Differentiation and why it matters – Maria Mead

A crucial stage of development in any relationship is also known as Differentiation.    Often, couples who come in to therapy have become stuck at this stage of their development.

 So, what is Differentiation and why does it matter?

Just as you need both inhaling and exhaling, couples function best when we are able to enjoy both bonding (inhaling) and being separate (exhaling).  Marriages that work well are those that are in a rhythmic routine of bonding and being separate, and each spouse is comfortable with both.

Partners need a sense of security in order to view separation as something to be encouraged, valued, and promoted. The more secure their attachment to each other, the easier it is for spouses to allow each other space within the relationship—space to breathe and the freedom to be different—without it triggering fear and anxiety.  In fact, allowing and encouraging our spouses to move away for short periods often brings them back more refreshed than if they had stayed in constant contact.

When couples are able to move successfully through the Differentiation phase they can go on to:-

  • Re-establish their own identity and self-esteem by focusing on interests and activities outside of relationship.
  • Focus on careers, hobbies, friendships, travel, or being alone.
  • Negotiate space and distance, time together and time apart.
  • Reconcile conflicting interests.

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