To Differentiate or Not To, that is the question.

“What do you want to do?” or “Sure honey, but what do you think about it?” Have you ever tried to encourage a friend by reminding them of all the great ideas or qualities they have, just to have each of your reasonable suggestions or compliments met with all the ways their current love-interest has convinced them otherwise?

Somehow the characteristics you know to be their greatest strengths just don’t seem to be in the forefront or even noticed in their present relationship? “Yeah, but Kim says I need to work harder at becoming a manager rather than staying in the technical field.”  “But sweetie you are beautiful!” is met with, “Mmm…John says I’m fat… I really could stand to lose a few pounds.”

Undifferentiated couples seem to see their partners as the cause of either all of their dismay or all of their happiness.  Whenever you talk to them, their joy or their frustration is always based on the latest developments in their intimate relationship. If she’s in a bad mood, then he’s walking on eggshells.  If he says something she doesn’t like, it completely ruins her day.

They are consistently frustrated by and sensitive to their partners’ behavior or attitudes, yet they have very few other interests or friendships apart from them.  “Man, if she would just stop (insert triggering behavior here) …we could be really great together.”

They blame themselves or take responsibility for the way their partners feel.  If he doesn’t like the new hairstyle she chose, she changes it back and never tries a new style again.  When she continuously complains and starts pointless fights, he consistently tries to finds ways to break the ice and make her laugh.

They find it difficult to say what they want aside from their partner’s desires “Well, thanks for the invitation, but Bill doesn’t really like to go out, you know, so, we just mostly stay home.”  According to Dr. Ellyn Bader, founder of The Couple Institute, these are the typical ways you can tell a couple is undifferentiated.

Differentiation is defined as the process of making or becoming different via the process of growth or development.  Differentiation is a key component of Imago Relationship Therapy; it allows couples to realize their separateness without disconnecting.  Differentiation is facilitated through the Imago Dialogue; by deeply listening to our partners and mirroring back what they say, we begin to recognize our partners’ difference while we stay connected to them.

Differentiated couples are curious about, rather than constantly triggered by, one another’s feelings. They are okay with differences, and they can tolerate the tough emotions long enough to resolve conflicts and find solutions they can both accept.

Need help finding ways to identify and express your wants and needs in your relationship in healthy ways?  Wish you could remember all the unique qualities that were so apparent when you first fell in love with your partner?  Want to get off the relationship rollercoaster that seems to have consumed your emotional life?  Contact an Imago Relationship Therapist at the Imago Center of Washington DC today.