The liberating approach to life and love

January 17, 2008 at 9:44 pm | Posted in Differentiation | 3 Comments
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I’m not yet 100 pages into psychologist David Schnarch’s 1997 book, Passionate Marriage, but his philosophy about keeping love and intimacy alive in committed relationships is revolutionary. Whether you’re married or not, this text is packed with illuminating truth.

Take relational differentiation, for example. Schnarch defines differentiation as “the ability to maintain your sense of self when your partner is away or when you are not in a primary love relationship . . . the ability to balance individuality and togetherness.” If you’re well differentiated, you feel confident and able to speak and act freely when you’re with your significant other, when you’re separated from him/her, and when you have no significant other.

Regarding the development and expression of differentiation, Schnarch highlights two key elements to consider:

1. Most of us begin our adult lives at approximately the same level of differentiation as our parents.

2. We tend to select lovers and marriage partners who are near the same level of differentiation as we are.

Depending on your family of origin and the current state of your love life, those can be pretty sobering thoughts, right?

The good news is that we can become more differentiated over time through intentional and relationally-based effort. In fact, greater personal differentiation is one of the benefits of engaging with the Authentic Life process. It’s not an easy path but it’s the most liberating approach to life and love that I know.

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  1. Interesting article… I was talking to Tiffany (my girlfriend) about the issue of loosing one’s identity or not maintaining it at least while in a relationship after reading this. I remember when we first met although I was totally enamored I still was somewhat reluctant to get involved for this very reason. I was getting to a place with myself where I was very happy and I didn’t want to loose that. So my thought at the time was, “is it worth the risk?” After spending a little more than a year together I know it was the right choice to become involved and from the time we met I always felt like I could be myself. I told Tiffany this and it’s probably one of the reasons we work so well together. I do still try to be intentional about being myself. I think that is a necessary part of ones life whether in a relationship or not.

  2. I believe that learning to live in healthy (differentiated) intimate relationship with another person is the scariest, most challenging, yet most rewarding thing we can do as humans, Chris. I’m always in awe when I see two people, like you and Tiffany, who are seeking to be so intentional about doing it well.

  3. re: …one smile at a time

    Walking in the morning here in the neighborhood I try to catch the eye of those we meet, a kid from Troy, a mom with a stroller, a man with his dog, whatever…I don’t always get an eye in return ’cause we’re both moving along, but I hear the “hi” of my friends wolking behind me who got “my” smile. I think the result is the same. cps

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