Finding and enduring autonomy in proximity 

Are you more of a closeness or distance type? Whatever your answer, this text is for you. Because one of the biggest challenges in relationships is finding a good balance between closeness and distance. Of course, how much you need of one thing or another depends on the individual. In any case, it is a plus for a partnership if you strengthen your mental ability to maintain your autonomy in sincere closeness to another person.

"Autonomy in intimacy" is a term used by couples and sex therapist David Schnarch in his Differentiation-Based Model (DBM) for couples therapy to describe a couple's ability to be emotionally close while remaining individually autonomous. This ability is an important part of his theory on how couples can have a healthy and fulfilling marriage or partnership.

Maintaining autonomy in closeness is the opposite of fusion or dependency in relationships. In a highly fused relationship, partners tend to give up their individual identity and their own needs in order to be close to the other. This can lead to the relationship becoming suffocating and individual autonomy being lost.

Maintaining individual identity and autonomy in a partnership, even when there is deep emotional closeness, means that each member of the relationship is able to preserve their own interests, values, needs and desires. At the same time, everyone is able to open up and connect emotionally in a respectful and supportive way.

The following aspects are important for this: 

  • Self-employment: Partners are able to make their own decisions and pursue their own interests without this jeopardizing their bond or closeness in the relationship. This also includes the partners giving each other the space to do so and not reacting with jealousy or emotional blackmail. 
  • Respect for individuality: Each partner respects and promotes the individuality of the other. There is recognition for the uniqueness and diversity of each partner.
  • Boundaries and autonomy: Partners are able to set clear boundaries without this leading to conflict or insecurity. These boundaries are respected and accepted without causing arguments.
  • Emotional connection: Despite the individual autonomy, there is a deep emotional connection and openness between the participants. They can strengthen and support each other and open up emotionally. They do not close themselves off in the event of a difference of opinion and both approach each other as soon as they are ready. 

Finding and sustaining autonomy in intimacy is a crucial aspect for the long-term well-being of a marriage or relationship. It allows partners to be close without suffocating each other, while promoting individual autonomy and growth for both people.

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