreements. Although difficult, it’s something can help you improve and change, and avoid in the future.

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