Sonya Thomas lcsw

The Relationship Trajectory – Part 2

On to the next post in this series on the stages of healthy relationship development, from Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson.  This is where couples will often get stuck, gridlock, get into power struggles, and often separate, only to repeat the same pattern in their next relationship.  What they believe to be complaints about their partner’s behaviour, attitude, etc. is, in fact, rooted in a developmental arrest in one or both partner’s.  Read on.

Separation and Individuation Stage

In Mahler’s work, separation and individuation occurs through four sub-phases:

1. Differentiation

Differentiation in early childhood is defined as the stage where a child begins to recognize a boundary between “who am I” and “who you are.”

For couples, the differentiation stage is, by far, the most difficult. This is the stage in which partners begin to express their own thoughts, feelings, wishes, and desires, and listen to the other’s thoughts, feelings, wishes, and desires without attacking, blaming, or trying to overpower them. When differentiation is occurring smoothly and well, you’ll see partners who are able to manage their discomfort while grappling with their differences.

2.Practising or Individuation

In early childhood, the practising stage was described by Phyllis Greenacre as the child having a love affair with the world.”  Here, children begin developing the ability to propel themselves away from attachment figures and into the world.

As couples mature, this stage is where the “we” becomes smaller, and one or both partners becomes more focused on their individual development. They focus on what brings them self-esteem apart from the relationship itself. This can bring its own set of issues depending on how the previous stages have gone. Partners who successfully navigate this stage, or have a therapist to help them, emerge as two people with self-esteem that is not dependent on the relationship itself.

We will wrap up this introduction to the stages of a healthy relationship in our next post.  Until then, peace.