Holding on to our sense of self in loving relationships is a tough act. The process of individuation is the key to our emotional maturity and renders us able to balance our desire to please another with our drive to do what feels right for ourselves. Family dynamics either hinder or support our individuation. Think about it: As a child, were you encouraged to think, feel, and act as an individual? (Do not confuse independence with individuality). Or did your family demand for the most part that you cooperate and that you please them in order to be accepted and loved?
If this balancing act were not difficult enough in our families of origin, it becomes more precarious as we move into adult relationships with partners and spouses. As our partner grows in importance to us, so does the struggle to cooperate with him/her and stay true to our sense of self discovery and innate need for expansion. It’s easy to understand this dilemma when we recognize that of all the needs we have, loving relationships are the most critical for our happiness and well being. We are social beings who desire and require connectedness with others to thrive.
The struggle to remain connected while holding on to our sense of self can cause great confusion for couples because they are unaware of what is transpiring. When one is repeatedly succumbing to the needs of the other for the stability of the relationship, the toll can be physiological and emotional. In truth, the “pleasing” partner is out of integrity with him or herself because cooperation is taking place at the expense of individuality. A therapeutic term for this kind of relating is fusion or emotional dependence – not to be confused with love. The more emotionally dependent we are on our partner, the more we are going to be threatened by their potential rejection.
What makes this dynamic even more complex is the fact that we tend to choose a partner who possesses a similar level of emotional maturity to our own. One partner may predominantly acquiesce; one may predominantly control; and both may frequently disengage, but all these behaviors reflect an emotional dependence that slowly erodes the relationship.
If this is sounding like you or your relationship, take a breath. With awareness and the willingness to take action, change is always possible. The following are some ideas to consider if you recognize your weak sense of individuation is hurting your relationship and requires work:
1. Learn ways to manage anxiety/hurt instead of running away from it or putting oneself/another down.
2. Become aware of tendencies to catastrophize and awfulize situations. Check out your motives for doing this.
3. Look at your boundaries. Are they healthy? Are you able to speak up for yourself in a respectful way and state a difference of opinion?
4. Get to know yourself better – your values, beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses — and see them as opportunities for expansion.
5. Find ways to increase your self esteem.
6. Practice communicating your needs with others – friends, family, and your partner.
7. Stop taking what your partner or another does personally – then you can better understand what’s going on.
8. Become aware of tendencies to withdraw in your relationships and explore what’s happening—what emotions are coming up for you when you do this.
9. Consider your childhood experiences and how some of those may be triggered today – especially with your partner.
Welcome the difficulties that arise in relationships – don’t panic. They are your indicator and opportunity for growth and personal transformation.Take responsibility for becoming a better YOU — you’ll be amazed how your partner and others around you change as a result.