I do not have to rely on your behavior or mood to determine my own. I can manage on my own, but I want to do it with you. Let’s talk about this idea called differentiation. The idea is that we are separate, distinct, unique and diverse from one another.
Notice the lack of neediness, but the willingness to be interdependent. One way this is expressed is by staying in our own lane. There are two life forces that will draw us towards and away from one another and from our selves. A helpful idea in the process of living and relationships is to stay in our own lane.
In my work as a couples’ therapist, I notice people are always wanting to know how to strike that beautiful balance between being fused (over-together) with one another and being cutoff (under-together) from the other.
One integral piece to this differentiated posture in important relationships is to not take your partner’s behavior personally. A challenge to this is that our partner’s choices, mood, behavior, and functioning can have deep impacts on us. This can range from mildly annoying, to inconveniencing, to downright disruptive.
How, then, do we get clear on where we end and our partner begins? One helpful idea is in the recognition that no matter how much we want to impact or change our partner, I have yet to see a time when someone’s anxious pressure produced the results of a sustained change in another person.
If we can get honest with ourselves that any move we’ve made to try to convince or convert our partner and shape their behavior costs us too much emotionally or even more likely simply had a reverse effect, then we can move toward being free. Free to let our partner make mistakes and figure out how to clean up the mess, free to move toward them and feel warm and connected, free to be curious about what we want for our own life.
Here’s the first step, ask yourself, “Who am I?” This will start the process of getting clear about who you are as a separate entity from the other. Then ask, “What do I want and where am I going?” The best way to support your partner’s change and growth is to get out of their space to get clear on who you are.
I want to say something that plenty of you will disagree with, so just try to calm down your inner voice that might chatter against this and hear me out. It’s okay for you and your partner to come to different conclusions on even big decisions.
This means it’s even alright to parent differently from one another. Yes, I’m pushing back against the idea of a united front. One of the best outcomes I see with parents who are free to be themselves and are being responsible and mature (but different from their partner) is that I see how it teaches children adaptability and freedom. So much energy gets spent in families with mom asking dad to “back me up!” or dad asking mom, “you’re too easy on him, you’ve got to get stern like me.”
The energy spent to try to get your partner to be more like you doesn’t tend to pay off.
What does tend to pay off is to send your kiddos to work out their issues in the relationship in which the tension developed. This means when child doesn’t like what dad does and then comes to mom to complain, it’s mom’s responsibility to say, “Sounds like that’s an issue between you and your dad.”
No need to manage a relationship that doesn’t belong to you!
Instead of spending time trying to compensate for the way you fear your partner is messing up (too much coddling, too rigid, overbearing, disconnected), pay attention to what you want to be responsible to and have the inner accountability to follow through with it.