The secret is David Schnarch's concept of Differentiation. In his book 'Passionate Marriage' he writes:'In a nutshell, differentiation is the process by which we become more uniquely ourselves by maintaining ourselves in relationship with those we love. It's the process of grinding off our rough edges through the normal abrasions of long-term intimate relationships. Differentiation is the key to not holding grudges and recovering quickly from arguments, to tolerating intense intimacy and maintaining your priorities in the midst of daily life.'
Differentiation isn't a trait, however. It's a process - a lifelong process of taking our own 'shape'.
And how does it work? How do I start becoming more differentiated?
The first thing is to STOP making our partner or our relationship the problem.
Instead we start asking ourselves some difficult questions:
In this specific issue...
... am I being too rigid and demanding, or too easy and a fool?
... am I destroying my marriage, or trying to make it worth saving?
... should I listen to reason, or am I dealing with a terrorist?
... is my integrity really on the line, or am I just being selfish and stubborn?
There are many more aspects of Differentiation but let's stop here for the time being. Take some time to go through the above questions in view of an ongoing issue in your relationship. What are you finding?
Whatever your answers are - they are right for you. They might not be right for the people around you but they are true for you. So stand up for them.
In the next blog we'll take a look at 'Self-Soothing'. Another aspect of Differentiation.