There’s this misconception among couples where one or both think they must give up their individuality (i.e. differentiation) to be together. Even if they don’t believe that to be true, they struggle with the idea that two beings becoming one can still remain two. “It’s not about me,” they think. “It’s about the relationship. How do I not lose myself and still be good to my partner and make the relationship good?”

You can be you but still be y’all. In fact, being the best me makes the best us.

Giving up your individuality to be together is as defeating in the long
run as giving up your relationship to maintain your individuality.

As we’ve learned over the last few blogs, personal change and growth are what God wants for us. Therefore, we must never stop growing and bettering ourselves — even when we feel an intense desire to invest everything into our relationship. And the quicker we open ourselves up and make change happen in our lives, the more connected marriage we will have.

* Parts of the information below are taken from David Schnarch’s book “Passionate Marriage”

Importance of differentiation

Differentiation is your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others — especially as they become increasingly important to you. Our desire for togetherness and to care for each other leads to connection, but true interdependence requires emotionally distinct people. It permits you to maintain your course, or “Journey,” when others pressure you to agree and conform. Well-differentiated people can agree without feeling like they are “losing themselves” and can disagree without feeling alienated and embittered. They can stay connected with people who disagree with them and still know “who they are.”

In terms of differentiation:

  • We become more uniquely ourselves by maintaining ourselves in relationships with those we love;
  • You can hold on to yourself while embracing your partner;
  • Spouses can balance the drive for individuality and the drive for togetherness;
  • There is the ability to maintain your sense of self (based on Truth) when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others-especially as they become close to you; whereas,
  • Desperately wanting your partner’s agreement, approval, validation, and acceptance in each area of a relationship leads to disappointment, conflict, and impossible expectations to live up to.

Differentiation involves balancing the drive for individuality and the drive for togetherness.


The process of Differentiation involves balancing connection and autonomy:




The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone

Brene’ Brown wrote in her book, Braving the Wilderness, that belonging is the human desire to be part of something larger than ourselves. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which is not only hollow substitutes for belonging but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

She goes on to say that the feeling of not belonging in our families is one of our most dangerous hurts because it has the power to break our heart, spirit, and sense of self-worth. When those things break, there are only three outcomes:

  • You live in constant pain and seek relief by numbing it and or inflicting it on others;
  • You deny your pain, and your denial ensures that you pass it on to those around you and down to your children; or
  • You find the courage to own the pain and develop a level of empathy and compassion for yourself and others that allows you to spot hurt in the world in a unique way.

Belonging means sometimes having to find the courage to stand alone. It is not something we achieve or accomplish with others; it’s something we carry in our hearts and entrust to God! He gives us our identity, and we are fully accepted and loved.

Brene’ says to truly belong is to:

  • Be intentional with people who are different from us
  • Sign up, join, and take a seat at the table
  • Learn how to listen, have hard conversations
  • Look for joy
  • Share pain
  • Be more curious than defensive, and
  • Seek moments of togetherness

All we are saying here is that it is possible to maintain your individuality and still be a couple. Being the best “me” still makes the best “us,” and those who embrace that mindset find that their relationship is even better because of it. Change is what God wants for us. We should want that for ourselves, too.

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