There are two important principles that every married person should know:
First, we emerge from our family of origin at about the highest level of differentiation our parents achieved. Our basic level of differentiation is pretty much established by adolescence and can remain at that level for life. In the process of regulating their own emotions, poorly differentiated parents pressure their children for togetherness or distance, which stops children from developing their ability to think, feel, and act for themselves. They learn to conduct themselves only in reaction to others.
Raising our level of differentiation is not easy. We can raise it through concentrated effort (like therapy) or crisis (as commonly occurs in the course of marriage, family, friendship, and career).
In general, though, the level of differentiation in a family tends to stay relatively the same from one generation to the next. It changes only when a family member is motivated to differentiate him or herself enough to rewrite the family's legacy. This reality differs from the popular belief that your spouse is supposed to pull you out of your family's grasp. Eventually, your partner's grasp seems most important to loosen.
Second, we always pick a marital partner who is at the same level of differentiation as we are. If partners are not at the same level of differentiation, the relationship usually breaks up early. Sometimes one partner is a half a step farther along than the other--but it is only a half-step. The fantasy that you are "much farther along" than your spourse is just that---a fantasy. If you and your partner argue over who's healthier or more evolved, you will be interested in three important implications:
- You have about the same tolerance for intimacy, although you may express it differently.
- You and your spouse make splendid sparring partners because you have roughly the same level of differentiation.
- Assume you are emotional "equals" even if you would like to believe otherwise. If you want to discover important but difficult truths hidden in your marriage, stop assuming you are more differentiated than your partner. Look at things from the view that you are at the same level and you will soon see the trade-offs in your relationship.
David Schnarch - Passionate Marriage