How to Honor Both Closeness and Space in Your Relationship

How to Honor Both Closeness and Space in Your Relationship

PHIL: We live in two worlds. One is our life together. Each evening we retire early to watch Netflix, do the New York Times crossword, play word games and chill. We call this our sacred space. Each week we write and assemble this blog. We’re looking forward to again taking overnight trips up the coast.

The other world is our individual, separate lives. Maude has returned to selling lace and linen on eBay. I dabble in software and muse about entropy.

But these two worlds are not in opposition. There is no pressure to spend more time in one or the other. There is no sense of loss or alienation or separation when we’re apart, and no sense of claustrophobia when we’re together, because we are able to flow effortlessly between the two states. This can happen because we never feel disconnected.

It arises from a deep trust and commitment to each other, but we think those in turn come from the way we leave each other alone to do their own thing.

It also comes from a sense that the relationship is an entity that exists above and beyond our individual selves. Most people, in the West at least, think of themselves as individuals and identify with their body, their thoughts and feelings, but if you ask the question “What am I?” instead of Who am I?”, it’s easier to see that you also identify with larger groupings like family, sports fan, profession and culture. By taking this view, it is easier to accept that a relationship has its own existence over and above yours, and you can experience both at the same time.

This awareness is what we mean when we say we never feel disconnected from each other. You can achieve the same by seeing the commitment you have for each other as the house in which you both live. It keeps you warm and dry even when you are separated. The larger your commitment, the more rooms in your mansion, and you can feel connected, even when you are both in opposite wings.

We live in two worlds. One is our life together. The other is our individual, separate lives Click To TweetMAUDE: We have a practice of honoring each other’s unique and separate individuality that is a central part of our relationship. We each have deeply fulfilled individual lives with interests and passions that do not include the other that we pursue separately in full comfort and assurance that this poses no threat to our relationship.

At the same time, we spend a regular amount of time together, working and sharing. We stop all activities at a certain point every evening and spend hours together doing a variety of activities. We write a blog together every week (for more than ten years now) which takes about two days time, spread out over a few days. We take time away from our usual environment and delight in being together on adventures.

With the recognition and acceptance of our separateness and difference has come a deep sense of our connectedness. This practice has grown out of our trust and commitment to each other and it has given rise to an almost magical and unexpected experience. We are at the same time fully distinct individuals and loving partners.

This way of being together creates a deep peace inside each of us and brings with it the paradoxical sense of never being separated while each of us often goes our own way with daily activities. Perhaps this is in part due to the lack of estrangement, the lack of any sense of distance or of one of us withdrawing from the other.

The ‘we’ that is the two of us together is always there; not as a thought or a distraction, but as a still rock in a flowing stream, buoying each of us up without calling attention to itself. This way of being together promotes the growth of each of the parts, while taking nothing away from the whole.

How can you get to a place like the one we describe? It requires both commitment and trust, both intention and belief. Out of the practice of truly accepting the separate uniqueness of the other and of honoring and respecting that difference, the whole and the parts flourish. When you put aside the preconceptions and specifics of how this should look, you can live in the present with the grace of what grows there.

The same can be applied to all relationships and to the greater groups of relationships; to the community and to humanity. When we proceed without fear of loss and separation, we become closer in a deeper form of recognition of our connections.


Photo credit: Phil Mayes

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