The Rewards of Finding Balance in a Relationship

Marriage Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft

Many times advice from a therapist is just good common sense. It can also be rooted in ancient wisdom passed down through various traditions, with a classic example being the Golden Rule.

Modern psychotherapy has much to offer that builds upon both common sense and received wisdom. For example, Assael Romanelli, Ph.D. in an article for Psychology Today, digs deep into the concept of “differentiation.” 

Rocks stacked in balance

“Differentiation refers to the process of cells naturally becoming more distinct and specialized as they evolve,” writes Romanelli. “As we evolve, we differentiate not only physically, but also emotionally and psychologically from our family of origin.

“There are two forces that pull us in a different direction in every relationship:

“Attachment/togetherness. The pull to be loved and belong. In this polarity, we might choose to minimize our personal preferences or dull our traits in order to be loved by our partner.

“Autonomy/individuality. The pull to be myself. This is who I am. Take it or leave it.

When someone is poorly differentiated, they usually find themselves in one of those forces. It is an either/or reality: Either be myself or be close to the other.

“Differentiation is the ability to balance the autonomy and the attachment so it is not an either/or. The more differentiated you become, the closer these two forces become. Essentially, it is the ability to be connected to your thoughts, values, and feelings, while also being close to someone, especially when that person is very important to you. Alternatively, it could be defined as being close without being reactive. I like to define differentiation as simply being ‘big and together.’ ”

Gaining a true understanding of differentiation and its effect on the potential for a deeper relationship with another — especially with a lifelong partner — can yield life-changing benefits.

If you are interested in investing some time and energy — because this is work — in understanding differentiation and applying its concepts to a relationship you are in, then I encourage you to read Romanelli’s full article here.