I’ve just left a woman i love. i miss her and love her and she is my best friend. I know its the right thing to do although not being totally sure as to why. i feel the we both have attachment issues and to really be with each other we need to learn to not need each other. I’m having difficulty actually separating myself from her and yet know that things cant go on as they are. i don’t know how to have that sense of detachment required in a relationship yet still be with someone. is it possible? how is it done? Any insights?
- ‘Anne’ is the pseudonym for the individual who writes this relationship advice column.
- ‘Anne’ bases her responses on her personal experiences and not on professional training or study. She does not represent herself to be a psychologist, therapist, counselor or professional helper of any sort. Her responses are offered from the perspective of a friend or mentor only.
- Anne intends her responses to provide general information to the readership of this website; answers should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s).
- Questions submitted to this column are not guaranteed to receive responses.
- No correspondence takes place.
- No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by ‘Anne’ to people submitting questions.
- ‘Anne’, Mental Help Net and CenterSite, LLC make no warranties, express or implied, about the information presented in this column. ‘Anne’ and Mental Help Net disclaim any and all merchantability or warranty of fitness for a particular purpose or liability in connection with the use or misuse of this service.
- Always consult with your psychotherapist, physician, or psychiatrist first before changing any aspect of your treatment regimen. Do not stop your medication or change the dose of your medication without first consulting with your physician.
Relationships are defined by interaction between two people. When two people create a committed relationship with one another, they start using words like “we” and “us”, indicating that they now consider themselves a pair. In joining this pair, each participant gives up something of their independent identity. They are now a part of something bigger than themselves, and to one extend or another, come to depend on that other being there in order to feel normal. This can be terrifying (because to the extent you need another person to feel you are whole, you are dependent on that person), and also thrilling (because merging your sense of identity in with others to form a group or pair can be really reinforcing; meaning that new opportunities for stimulation and meaning are created that aren’t possible if you remain alone).
It’s hard being part of a pair, however. People want different things at different times, and understand the meaning of things differently. Partners must adjust to the needs of their partners, and must find ways to compromise with each other or the partnership won’t work. This adjustment process requires that a sort of ongoing balancing act take place between each individual’s needs and the needs of their partner; between “What is best for me” and “What is best for us”; between an independent sense of self, and a dependent sense of self. People who are able to pull off this balancing act can be said to be inter-dependent; to have kept the best of both independent and dependent identities alive. This balance requires assertiveness and resolve as well as humbleness and perspective. It can be very hard to make happen, but a number of people do pull it off. It is quite possible, if not necessarily easy.
Many partners fail to maintain inter-dependence, and instead fall into either dependence (sometimes called enmeshment) or independence (sometimes called detachment). Too much dependence can leave you at the literal mercy of the partner (a very bad position to be in if the partner is at all unstable); it can burn you out and leave you feeling resentful. Too much independence and the relationship falls apart too (there being nothing to hold it together).
I can’t tell you how to find the balance; it is really a very personal thing that each person has to figure out for themselves. I can point out a few ingredients that seem to be more or less necessary to help the balance process work out, however.
Self-confidence – You have to go into the relationship feeling comfortable in your own skin. Without this being the case, you’re setting yourself up for feeling dependent. You gain in self-confidence by taking reasonable risks and accepting life challenges and then learning over time that you are capable of recovering from the inevitable failures that result.
Assertiveness – You have to understand what you need for yourself, and be willing to defend yourself when your partner steps on you, however inadvertently. In doing so, however, you go only so far as is necessary to defend yourself. You do not go on the offensive attack.
Empathy – You need to understand that your partner is as fully human and hurtable as yourself, and to therefore treat them according to the golden rule (doing to others as you would have them do to you). You need to have a basic respect for their worth as an individual rather than as an object. You need to be able to respond to their emotions when they happen.
Humbleness – you need to understand that you are not more special than your partner. Additionally, you need to understand that your partner is not any more special than you.
There are other components, I’m sure, but I think these summarize the things to shoot for. I hope this helps.