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October 6, 2015

Separately Together

Hal photo outside Feb2012Togetherness is a good thing. Separateness is a good thing. We need each in order to have a really great relationship, and they need to be balanced. Even more important is the ability to combine the two at the same time.” (John & Linda Friel, The 7 Best Things Happy Couples Do)

As a kid, I was fascinated by conjoined (“Siameze”) twins. I read stories in the Guinness record book, and I watched TV specials on the courageous families and doctors facing the challenges of separation surgery. These people faced unbelievable choices, and almost always (regardless of the outcome) came away with some sense of gratitude for the journey.

But none of them ever claimed that being conjoined was an ideal situation.

And yet, that is what is often promoted as the ideal relationship in marriage. Through our love songs, our family legacies, and even our best relationship experts, most of us end up with a vision for marriage that is simply not workable. After marriage, we’re supposed to be one, always on the same page. Your spouse is supposed to meet your needs and complete you. And us husbands, we’re even supposed to introduce our spouses as our “better halves!” You were an independent single person, but now that you’re married, you’re now simply half of a whole, needier than ever on someone else.

And, perhaps crudely, that’s why I consider my coaching work with couples as a kind of “separation surgery.” Couples need to hear that separation is a good thing. Individuality is a good thing. It’s not just okay—it’s vital to have some separate interests, opinions, positions, circles. That way when you are together with your spouse, it feels like a voluntary connection between two people facing each other, instead of a necessary attachment of two people joined at the hip.

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