When Separation Helps a Marriage


There are times when the bonds of matrimony are too close. Instead of creating emotional connection and mutual respect, couples are locked into a feeling of oneness in the relationship to avoid identifying and expressing their own individual needs. They often feel frustrated when these needs are unmet. They depend on each other to regulate their own emotional states and avoid taking personal responsibility for what they need. In a state of “marital oneness” couples cannot work through the personal traumas that make them feel unsafe in their relationships. They blame each other or get angry instead. Couples come into therapy feeling alienated from each other. They are surprised when I tell them they are actually too close.


Separation is always fraught with anxiety. As children, we had to separate from our parents to find our own individual identity separate from our family. If separation was traumatic as a child, there will be a tendency in married life to seek oneness in your marriage to avoid repeating the trauma of separation. Dependency becomes a substitute for personal growth.


Many couples confuse oneness with intimacy. Intimacy is a feeling of safety and trust that you can be your true self and be heard by your partner. Oneness is fear that you cannot be yourself and your voice will not be heard. In oneness, the message is “give me what I need so I don’t have to ask for it” or “I won’t ask for what I need because you won’t give it ”. In either case, the emphasis is on the other to satisfy/deny your needs without having to state them directly. The result is conflict and unhappiness.


In therapy, partners are encouraged to take a step back from their relationship, and focus on themselves. They identify unmet needs and communicate their needs to each other without blame, anger or expectations.. The aim is to achieve understanding of each person’s individual situation. For example, a spouse who complains that her husband doesn’t listen to her is encouraged to express her need to be heard and convey the pain of his inattention. She will have to confront herself and reflect upon the way she tries to communicate before asking him to comply.


A husband who complains that his wife is critical will state directly how her criticism makes him feel about himself and their relationship. He will be encouraged to look within to see if there is some truth to her criticism before his wife is asked to change.


This technique is useful to help couples disentangle from oneness that is actually causing much of their conflict and enable each to see themselves and each other more clearly and truthfully. Dependency keeps couples in a cycle of blame, control and retaliation. When partners separate and find their own individual voice, they can turn to their partner for understanding and recognition, which puts them on the road to real emotional intimacy and not locked in old patterns of insecurity and dependency.

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