How to Be Both Together and Separate in Your Relationship

How to Be Both Together and Separate in Your Relationship

The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky. Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.

Here is an alternate translation of the above:

Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?), it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances. Only in this sense, as the task of working on themselves (“to hearken and to hammer day and night”), may young people use the love that is given to them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must still, for a long, long time, save and gather themselves); it is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives are as yet barely large enough.  Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.

The very concept of being together and separate is a cornerstone of our relationship. We used a section of the Rilke quote above in our wedding vows. It has been clear to us from the start that we both wanted to share the greatest of intimacy and at the same time support each other in our lives as independent autonomous people.

As clear as this has always been, we have grown and developed a much deeper understanding of what is required to live a life where deep sharing and individual personal progress are both supported and joyfully celebrated.

The concept of being together and at the same time being separate is a cornerstone of relationships Share on XThe key to this is the ABC of Acceptance, Balance and Communication.


For this sort of mutuality to exist there must be a kind of total acceptance, in which each partner rests secure in the other. When this acceptance is present you can rest in the knowledge that you will not be judged, attacked or manipulated. You know in fact that you will be celebrated and appreciated for who you are. This acceptance eliminates any fear of disapproval or any threat of withdrawal of affections. It offers support for your explorations of yourself and your path without any worries about agreement or explanations.

One of the things that we marvel at is that although we both pursue our individual lives and their separate expression, we never feel disconnected or estranged. We have forged such a deep bond through this experience of support and trust, that it goes with us everywhere, whether we are physically in the same place or not.


A critical part of achieving this type of loving flow between together and apart is to reach a balance of these states. Pay attention to the balance between your need to find your own destiny and the need for connection. This will be different for each partnership and will change over time as well. This is part of the grand adventure of living this type of love: keep redefining your time together, evaluate each of your needs in the present, and honor your bond with time and attention. Take time to be together no matter how busy you become in your private journey. Take time to be apart no matter how enticing that shared intimacy is.


The way to avoid getting lost in either part of this balance between self and union is to stay in the present together and communicate what is happening. Offer your partner both the freedom to fly and the security of connection. The simple act of talking with each other regularly will eliminate many an avoidable misunderstanding. Never take your partner for granted because things are so good between you that you instead put your mind to what isn’t working in your life. This is a mistake that we can all make too easily. Rejoice in your relationship and let it be your nourishment for all the mountains you need to climb in your personal work.

‘Me’, ‘you’ and ‘us’ are all parts of a successful relationship. Foster all the parts and the whole will be a bastion of renewal and life force.

Tell your friends!

6 Comments on “How to Be Both Together and Separate in Your Relationship

  1. Kathy said on Facebook: Maude and Phil – I just read your March 18 blog post. It’s so well written. You quote Rilke on marriage, which is intriguing because his message sounds so contemporary, although he died in 1926. Also, your podcast is crisp and clear – whatever recording tech you are using sounds really good. Great work.

    • Thank you so much for your feedback Kathy! The Rilke quote has always spoken to both of us and it was fun to find that second translation, which emphasizes different aspects of what he meant. It is often the case that one translation will understand different aspects than another.

  2. Samantha Dunaway Bryant said on Facebook “Good post! I continue to enjoy your blog posts and advice on relationships.”

    • So pleased that you are getting usable content from what we are sharing. That’s what it’s all about for us. Thank you!

  3. Mindy A Early wrote to us on facebook after reading this blog: Wonderful guidance! I had a few relationships early on when my partner got hurt or upset when I needed alone time – I always tried to explain that it’s how I recharge. With my husband, we both have always understood this need in each other and supported it. <3

    • Mindy, I am so happy that you have found a supportive relationship! The more we get to know ourselves, the easier it is to communicate that to our partners. You sound like you have already done that self work and so has your husband. Phil and I have also found that our connection is so strong that we do not feel separated (in the sense of being out of contact or estranged) when we are apart.

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