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Push, Pull, or Stuck - Finding Relationship Balance

If you feel like you and your partner are pushing or pulling in opposite directions or just stuck in a rut, you may find it helpful to reflect on your relationship relative to the three needs for security, intimacy, and autonomy.  Healthy relationships are balanced among these three.

When these three needs are met in a balanced way, you will notice that most decisions are made collaboratively.  Sometimes collaboration is simple and looks like letting your partner know what time you will be home that evening.  Larger collaborative decisions will address the balance of these three needs.  You and your partner may have very different ideas about what it looks like to meet these needs, but you don't let that throw you off.  You respect each other's differences and stick with the process until both of you are satisfied.  Your relationship to each need might look something like this:

SECURITY:  When security is trusted there is a sense that it is safe to be vulnerable.  There is a safe container in which to relax, that also supports going forth into exploration.

AUTONOMY:  When autonomy is trusted there is a sense of freedom, creativity, and engagement.  Each individual has a sense of self-confidence and wholeness.  You have space to consider your partner's needs, because you trust yourself to keep track of what's right for you.

INTIMACY:  When intimacy is trusted each partner can give and receive nurturing.  Both partners have a sense of ease in being authentic, caring, and close with each other.  When needed, partners can easily surrender themselves into each other's care.

When the balance triangle is skewed, collaborative decision making is much more rare and more difficult.  In it's place you see one of you pulling away in defensiveness and the other pushing for something with an attack or you both hunker down in a sense of resentful stuckness in which it doesn't feel safe to be close and it doesn't feel safe to follow your autonomy.

Your relationship to each need might contain one or more of the following dynamcis:

SECURITY:  When security isn't trusted there is a tendency to try to restrict movement (physical, emotional, or spiritual).  One partner may be perceived as controlling.  Taking a risk together is rare and you or your partner might feel bored.

AUTONOMY:  When autonomy isn't trusted, you find that either you or your partner are unwilling to commit to agreements that would create stability.  Either you or your partner may often break commitments by arriving late or forgetting to tell the other person about your change of plans.  Either you or your partner will avoid collaborative decision making  Either you or your partner will seem to value your own experience first even when it costs the other person's needs.

INTIMACY:  When intimacy isn't trusted, there is a tendency toward merging.  You both have difficulty knowing where the boundary is between you.  You hear yourself saying things like, "I don't know where I leave off and s/he begins."  or "We are so close it's like we are one mind."  This results in sense of hypervulnerability, in which much of what your partner does and says is perceived as a potential threat or criticism.  Also, since the boundaries are minimal you find that you often try to control each other, weighing in on each person's smallest decisions.  You are both wary of the impact of the other's behavior.

To start to undo these painful dynamics, you need to do the opposite of what your reactive habit tells you to do.  For example, if you are biased toward creating more security and your partner is biased toward autonomy, your impulse will be to fight her idea to ride her bike down the coast with her friends.  To create a healthy relationship with autonomy you realize that what she needs is to feel your support about the bike trip.  This doesn't mean you have to think that the bike trip is a good idea.  It means you can affirm the underlying needs for adventure, expression, community, etc.  Hearing your partner at this level gives her a sense of support.

Supporting your partner's need for autonomy also doesn't mean you give up needs for security or intimacy.  Rather than seeing these needs in competition, you begin to look for ways in which each can be met in it's own time and in it's own way.  I won't kid you, it will likely be difficult.  If you and your partner carry hurt around these needs being met at the cost of each other, or not met at all, it will take courage to risk trying a new way forward together.  And it will take time to build trust in collaboration.


Regardless of how you believe your relationship is balanced among these needs, take some time with your partner to reflect on this.  Set the intention not to blame or defend, but rather just to hear each other's experience of each need in the relationship.  If you both agree you are content and fulfilled with a sense of balanced relationship, take time to celebrate.  

If either or both of you would like to create more balance, come up with two or three simple do-able actions that you think might create more balance.  It will help you to avoid an argument about whose perception is most valid, if you can view this as an experiment rather than an exact science.

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