This is the second post in a three-part series about sex and differentiation of self in relationships. If you missed the first post, about the phases relationships go through, and how that development can get stuck, check it out here.
Think about those exciting early days at the beginning of a relationship. All the hormones and novelty work together to ease much potential distress around sex. This is a stage where we don’t generally see our partner very clearly. We see all the things we agree about and love about them, based on quite limited experience from a few dates, or a few months together. Then we invent the other 98% to support the story that they are perfect for us. We see the best in one another, and see how much we can change ourselves to be as much alike as possible. This phase is called symbiosis. Over time, the new relationship energy starts to fade, time goes by, and at some point we look around and realize “they’re not who I thought they were”. We start to notice we have differences, and some of them are big. Some are huge. Who IS this person?? This is the beginning of a natural transition from symbiosis to differentiation.
You (or your client) can set yourself up for an easier transition from one stage to the next. If you know that in past relationships you’ve tended to lose yourself in your partner, setting aside your own interests or habits for theirs, and becoming dependent on their approval or attention, this is valuable information to take into future relationships. You can get better at holding on to what makes you a unique and separate person from your partner without losing the joy and intimacy of a loving partnership–in fact, that joy and intimacy will only be heightened, ultimately, by the vulnerability you can find in welcoming your partner into the truth of your innermost self. Here are a few important steps you can take to prevent getting stuck:
- Don’t tell “kind untruths” like “I always had an orgasm with you” or “I never use a vibrator” or “I only think of you when I fantasize”. Any kindly-meant bending or breaking of the truth will certainly come back to bite you later on, and when it does, it will seriously undermine or destroy your partner’s trust in you.
- There is nothing wrong with seeking to grow as a person, but don’t give yourself up to your partner entirely. Grow to be more the person you want to be, not simply more the person you partner wants you to be.
- Don’t give up any parts of yourself that are a major part of the “juiciness” of your life, like independence, career aspirations, major life goals. The healthy business of the symbiotic stage of your relationship is to bond and stabilize, but if you take it too far and eliminate all of the things that are most important to you, you will find yourself without a sexual spark later on. Ask yourself (or your client):
- When do I feel alive?
- When do I experience joy?
- If I stopped doing _____, would I miss it five years from now? Ten?
When you answer these questions you must go further than “when I’m with my partner”. Get down to an answer that is just about you.
The things that make you feel alive are the things you must keep. In fact, they’re probably the things your partner was attracted to in the first place. Unless you want to feel flat in 5 years, prioritize those things. This creates a foundation for a relationship that has room for you to be happy!
In my next post, I’ll zero in on some reasons couples struggle when moving from symbiosis toward differentiation. I’ll talk about the Big Choice couples are faced with, between the path of differentiation (risk) and the path of assimilation (safety).