The Paradox of Intimacy and Separateness in a Relationship

Mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality…. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two. Erich Fromm

Woodcarving of coupleIn our interviews with couples, we have found that there is a really tricky area that partners must learn to navigate together. The fact that there are two separate personalities within one relationship seems obvious, but putting this understanding into practice is often more complex than it would seem.

As you grow closer in your union, the sense of joining together pervades the relationship. It is a beautiful, transcendent and intimate experience. You are sharing the magic of two who become one. This can expand your world view in many ways. And unfortunately it can also lead to confusions and bumps in the smooth path of your partnership.

In union with your lover, it’s easy to forget that both of you have separate identities #quote Click To TweetWhile feeling the fusion of your two selves, it can be easy to forget the other critical component, that the two selves have separate individualities as well. When you begin to see your partner as yourself, it may and often does lead to criticisms and attempts at corrective adjustments. You see them as an extension of yourself and you want them to say what you think and do what you do. After all, they really are you!

Bob and Cathy are out with friends. He is telling a story about an event that he and Cathy experienced together. She gets very upset because he is not describing it as she would. This is not the same as Cathy wanting to tell the story from her viewpoint; instead, she wants to cut in and correct his mistakes. Cathy feels as though her story is coming out wrong because she hears what Bob is saying as though it is her voice. She has lost the sense of their separate identities. How Two: Have a Successful Relationship

Another problem that can occur with this type of identity confusion is you can start to think that your partner represents you in the world. You are no longer responsible for only your own actions, but also theirs. If they are criticized, then that’s a criticism of you. If Barbara thinks your partner is talking too loud, or has the wrong table manners, you become upset or embarrassed. Back off from these misplaced responses as fast as you can. You are not responsible for your partner. If Barbara has a problem with him, that is between them.

A good way to clear this away from your mind, is to stay in the present with your partner and the situation. This will help you to see them for who they are and you will be much less likely to mix up your two separate identities. If they are not seen as merely an extension of you, if they are seen as the beautiful and unique being they are, then you will not expect them to act and speak as you do. You will be able more easily to see their differences and to enjoy the variety of words and deeds they present.

Accepting each other as individuals permits both deepened intimacy and a wonderful freedom of action. This meshing of separateness and union will greatly expand your relationship and the experience of the world that each of you has.

Let there be spaces in your togetherness … Love one another, but make not a bond of love … Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone … And stand together, yet not too near together; For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow. Kahlil Gibran

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  1. […] This week’s blog is on the paradox of intimacy and separateness in a relationship. Here are some interesting writings on this topic. […]

  2. […] we discussed in last week’s blog, when you view your partner as an extension of yourself, and not a separate unique individual, it […]

  3. […] We have often noted that we never feel separated when we are apart. We think it is because we are very careful to each have enough personal space, and oddly, as a result we don’t feel our connection is ever gone, even when we aren’t together. This is an interesting paradox of intimacy and separateness. […]

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