We are all born or raised in a family system and we need other people, right from the start. The system is already in place with two people trying to work out their need for connection (bonding) and separateness (boundaries). You might have noticed when growing up that one of your parents enjoyed togetherness activities more and one enjoyed some time alone to recharge, often that is the case.
When relationships are under strain and these patterns get exaggerated, the therapy world calls the togetherness fan – the ‘pursuer’ and the one who steps back – the ‘distancer’. Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. writes about this dynamic, and gives examples that are easy to relate to in her “Dance of Anger” and other great reads on relationships. Each position is trying to get their needs met, but the more one steps back, the more the other pursues. Frustration builds and it feels like the other person is smothering and demanding or selfish and uncaring.
Bowen Theory, developed by Dr. Murray Bowen, suggests that these two fundamental needs account for the anxiety in the family system and the difficulty of maintaining healthy one-on-one relationships. He proposed that the triangle, made up of three people, is more stable and therefore we humans often ‘triangulate’ when there are times of stress or change. A common example of this is when we talk to others about a problem, say, how we are feeling smothered or neglected instead of talking directly to the person involved. Often it’s easier to complain than to confront.
Signs of maturity – learning to speak the truth kindly and to ask for what we need and want, whether it is some togetherness time or some time alone… or some mix of the two. Our family learned over the years that before holidays or vacation, if we each wrote down some activities we wanted to do, we were far more likely to include items from each person’s list. It makes for a more enjoyable holiday or vacation all around!