Balancing Togetherness and
Mutuality is one of the
most important aspects of marriage success. But how do you become
part of a couple while maintaining a strong sense of yourself? How
do you manage your need for time together and time apart? And what
do you do if you and your partner have different ideas of how much
time to spend together? How much time together is enough? Is there
such a thing as too much togetherness? Is there a way to maintain
closeness even when your work life is especially demanding of your
time and attention, perhaps including prolonged separations?
Obviously, these are
questions without simple answers, but research on successful marriage
indicates that one key is to find the middle ground. According to
David Olsen, couples who are neither too separate from one another,
nor overly involved with one another are in the best position to
succeed. Moderate levels of closeness are optimal. Very low or high
levels of autonomy in marriage work less well. By the way, the same
model applies to your relationships with your families of origin-being
neither too close, nor overly distant works best.
In fact, we
learn our patterns of togetherness and individuality in our families
of origin. Different families have different styles. Some families
emphasize closeness, while others accentuate individual needs and
activities. Your partner will have different expectations shaped
by their family experience, so you may have to find a new balance.
Itís common for couples
to struggle over finding the "right" balance of time spent
together and apart, as well as what level of closeness to maintain
with oneís original family. However, your aim should be to find
a cooperative rather than adversarial way to engage in this essential
find it challenges them both personally to make changes in style
as they both steer for the middle ground by moderating extreme togetherness
or autonomy. This is true whether you are both from similar positions
on the closeness Ďscaleí or from different ends of the scale. Itís
definitely worth the effort to find a path that works for both of
you as a couple and for each individually, though. This is part
of establishing a new identity as a member of unique partnership
that wonít be exactly like your familyís or your partnerís family
or that of any previous relationship.
One important aspect
of individuality involves relationships outside of your marriage.
Women are more inclined to rely on friends or relatives, in addition
to their partner, for emotional support. Men, on the other hand,
tend to rely more on their partner for most of their support. So
women sometimes run the risk that their partner may be upset by
their degree of involvement with Ďoutsiders.í Men may not have sufficient
outside support during periods when their partner is less emotionally
that worked well for you previously may shift after marriage to
take account of new needs. For example, one person was accustomed
to going out on Friday nights out with co-workers to unwind, but
their partner wanted to spend Friday evenings together. You may
need more time for couples friends in your social schedule after
marriage, but will still want to maintain relationships with single
friends. Discuss social adjustments with your partner to work out
a balance thatís comfortable for both of you.
For most couples these
days the challenge is finding ways to stay close enough in the face
of work and other demands. Researchers like John Gottman tell us
that successful couples spend a minimum of 12 to 15 hours of non-sleep,
non-TV time together each week. Daily non-stress communication (even
just 10 minutes) to keep in touch with each otherís lives and other
daily bonding rituals also promotes your sense of togetherness.
apart, whether just for a portion of the day or for extended business
travel, how you keep in touch and how you get back together can
be more important that how much time you are separated. Successful
couples touch base with each other at least once or twice a day,
even if for just a few minutes.
They also make sure that
their reunion receives some attention. Make the time and effort
to renew your bond at the end of the day and at the end of the week.
Develop familiar rituals that you both enjoy for reconnecting. These
can be as simple as trading neck massages or enjoying a cocktail
together before the TV comes on.
Couples who use these
reconnecting strategies can tolerate more separation while still
remaining close to each other. Couples who donít reconnect can feel
isolated from each other, even with less separation. In other words,
itís not necessarily how much you are separated, but how you manage
keeping in touch and renewing your bond.
Decision-making is another
realm where the tension between individuality and togetherness can
be confusing for couples. If mutuality and teamwork are major factors
in marriage success and happiness, how much weight should you give
to your own needs and preferences relative to those of your partner?
With couples marrying
later, more people than ever spend a good many years living as singles
after leaving their family of origin. They become accustomed to
living according to their own preferences. The individualism of
American life is reinforced by advertising messages, employer expectations,
cultural values, etc.
The longer youíve been
living on your own, the more you mature and develop. Maturity is
obviously a plus for marriage success. But it also tends to increase
your differentiation from your partner. It becomes more of a challenge
to combine the lives of two highly individual people in your late
twenties, than your early twenties; even more so in your thirties;
and so on. In any case, few people believe that itís a healthy approach
to give up your individuality totally in marriage.
So, how to reconcile
this reality of two people with important individual needs and preferences
with the imperative to operate as a team in marriage?
First, be clear with
yourself and your partner about your own needs and wants (and understand
the difference between these), as well as, what you are will to
contribute to a solution.
Sometimes itís just a
question of getting used to talking with your partner about decisions
that affect you both. For example, before marriage people are accustomed
to making decisions about home décor independently. You may
find, however, that your partner will have an unexpected reaction
if a new painting or piece of furniture suddenly appears in your
home without prior consultation.
Obviously, being a team
doesnít mean that you have to agree about everything. It is important
to pick your battles though. You canít get your way about every
disagreement and pushing to do so can drive up your relationship
Experts recommend treating
differences, disagreements and individuality as a team matter to
be managed together. Agree to allow your partner to be different
in the ways that are most important to them. And insist on your
own need to be an individual, as well as a partner, when itís really
important to you.
Donít be tempted into
adversarial positions, just because you are different from each
other. Appreciate and nurture the healthy individuality of each
Talk together to work
out the zones of autonomy and zones of togetherness in your relationship:
For example, he loves fishing, but she doesn't share this interest.
So he has his fishing outings with friends. She takes advantage
of this time to pursue her passion for art, which he doesnít share,
by visiting museums and galleries with some of her friends.
Plan to keep your bond
strong by learning more about practical strategies to balance togetherness
and individuality that fit your relationship style and are comfortable
for both genders. Enhance your intimacy, communication and conflict
management skills at a Marriage Success Training seminar.
here for related reading and references list.
helps couples learn more about practical bonding strategies that
fit their relationship style and are comfortable for both genders.
Click here to learn about the benefits of MST.
2003-2005, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this
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