Intimacy and Autonomy

I was preparing for a presentation recently on “self care in relationships.”  I came across a wonderful quote by John Welwood  in a book called “Love and Relationships: Inspirations for Meditation and Spiritual Growth” by Eileen Campbell.

One of the biggest challenges in relationships is the push/pull dynamic of intimacy vs. autonomy.  We want to be close to someone… yet we fear losing ourselves.  We pull away to establish more autonomy and then we long for the closeness.  This is what John Welwood says:

At the core of our existence, we all experience the basic ache of feeling separate.  We long to be united with someone or something outside of ourselves, so that we do not have to feel this ache so sharply.  So when we finally find someone we feel close to, it may seem like a kind of salvation – no longer must we wander this lonely world all by ourselves.  Yet in satisfying our urge to merge, it is all too easy to become submerged in a relationship, waking up one day to realize that we have lost something essential – ourself!

Relationships always involve this kind of fluctuation between bonding with another and maintaining our integrity as individuals, yielding to our partner and asserting ourselves, reaching out and going deep within.

How do we achieve this delicate balance?  How do we not lose ourselves in relationship?  This is a huge issue and one that is ideal to work on with a coach, a therapist or a counsellor.  All too often we repeat old patterns completely unaware of them until we are deeply mired in unhealthy behaviour.   Having someone with perspective can help us see when we are either losing ourselves or withdrawing too much.

To me, a healthy relationship is about having self-awareness and being able to communicate clearly what is going on with your partner.  This is how true intimacy is created – intimacy that thrives on healthy autonomy, not on losing yourself.

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