Robert Taibbi, discusses the need for individuation in a relationship — that sometimes not rocking the boat can have an adverse effect on a marriage.
Kim and Jack have been married for six years. While they’ve always gotten along, enjoyed each other’s company, and have had few big arguments, for the last few months they have simply been snipping and snapping at each other about admittedly little things. They both agree it’s time to call a truce, to lower the temperature. And so, they do — they each work hard to bite their tongues and tamper down their feelings. Essentially, they both are walking on eggshells.
While their intentions are good, namely, trying to change the climate, reduce the tension, and ideally try and have productive problem-solving conversations, there is a “but.” Their instincts are telling them to be more careful and cautious, but this often leads to using distance to avoid conflict — the tension is still in the air — and there is the danger of their moving into parallel, roommate-type lives.
The “but” is that there is often a bigger underlying issue driving their recent arguments: individuation. For couples who have been together for a number of years, where routines dominate a good portion of their daily lives, where they each have made more than several compromises over the years, they each reach a point where their everyday lives no longer represent who they are. Their everyday lives begin to feel watered down, stale. Over the years, their passions have been lost and their needs have changed. Understandably, and due to no one’s fault, they feel a bit stuck, a bit restless. They realize that over the years, important aspects of themselves have been left on the side of the road. There is now a psychological drive to reclaim those lost parts of themselves.
And so, they argue and squabble and bicker. It’s a bit of being fed up, of wanting more control, of being tired of compromising issues to death or giving in to keep the peace. No, they don’t want to sink into emotional brawls or break up. But in order to address their underlying needs, they need to do what is counter-intuitive: stop walking on eggshells and fight for what they want most.
Looking Deeper: How to do it
While Kim and Jack need to solve the issues they are bickering about, they also need to each look deeper and get bigger things on the table. Here’s how:
Stepping back means getting their heads out of their everyday world and survey the larger landscape of their relationship: What’s the state of the union? What’s missing most from their lives and their relationship? What do they as individuals need most from their lives right now?
Define their vision.
Next, they need to translate these needs, these missing parts of themselves into a clear vision. The key here is to go for the ideal — mentally crafting the ideal couple relationship, the ideal day/week. Setting priorities about how they each want to spend their time and energy individually and as a couple.
Here, Kim decides it’s time to throw herself more fully into her career or go back to school, or that she simply would like to have more sex. Here, Jack decides he needs to cultivate more friends or hobbies that he’s let go, or decides it’s time to have more kids. This is not a time to hold back — Kim dismissing the idea of school because she thinks Jack would worry about money, or Jack sidelining a hobby because he anticipates Kim resenting having less time as a couple. This is not time to water down your dreams and needs.
Now it’s time to begin talking. Kim and Jack plan a time that works for both of them when they are both sane — not late at night when they’re tired, preoccupied, or in a bad mood. Here they pretend they are at work having a staff meeting. They each present their visions and drill down into the concrete details: How would their everyday lives change if they were to have a baby, or if Kim went back to school, or even if Jack spent more time with friends? Look for win-win compromises rather than win-lose ones.
This is about individual empowerment, about renewing your relationship contract, about feeling heard and not dismissed, about working together as a team to cover each other’s back and helping both of you create the lives you both need to be happy. It’s about creating a vibrant, intimate, supportive relationship.
Step back, envision, speak up.