In every relationship; be it work, friends, a personal trainer, partners, children, even pets there is a bit of necessary change and sacrifice that each party must make. There are times that you will need to give up what you want, or a part of who you are to make the relationship work. The fine line to walk is finding what to sacrifice, and what to make sure to keep for yourself.
Many different couples counseling programs point to a concept called differentiation. Dr. David Snarch, the Gottmans, Imago, all of these work to help couples move through differentiation and navigate their relationship. When one person’s identity and the other person’s identity bump in to each other, difficulties arise. Instead of negotiating and finding a middle ground that both can work from, often one person willingly sacrifices, or a partner demands a sacrifice (intentionally or not) and the identity of one is pushed aside. This doesn’t just happen with partnerships, but in friendships, at work, in all the places mentioned above.
When you find that you are losing yourself start by working to answer some questions. First, what is your dream? Have you clearly identified what you want to have happen, what you wish or need? If you aren’t able to clearly identify this to yourself then it can’t be expected for your boss, your dog, your friend or your partner to know what you want or need either. Next, look at what about your dreams, wants, wishes or would-likes are important to you. Is there a fear, or a desire? Is there a story behind why they are important to you? The Gottmans found that examples of dreams are; a desire for a sense of freedom or peace, exploration of self, adventure, justice, honor or finding unity with one’s past. Others are having a sense of power, finding forgiveness, being able to relax, finishing something important, saying goodbye, or love. There are many stories behind dreams and wants. Be able to identify the story behind the want, wish or would-like. They create who you are.
Be able to identify the deeper purpose or goal in your dream or wish. What would your ideal situation be, if you could wave a magic wand and everything could be the way you need it to be? Is there a deeper purpose or goal? Is the purpose or goal something that can be met, is it realistic? For example; if you have young children the desire to go to the bathroom alone in peace, the dream of peeing in silence is a valid want and dream, but unfortunately unrealistic.
Look at the values or beliefs that lie behind the desire. Is there a fear of something bad happening if the desire or dream isn’t met? Self awareness about the desire, what it is, what it means to you, and what it means to you if it isn’t met is important. If you can’t quantify these things for yourself, then the people around you can’t know or understand them either.
The next thing to do is to understand that the whole process that I just put you through, identifying what you want, why you want it, what it means to you, etc; your partner, boss, dog all have the exact same thing. Within any conflict they all have a want or a fear with a story behind it, with values and meaning.
Then find the areas within your dream that you just cannot give up. And then find the places where are the areas in which you are flexible. What are your core feelings, the ones that just can’t be negotiated about the situation. And where do you have breathing room? This can be difficult if you have been in a tense situation in for a while. Even the breathing space becomes a hard line that just can’t be crossed, and there is no middle ground between the two parties when the fight has been going on and on. When you’ve engaged in the emotional equivilent of trench warfare for years, finding middle ground can be difficult. Find that middle ground.
If you know what their back story is, and why the situation is important to them and you still can’t find middle ground, then you are closer to parting ways. Be it your job, your dog, your partner, or your friends, if there is no middle ground without sacrificing your identity then it may be time to part ways. I had a dog that could not be left alone with my cats. I was told that I would come home to find a dead cat if I didn’t keep the dog contained and the cats separate. Well, my cats had been with me for over 10 years, so the new dog had to find a new home. The middle ground was a life with her in a cage at night and when we weren’t home, and the house divided to where she could be and the cats could be. It wasn’t OK. She wasn’t a bad dog, there was just no middle ground.
If you walk to the table with breathing room and a middle ground then you have a place to start. If you are able to walk to the table knowing what their frustration and back story is, and why it is important to them, then you are even further down the road. Ninety Percent of situations have a middle ground that can be found if you are willing to lay aside your ego, and they are willing to lay aside theirs to find that place where both of you can be OK. The ten Percent is heartbreaking because it doesn’t matter how much love there is, it can’t be found and neither person is at fault. Overall though, there is a middle ground. If you both follow the above recipe, then with patience and understanding you can find shared peace.