A common combination that we see in many relationships is one in which one partner tends towards more of a relationship-focus, and with a strong preference for togetherness, and although there is a wide-spread belief that in heterosexual relationships, that is generally the woman, we’ve found a great many exceptions to that “rule”.
When the other partner has the opposite tendency, that is to seek out a greater degree of distance or solitude rather than connection, when overstressed, things can become strained and conflict can arise between them if one or both partners judge the other and attempts to coerce or shame him or her into compliance. This is more likely to occur if there is a tendency to view the other’s behavior as wrong or defective, rather than to appreciate the relationship’s need for more balance.
There are three sets of needs in any relationship.
The needs of each individual, and the needs of the relationship. If any of these needs are neglected or unmet, an imbalance or disequilibrium will occur, causing both partners distress. Successful relationships require a willingness on the part of both partners to at times forego their personal preferences in favor of the well-being of the other or of the relationship itself.
For this reason, when one person “wins” an argument by outwitting, intimidating, or out-lasting the other, the “loser’s” hurt or angry feelings will bleed into the relationship in a way that diminishes the “winner’s” “victory”. This is the basis of the claim that there are no winners when couples fight, unless they both come away satisfied with the outcome of the interaction.
The ability to recognize the positive contribution that one’s partner makes to the needs of the relationship, rather than holding the perspective that they are the cause of the “problem” is the core variable that determines whether the couple is headed for disaster or for greater mutual fulfillment.
When these two positions are present to the extreme (isolation or co-dependence) it’s often the case that they are polarizing each other by their reactions and counter-reactions and solidifying the relationship into an entrenched impasse.
At these times, each partner is challenged to do his own work, which is for the person with the low need for connection to soften her boundaries and gradually allow for increasing degrees of emotionally intimate time to enter into the relationship.
This process will be greatly facilitated when she feels trusting that she has the power to influence or even determine the rate and degree to which the connection process unfolds. For the person who seeks greater connection, his challenge is practice compassion, patience, and acceptance. The object of doing one’s own work is to create a greater internal balance between the impulse to individuate and the desire to connect and merge.
When we see that we have the perfect partner for helping us to become more familiar with this unfamiliar territory with which we have had less experience than that which is more familiar to us, we can become more appreciative of the gifts that the other is bringing to the relationship and to us personally.