If you’re human, your insides immediately tighten and your defenses prepare for battle.
It’s a common occurrence.
Your spouse tells you what’s going on with them and you react.
The status quo is being threatened and while you may have grown tired of the relationship routine as well, your reaction is anything but open to their perspective.
Why is it that when an important person in our life (i.e. spouse) shares something and we disagree, it’s more likely to turn into World War 3 than a honest discussion?
It’s due to the fusion fantasy – or the belief that marriage is two people becoming one symbiotic entity. The Bible even alludes to this point…“and the two shall become one.”
While I understand this sentiment, the lens needs to be slightly adjusted.
Marriage is a symbiosis. But this relationship is not intended to produce happiness or wedded bliss.
It’s the mechanism to produce better people.
Marriage is a people growing machine. That’s the way it’s designed. The two becoming one concept in the Bible is more about the sexual union and creation of a family than each spouse giving up their individual identity and only being a married couple.
In order to get the most out of marriage, it’s necessary to have the proper view of what’s going on.
The natural conflict that occurs in marriage is part of the growing up process. It’s unrealistic to believe that you and your spouse are going to agree on everything. Finances, parenting, in-laws, the list goes on and on.
Often to avoid conflict in marriage it appears easier to accommodate your spouse, compromise, or avoid the tough topics altogether.
The problem this creates … conflict is inevitable.
There’s the old saying about being able to point out the married couple eating dinner in the crowded restaurant: they’re the ones not talking to each other.
The couple isn’t talking because they’ve already said everything there is to say, it’s more likely they don’t want to hear what the other person is thinking.
Deep down married people are trapped in a conundrum.
You want to know your spouse on a deeper level, to connect more and share more with them, but you open yourself up to not liking what they think or feel about something. To put it another way, you want a more expressive spouse, but want to control what they express.
In order to get closer to another person, you risk loosing yourself. Every person in marriage faces a continuum of separateness and togetherness. Me versus we. The desire to chart your own course in life and the desire to connect with them at the same time.
The psychobabble term for what you’re facing is differentiation.
It’s the ability to handle these two ends of the continuum without going to either extreme. Now this doesn’t mean you are able to remain balanced in the middle, differentiation means you are able to get close to another person AND keep a clear sense of self.
Differentiation is a term coined by Murray Bowen, who believed in a theoretical scale of human functioning from low to high. According to Bowen, there is no normal. He’s also quoted as saying “there’s a little schizophrenia in all of us.”
Bowen has also defined what it looks like on the upper and lower ends of the scale:
Lower differentiated people-
• Unable to separate feeling from thinking
• Reactive – emotionally driven
• Stuck together with or cut off from family and/or significant others
• Conform (chameleon) or rebel (bully) or Nice Guy (pleaser)
• Need to control functioning of Others
• Less flexible, less adaptable, more emotionally dependent
• Easily stressed into dysfunction, difficult to recover from dysfunction
• Inherit a high percentage of all human problems
• Life course determined by what feels right
Higher differentiated people-
• Able to access thinking in high anxiety
• Responsive – thoughtful consideration
• Connected with significant others while maintaining separate Self
• Self-defined, Self-validating
• Focused on control of Self functioning
• More flexible, more adaptable, more emotionally independent
• Cope better with life stresses, recover rapidly from stress induced dysfunction
• Remarkably free of human problems, lives are more orderly and successful
• Life course based on principled beliefs (Bowen, 1978)
Self assessment time – where are you on the differentiation scale?
Be honest. No rose colored glasses. And again, this is about you and your level, not your spouse.
About the Author
Corey is the main voice behind Simple Marriage and a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and a Licensed Professional Counselor. He has a Ph.D. in Family Therapy and maintains a private practice working with individuals and couples in McKinney, TX.