Are you and your partner asking yourselves this question? Where you are longing for that time when your communication seemed to flow smoothly, instead of this constant tension and blaming that has developed. So what happened?
One of the most common struggles for couples is difficulty in developing what is known as ‘Differentiation’ which is so essential to relationships maturing.
Like many people, you may mistake this to mean developing your space and not relying on your partner for all your needs. However, differentiation is NOT the opposite of being too dependent on your partner.
OK so What is Differentiation?
Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson of the Couples Institute define Differentiation as;
The active, ongoing process of defining self, revealing self, clarifying boundaries, and managing the anxiety that comes from risking either greater intimacy or potential separation. So in simple terms, it is the ability to be in your space and be connected to your partner at the same time, even when their experience is different from yours, or you don’t agree. Seems straight forward enough, and yet,
Here are the Most Common habits that couples develop to avoid differentiation
Avoid difficult conversations.
Make the other person’s experience wrong - by criticizing, debating, sarcasm, shaming.
Argue about the way you are responding to each other.
Interrupt and don’t listen.
Try to fix things and find solutions without taking the time to understand.
Try to please and apologize for things when you are not sorry.
Go along with things that you don’t agree with.
Tell each other what you know they are thinking or feeling.
Take things personally and respond defensively.
Sound familiar? These habits and responses develop in response to the anxiety that you want to avoid when you encounter a difference in each other that challenges you.
Why is this so challenging?
1) You might begin to understand this as our difficulties with conflict. That would be true to a certain extent. However, developing differentiation is more than learning to deal with a conflict. It is learning to accept each other’s complexity as we negotiate different needs, come to terms with how you do things differently or express your hurts and resentments to one another.
2) If we view relationships as going through stages, this happens as the initial stage of intense bonding ( aka. falling in love, or the honeymoon phase) starts to dwindle. At this time, you begin to experience the loss of this intense ‘togetherness’ which can bring up a lot of anxiety, feelings of disappointment or feel let down. This phase is a natural development of healthy relationships as you develop skills to negotiate and understand each other on a deeper level.
However, when you fear that the relationship is not working, it is common to back peddle, and return to the comfort and safety of your initial togetherness. It is at this time that you develop those habits that try to avoid Differentiation, and overtime your relationship becomes deadened, tense and hurtful.
6 Ways Differentiation will improve your relationship
- Develop skills to navigate and repair the misunderstandings, misattunements and differences that arise.
- Support each other to be more of who you are in the relationship. Each partner can relax and be at ease with themselves and each other. To express oneself honestly and to be unashamedly yourself.
- Develop empathy and understanding for each other, even when you disagree!
- Learning to find solutions that support both people. Take time to consider both sides in decisions and ways of doing things.
- Experience a deeper connection. Learning to be more specific about your experience and needs allows the other to experience more of you.
- Develop security and safety to be present in your relationship.
If you are having difficulties developing differentiation, consider seeking help from a counsellor.
You can book an appointment through our ONLINE BOOKING