*David Schnarch, PhD in his book, Passionate Marriage discusses a concept called “Differentiation”. If you can get, I mean really get – understand and internalize this concept – your life will be forever changed.

Differentiation involves balancing two basic life forces: the drive for individuality and the drive for togetherness. Individuality propels us to follow our own directives, to be on our own, to create a unique identity. Togetherness pushes us to follow the directives of others, to be part of the group.

When these two life forces for individuality and togetherness are expressed in balanced, healthy ways, the result is a meaningful relationship that doesn’t deteriorate into emotional fusion. Giving up your individuality to be together is as defeating in the long run as giving up your relationship to maintain your individuality.

Differentiation is your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others – especially as they become increasingly more important to you. Differentiation permits you to maintain your own course when lovers, friends, and family pressure you to agree and conform.

Well-differentiated people can agree without feeling like they are “losing themselves,” and can disagree without feeling alienated and embittered. They can stay connected with people who disagree with them and still “know who they are.” They don’t have to leave the situation to hold on to their sense of self.

Differentiation is the ability to maintain your sense of self when your partner is away or when you are not in a primary love relationship. You value contact, but you don’t fall apart when you are alone.

Differentiation doesn’t involve any lack of feelings or emotions. You can connect with your partner without fear of being swept up in his or her emotions.

The self-determination of differentiation doesn’t imply selfishness. Differentiation is not about always putting yourself ahead of everyone else. You can choose to be guided by your partner’s best interests, even at the price of your individual agenda. But it doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re being ruled by other’s needs.

Schnarch also talks about Intimacy in a way I have never seen it explained:

Intimacy is the two-prong process of confronting yourself and self-disclosing to your partner. It isn’t merely self-disclosure. Disclosing familiar and comfortable parts of yourself doesn’t evoke the electricity of self-confrontation and personal growth common to intimate experiences. Intimacy also differs from meditation or solitary self-reflection. The interpersonal dimension – particularly the response you anticipate and receive from your partner – is as critical to the process as your feelings about what you’re about to disclose. There are two types of intimacy:

Other-validated intimacy involves the expectation of acceptance, empathy, validation, or reciprocal disclosure from one’s partner. This is what is often mistaken for intimacy per se.

Self-validated intimacy relies on a person’s maintaining his or her own sense of identity and self-worth when disclosing, with no expectation of acceptance or reciprocity from the partner. One’s capacity for self-validated intimacy is directly related to one’s level of differentiation; that is, one’s ability to maintain a clear sense of oneself when loved ones are pressuring for conforming and sameness. Self-validated intimacy is the tangible product of one’s relationship with oneself.

Other-validated intimacy “sounds” like this: “I’ll tell you about myself, but only if you then tell me about yourself. If you don’t, I won’t either. But I want to, so you have to. I’ll go first and then you’ll be obligated to disclose – it’s only fair. And if I go first, you have to make me feel secure. I need to be able to trust you!”

Self-validated intimacy in long-term relationships sounds quite different: “I don’t expect you to agree with me; you weren’t put on the face of the earth to validate and reinforce me. But I want you to love me – and you can’t really do that if you don’t know me. I don’t want your rejection – but I must face that possibility if I’m ever to feel accepted or secure with you. It’s time to show myself to you and confront my separateness and mortality. One day when we are no longer together on this earth, I want to know you knew me.”