“I’m finding out new things about myself every day now that I’m single. When you’re in a relationship you simply can’t grow.”
I had no idea how to respond to this statement by a date at the time, but it seemed wrong. I had seen stagnancy happen, and it’s happened to me, but that this state was inevitable within a relationship seemed unlikely.
But I had no idea how exactly one avoided that fate.
A Belated Response
All these years later, this is my response: it depends on the relationship and whom you are with.
Relationships that are freeing/not constricting inspire a strong, almost unmovable sense of security, safety and warmth. It does not inspire concern that change or interruption or outside happenstance will end the relationship. Faith, hope and love abide.
And it is within this setting, this kind of relationship, that we become free, that we become fully ourselves. I enjoy solitude, but it is not our natural state. We are born embedded in a community, and embedded in a culture. Ideally both would be affirming, and that affirmation and attachment would allow the individual to flourish.
But for too many of us community is another word for conformity, and in the absence of love or real affection, we fall back on being alike as a way of connecting (or propagating the illusion of connection). But the irony is, the more we resort to conformity, the less satisfying and alive we ourselves and our relationships will be.
A sense of vitality comes from new experiences, new thoughts; from stimulation. From differences. It has been said that all thought springs from awareness of difference. I would add that all joy starts with difference as well. We think we want sameness, because it seems safe. Because we allow our fear to drown out our hope.
These secure, warm relationships are marked by both partner’s ability to make “I” statements; which reflects an environment in which opinions, preferences and desires are both owned by each and valued in the other. Further, there’s a distinct lack of emotional reactivity to each other and just in general. This likely reflects the strength of attachment they have and the firm sense of their own value, which they everyday see reflected in the actions and words of their partner.
Finally, good relationships, while accepting and not avoiding differences, also are marked by having a goal in common – in other words, looking in the same direction. If both partners are seeking growth (and define growth similarly) then that relationship cannot but be growth-promoting (as long as cooperation rather than competition is the primary theme).
Some sources/further reading:
- Gabelman, E. (2012). The Effects of Locus of Control and Differentiation of Self on Relationship Satisfaction.
- Ferreira, L. C., Narciso, I., & Novo, R. F. (2012). Intimacy, sexual desire and differentiation in couplehood: A theoretical and methodological review. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 38(3), 263-280.
- Manstead, A. S., Hewstone, M. E., Fiske, S. T., Hogg, M. A., Reis, H. T., & Semin, G. R. (1995). Self-Expansion theory. The Blackwell encyclopedia of social psychology. Blackwell Reference/Blackwell Publishers.
- Skowron, E. A., & Dendy, A. K. (2004). Differentiation of self and attachment in adulthood: Relational correlates of effortful control. Contemporary Family Therapy, 26(3), 337-357.
- Brassard, A., Péloquin, K., Dupuy, E., Wright, J., & Shaver, P. R. (2012). Romantic attachment insecurity predicts sexual dissatisfaction in couples seeking marital therapy. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 38(3), 245-262.[/white_box]
- Ferreira, L. C., Narciso, I., Novo, R. F., & Pereira, C. R. (2014). Predicting couple satisfaction: the role of differentiation of self, sexual desire and intimacy in heterosexual individuals. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 29(4), 390-404.
- Ferreira, L. C., Narciso, I., Novo, R. F., & Pereira, C. R. (2015). Partner’similarity in differentiation of self is associated with higher sexual desire: A quantitative dyadic study. Journal of sex & marital therapy, (just-accepted), 00-00.
- Ferreira, L. C., Fraenkel, P., Narciso, I., & Novo, R. (2015). Is committed desire intentional? A qualitative exploration of sexual desire and differentiation of self in couples. Family process, 54(2), 308-326.