In search of a balanced relationship
Attachment and autonomy are different sides of the same coin. When we feel safe in relationship we are more able to explore our unique selves without anxiety. A tension often exists between the desire for connection and the push towards individual development and self fulfillment. Effective therapy takes into account the importance of both attachment and differentiation when supporting couples.
For many couples, attachment occurs easily at the beginning, but sustaining it is difficult. Developing an understanding of each partner's attachment style can create safety so that bonding and intimacy thrives. Differentiation is also essential to maintain the growth and vitality of the relationship, but it is often perceived by partners as rejection/abandonment. Partners can regress into hostile-dependent or conflict-avoidant patterns, and become stuck in their relationships.
While attachment is now largely recognised as a primary focus for intervention in couples therapy, the developmental model of couples therapy, developed by Ellyn and Peter Bader, has bought into focus how differentiation of self is also important for individual growth. I think this quote by Sobonfu Some encapsulates the importance of defining ourselves whilst remaining connected in relationships:
"Intimacy is a song of spirit inviting two people to come and share their spirit together. It is a song no one can resist. We hear it while awake, when sleeping, whether in community or alone. We cannot ignore it. Staying only in romance means hiding our true selves in order to gain acceptance. It begins with doing every little thing for our partner, neglecting our true feelings. Until we reach a point of serious depletion. Before we can communicate in deeper states of intimacy, we must address the subtle things our partner has done that we don’t like. Because of some rule of gentility, we tend not to respond to them and they pile up. Our thoughts take us to places of uncertainty and the postponement of confrontation, and then we become very passive and relationships become boring. It is fine to be polite, but where is the place for us to speak about our hopes, frustrations and disappointments?"