It’s that time…time to go back to the deserted island to build a beautiful home with your partner, now that you have worked together to clear the “debris” from the beach. For those of you who missed the first part in this series a few weeks ago, here is the link to that post. 

The cleared space on the beach in front of you holds nothing but potential. Potential for a life and a home built to weather life’s storms together. As any good architect knows, a solid foundation is the key to building a strong house. For our purposes here, we will delve into the idea of building lasting strength in relationships through the concept of differentiation. People want to be accepted for who they are AND loved for exactly that at the same time. A differentiated relationship consists of individuals who love and accept their own parts as well as those of their partner’s, without trying to change the other person. 

Human beings are complex creatures, who bring with them a lifetime of experiences, thoughts and feelings wherever they go. These various experiences and feelings show up in our lives and in our relationships as different parts of ourselves–parts that simply seek to be heard, understood and loved with compassion. Naturally, we want others, most especially our loved ones, to demonstrate not only love for us but acceptance of all parts of ourselves. 

The question is, how does one create differentiation in a relationship? Just like we are told in an aircraft to first put on our own air mask before that of a child, we must first learn to love and accept our own parts before we can expect that of anyone else in our lives. The work begins with each individual discovering and learning more about themselves and how they show up in the world. Facing past traumas, healing old wounds, understanding our reactions to life’s challenges–this is how we begin to grow the love and compassion for ourselves. 

Once we have embarked on the journey toward self-love and understanding, then we can shape how we interact with those closest to us. For example, imagine that you and your partner attended a party and you disagreed about something that occurred there that left one of you feeling hurt. In an undifferentiated relationship, you both would be stuck in a power struggle trying to convince the other person that the way you saw what happened is right and that the other person was wrong. In a differentiated relationship, however, both partners are allowed to have their narrative and perspective and each partner can find a place to empathize or show compassion towards the other. Most importantly, this exchange is about understanding and compassion rather than convincing the other person to agree with your perspective. Differentiation allows each person to stand grounded in who they are and not feel that they need to change their essence in order to keep the relationship intact.

We all come into every relationship with a whole world lived without that other person. Varied experiences, adventures and even sometimes traumas. This is what makes each of us so unique and amazing. When two people give space for the other to show up with their own perspectives and opinions, in reality, this makes for a richer relationship. We don’t need to spend our time convincing anyone of our truth because it’s OUR truth, not THEIRS. 

A foundation that is built between two people who can acknowledge, understand, own and accept all parts of themselves and the other, is a foundation that is built to last. This type of foundation allows both individuals to show up in the world as they are and know that they will be loved deeply not in spite of how they show up but rather because of it.

Be sure to check out my next blog which will look at how to work together to construct a home that feels safe, secure and loving to both individuals. 

Suri Piro, MSW, provides couple, family, and individual therapy virtually to those located in the State of Maryland. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Suri!