Intimacy Is Not for the Faint of Heart

This Guest Post Written by Dawn Novotny from

“Those who have never known the deep intimacy and the intense companionship of mutual love have missed the best thing that life has to give.” – Bertrand Russell

So what exactly is differentiation?

The person with the least desire for intimacy always controls intimacy in the relationship as long as partners are dependent on validation from each other.” – David Schnarch Ph.D.

David Schnarch Ph.D., a leading couple’s therapist makes clear that differentiation is the foundation of long-term couple’s relationships.

So what exactly is differentiation?

1). To become distinct or different.

2). To develop different characteristics.

3). To undergo differentiation.

Individuals with little differentiated “self” rely so heavily on the opinions and approval of others that they often take on what others believe, think and do.

This is done either to comply or placate.

Lacking self-esteem, they are too afraid to state their own opinion and sometimes, sad to say, just too darn lazy to decide for themselves putting all the decision-making on their partner.

Funny saying about marriage

That way, if things don’t work out, they are never at fault.

Anyway you look at it, an under-differentiated individual is a burden to the relationship as well as to themselves.

A person with a well-differentiated “self” recognizes his realistic dependence on others, but he can stay calm and clear-headed enough in the face of conflict, criticism, and rejection to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotionality.” –  Murray Bowen

Differentiation is the ability to maintain one’s sense of self when mentally, emotionally and/or physically close to others, especially as they become increasingly important to you.

Can you maintain your individuality when loved ones pressure you to agree or conform?

So how do I know if I am differentiated? Answering the following questions may be helpful.

You are probably differentiated if you can:

√ Conform when and if appropriate

√ Agree when appropriate and heartfelt

√ Disagree when appropriate and heartfelt without feeling rejected, embittered, alienated or judgmental about the others opinion

√ Remain connected with those who disagree while holding on to your sense of self-worth?

√ Comfortably ask for help when needed

√ Comfortably refuse help when not needed

Here is what David Schnarch says about intimacy.

Intimacy is about letting yourself really be known, including parts that you or your partner doesn’t like. But it’s not just about letting “warts” be known.

It often involves showing strengths you’ve hidden, too.

Most approaches focus on getting your partner’s validation and acceptance when you disclose.

But you can’t count on this, and if you try, it inherently limits self-disclosure because you won’t say things your partner won’t validate. Resolving gridlock requires intimacy based on validating yourself.

When I can stand in my own self, which is another way of saying self-validation (owning my wants, needs, truths, opinions, etc.)

I bring unique strengths to the relationship adding to the overall potency of the couple-ship because I am not asking anything in return.

When the need is high for other validation the partnership is greatly compromised.

About Dawn DeLisa Novotny MSW, LCSW, MTS, CDP, CP, Is a clinician, teacher, author, spiritual director and national workshop leader. Be sure to visit Dawn’s blog at

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