There Is Room for Two People

David Wallin, the author of Attachment in Psychotherapy, has a wonderful way of expressing the mutuality of relationships. He says in a healthy relationship there is room for two people. By this he means, each person can be who he or she is, can have his or her own ideas, values, and feelings, and yet the two people can still feel closely attached.

What Wallin describes is the problem that for many people, the only space is space for themselves or the only space is space for the other person. In one distortion, they cannot tolerate a person close to them having different ideas or feelings. Or, alternatively, if the only space is space for the other person, they cannot tolerate having different ideas and feelings from the persons they want to be close to.

Our innate human need for the close relationships around us is so important that we are willing to give up parts of ourselves to have them. We want to preserve the relationships we care about at all costs, even when it is detrimental to ourselves. When both people in a relationship are operating from these distorted models, it can be extremely difficult to alter the relationship and still have it.

When we grow and change, which is nearly inevitable in any organic life, the people closest to us may celebrate or they may rage and leave. We cannot control that response. This makes it very uncertain for us, and so it is a problem to choose a direction of change. We do not want to rattle whatever tenuous balance we have with the people we care about.

The problem is, change will happen. We can be in charge of our lives and work reflectively at changing in the directions we want to, or we can try to hold on and we will change reactively to what happens in our lives. There is no stasis in organic life. When we try to maintain some status quo, we block the constructive, natural progression of life.

One benefit of deep relationships comes from what is unique to each person in the relationship. We are enriched by our differences, and we experience true intimacy when we can know the other and be known deeply and stay connected. There is an affirmation of our deepest selves in the context of a relationship that has room for two people in it.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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6 Responses to There Is Room for Two People

  1. jane mizrahi says:

    how blessed to be known and to know; and i think, how rare..

  2. Peter says:

    While I have enjoyed many of your posts, this one in particular spoke to me. It is a wonderfully and succinctly written description of the importance of remaining an individual in a relationship. The post and message is relevant to everyone. I have sent a link to the post to several friends.

  3. Gillian Wolf says:

    Hi, Dr. Ishibashi:
    This really spoke to me — especially after yesterday. Thanks so much!

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