I’ve learned a lot about marriage over the last 15 years. Warren and I have certainly had our fair share of wonderful memories and milestones interlaced with difficult and trying times. I suspect this is true of most marriages.
As I reflect back on our relationship, I think one of the most powerful lessons I have learned is the importance of differentiation.
I’m sure many of you remember Murray Bowen’s concept of differentiation of self — which is the ability to maintain one’s sense of self within the context of a close relationship.
When I think about differentiation, my mind drifts back to a transformative moment I had during college. My high school boyfriend and I chose a college together, several hours from home. During my freshman year, he broke up with me and I was pretty devastated — it was my first true experience with heartbreak. Since we went to a small liberal arts college, word traveled fast and it wasn’t long before everyone knew about the breakup.
A few days later, I was sitting in class and my favorite professor, Dr. Magness, asked me to step outside for a moment. He said to me, “Rachel, I want you to always remember that one is a whole number. You are complete exactly as you are.”
His wise words have stayed with me ever since. It’s the very thing that helps me remember that my marriage is an important part of my life, but it is not my whole life. In fact, I would say the belief that Warren and I are both whole, autonomous individuals is one of the things that has helped us cultivate a healthy marriage.
Another thing that I like about the concept of differentiation is that it is accessible to everyone – regardless of relationship status. Believing that one is a whole number has inspired me to concentrate the bulk of my efforts on myself, rather than my relationships.
It helps me stay in tune with my needs, preferences, and boundaries, rather than searching for answers from a partner, friend, or family member. Ironically, I have found that cultivating my own sense of self has had a profoundly positive impact on the relationships I hold most dear.
I love being married to Warren, and I demonstrate this by staying in tune with my own wants and needs.
I am committed to my marriage, and I am even more so committed to myself.
I believe Dr. Magness’ words — that one is a whole number and I am complete just as I am.
I thought I’d share his words with you today, in case it is something that’s helpful for you to also hear.
I’m curious — do you have any wise words that help you cultivate a healthy relationship with yourself and others?
If so, I’d love to hear them!
Rachel McCrickard, LMFT