Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City married herself because of a pair of shoes and Sue Sylvester did it in Glee. But actually in every marriage our relationship with ourselves is the one that sets the stage. The most important tools we need if we want to be deeply close with our spouses are all about the self.
Think about it, a relationship is between two people. First let’s get both people fully in the room. To be fully present in our marriages we have to develop a strong sense of self and robust self skills.
The good news is that one person can start and deeply impact the the marriage and life in general.
The idea that self differentiation is necessary for positive closeness was first developed by Murray Bowen, one of the parents of family therapy. Nowadays a sex therapist by the name of David Schnarch has also developed these ideas.
Are you differentiated? There’s no quiz here, but…
When your partner is being completely unreasonable, perhaps yelling at you or being otherwise offensive or demanding or generally intolerable: how do you react? If you are able to maintain calm while staying present or reconnecting afterwards this may be a sign of a high level of differentiation. If you become loud and offensive in return, if you anxiously try to please and placate or if you go away and stay away this may be a sign that you need to develop your self skills.
Notice that this is completely unrelated to the validity of your spouse’s behaviour. Part of your success may be letting your spouse know what is okay with you and what is not. But if your partner is losing it at the moment, this may be the time to calmly keep things safe and save the riot act for later.
Bowen talked about “solid self”, the part of a person that is stable and not negotiable no matter what another’s expectations are.
Schnarch gives us four practical aspects of differentiation including solid self, the ability to self soothe and nonreactive responding.
Working on your relationship with yourself is the key to taking advantage of marriage as the ultimate self-development program.
Marriage is the world’s best inner growth program. No matter what kind of marriage we have and what our satisfaction level is, if we choose to, we can use the supremely challenging experience of marriage to grow deeply. In the process we may well improve our marriages and we will certainly improve our lives.