Balancing Connection and Separation in Your Marriage – Ryan Couples Therapy

Balancing Connection and Separation

Practice #5 of 6 Core Practices to Create a Healthy Marriage

My ebook, Transform Your Relationship: 6 Core Practices to Create a Healthy Marriage, details essential practices you and your partner can work on to strengthen your connection and build a better relationship.

The fifth practice I write about in the ebook is Connection and Separation.

One of the most common struggles for couples is the balancing of connection and separation.

In most couple’s relationships, partners often have different comfort levels with connection and separation. Some partners prefer more connection and feel anxious during times of separation. Some partners prefer more separation and feel anxious during times of connection.

The key is creating a balance.

Both connection and separation, in and of themselves, are not “bad” or “negative”; but partners can perceive of one or the other in negative ways. If they are comfortable with only connection they will perceive of separation negatively; if they are comfortable with separation they will perceive of connection negatively.

The ideas of “Let’s not spend too much time together; or “Let’s not spend too much time apart”, inadvertently implies that either connection or separation is unhealthy.

Connection is neutral until we make it unhealthy by the way we approach it. If we desire connection as the way to feel complete, and as the primary way to define ourselves, then it does become unhealthy. These motives for seeking connection result in the kind of connection that can be harmful to true intimacy.

On the other hand, separation is also neutral until we make it unhealthy by the way we approach it. If we desire separation as the way to protect our sense of self and it becomes the primary way we do this, then it does become unhealthy. These motives result in the kind of separation that can be harmful to the intimacy of the relationship.

So, taken out of the context of the relationship, both connection and separation are neutral. It is our motivation for connection and separation that determines the healthiness of these choices.

We can only discern how to balance these two different and important aspects of intimacy if we ask ourselves the following:

  • Is my desire to be connected to my partner coming from a strong sense of myself?
  • Do I know myself deeply, do I like myself, and have the strength and courage to express my authentic self?
  • Is my desire to be connected to my partner coming from an unclear and uncertain sense of self?
  • Do I feel shaken, uncomfortable, and anxious when my partner disagrees with me or voices difference?
  • Do I need approval and agreement in order to feel loved and safe?
  • Do I need to be with another in order to feel whole, defined, clear, and confident?
  • Does time without my partner create anxiety?

OR…

  • Is my desire to be separated from my partner coming from a strong sense of myself?
  • Do I know myself deeply, like myself, and have the strength and courage to express my authentic self?
  • Is my desire to have time apart from my partner coming from the fear that too much time together will result in being consumed and losing the fragile hold I have on who I am?
  • If I do not monitor how much time we are together, am I afraid that will lose my sense of self?
  • Does time connected to my partner create anxiety?

Couples will learn how to effectively decide about much time they spend together and how much time apart if they reflect on these questions and clarify their motivations for both.

When two strong individuals come together in a relationship and determine the kind of connection they desire to create together, it unfolds without anxiety because it is born of two clearly defined selves whose confidence in who they are allows them to completely open their hearts to one another without fear.

Likewise, when two strong individuals come together in a relationship and determine the amount of separation they desire, it unfolds without anxiety because it is born of two clearly defined selves whose confidence in who they are allows them the freedom to be separate without fear.

But if we come into a relationship without a clear sense of self or feel incomplete or “broken”, then the balancing of connection and separation will be fraught with conflict.

True intimacy is born of both connection and separation. Both are required in order to create a vibrant, sustainable relationship that allows for each partner to grow and thrive.

Connection that enhances intimacy is born of the kind of trust and freedom that allows for each partner to live from their most authentic self.

Separation that enhances intimacy is born of the kind of trust and freedom that allows for each partner to live from their most authentic self.

This kind of connection and separation richly enhances our capacity to open our hearts, share our lives, strengthen our sense of self and individuality, and cultivate deep and abiding trust in self and other.

We are not broken beings in search of another to heal and complete us. We are whole, worthy beings within and of ourselves.

We are capable of giving and receiving love through open hearts and in complete trust. We are capable of creating a relationship in which both self and others are free to be their most authentic selves, deeply connected to each other, and fully loved just as they are.

To close, a poem that celebrates our wholeness as humans, the kind of wholeness that true intimacy with another celebrates fully.

Within the Body You are Wearing by Robert K. Hall

Within the body you are wearing, now,

Inside the bones and beating in the heart,

lives the one you have been searching for so long.

But you must stop moving and shake hands. The meeting doesn’t happen without your presence, your participation.

The same one waiting for you there is

moving in the trees,

glistening on the water,

growing in the grasses and lurking in the shadows you create.

You have nowhere to go. The marriage happened long ago. Behold your mate.

As always, peace in the journey,
Jane

 Practice #4 in Series  |  Practice #6 in Series  

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Jane Ryan

Jane Ryan, M.A., LMFT, is a Licensed Couple and Family Therapist with twenty years of clinical experience and a speciality in helping couples navigate the challenges of intimate relationships. Jane also has a sub-specialty of helping couples navigate the relational and sexual effects of breast cancer.

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