How to Balance Individuality and Your Relationship

How to Balance Individuality and Your Relationship

We usually go to breakfast, choose a topic, write separately about it and then merge our writings, but sometimes, even though we are saying the same things, we phrase it so differently that it makes more sense to present them individually. That’s what happened this week.

MAUDE: It is very important to find a balance between your own individuality and cooperation within your relationship. To achieve this kind of balance, it is vital to get to know yourself and to find practices to strengthen your sense of self, to come to be comfortable with your own individuality. It is from this place of security in your own person that you can more readily achieve a sense of security within the relationship, one that does not require competition or combat to maintain.

This is similar to how you function in society in general. The less you have to defend your individuality, the more you will be able to act cooperatively, with thoughts for the welfare of others. The more you need to defend and to separate, the less a part of the whole you will be able to be.

It’s important to find a balance between your individuality & cooperation in your relationship Share on XIn your partner relationships, this is especially true, and that is why understanding there is only one side and you are both on it, is so important. This is part of the very foundation of our relationship. If Phil and I have a disagreement, we act to find mutual solutions. We know that is what we both want. We each respect the other’s individuality completely and appreciate the diversity of expression of our shared core values. The practice of getting to know yourself and working on yourself is an ongoing adventure, and one that is required for any successful relationship.

PHIL: I’d like to pick up on what Maude said by first introducing a couple of ideas.


I wrote an essay recently in which cooperation is described as an essential human characteristic:

We are by nature a cooperative species because that increases efficiency. It is easier for two people to jointly carry two sofas up a flight of stairs than for each to carry one individually. In society, we work together both directly in teams and indirectly through specialization: mining iron ore, smelting it and machining it; growing wheat, milling it and baking it; spinning, weaving and making clothes; designing bridges, computers and 747s.

If you don’t believe you need other people to survive, here is a thought exercise: leave civilization and live alone in the wilderness. Don’t take anything that is the handiwork of others: no twine, no containers, no matches. Definitely no steel, no brass, no bronze; you can make those yourself. (As a special concession, take some flint knives and the clothes you are wearing.) Your very life would be at risk.

I spent a few years living in an urban commune with a dozen-odd other people, or was it a dozen other odd people? One of the things that intrigued me was the way that questions about how to organize society were reflected in the group. Are maintenance costs shared equally, or is income taken into account? Who makes these decisions? What happens when someone doesn’t pay their share? Similar parallels arose about shared cooking, food choices, cleaning standards, shared vs. private space, shared vs. private ownership, etc.

The discussion in the house, as with society, is about the balance between the individual and the group, and the same question can be asked of a relationship when it is seen as a group of two, rather than just two individuals.


The way forward with this question, whether in society, a commune or a relationship, is by looking at identity. You may think that the answer is straight-forward – everything bounded by your skin, and labeled by your picture ID, with consciousness as the hermit crab in the skull. But everything is part of something bigger: atoms are part of molecules, cells are part of muscles, and you are part of your family, your country, your sports team, your political brethren and your church.

The way to escape the bars of your individual identity is to change the question from “Who am I?” to “What am I? This allows you to see your relationship not as a struggle of two individuals with competing interests, but as a group, a cooperative with complementary skills. This assumes that your core values are aligned, of course.


This has been an intellectual ride through several ideas, but the way to use this is not mental, but visceral. Close your eyes and explore what you are – your profession, your nationality, your gender, your relationship. Feel these in your body. You are more than you think.

Tell your friends!

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