Updated: Mar 22
As counselors, we often help couples or families that are no longer feeling close. Most of us are trained to assume that there is a lack of emotional intimacy causing this. While this is sometimes the case, many times there is ironically too much closeness causing the feeling of distance. Love needs boundaries that create separateness to survive and truly thrive. As Esther Perel says, “when people become fused-when two become one-connection can no longer happen. There is no one to connect with.” Now, I know what you may be thinking, “But this is how the Bible describes marriage!” YES, but what is our example for marriage? Christ and His church. These are two distinct entities. They have a shared vision, desire, and focus, but they operate interdependently. They cannot be codependent and have community. The same is true of the Trinity, another example of separate, but the same. They have distinct characteristics and roles, but they are aligned.
Many times, in suffering relationships, the autonomy of the individual has been overridden in the name of “intimacy”. A great way to test this is to ask yourself, “what does this person do with my ‘no’? In enmeshed dynamics, a “no” can be perceived as a threat. A secure, independent person is not rocked by another individual’s “no”. In healthy relationships, a “no” is invaluable. It signifies confidence, comfort, and reinforcement of this sacred separateness.
Fear is generally the culprit for lack of boundaries interpersonally. We fear abandonment, distance, loss of control, etc. Love, however, requires a kind of fearlessness. Love is inherently risky and paradoxical. It needs autonomy and surrender, stability and adventure, togetherness and separateness.
We see this example in Christ’s love for us. He fully gave of Himself while being rejected. He doesn’t force closeness on us, but rather gives us autonomy to come to Him. He also maintains His boundaries in what He calls holy and righteous. He tells us no and we can tell Him no if we want to (although I usually don’t want to). It’s within these freedoms and boundaries that we experience stable yet thrilling love.
This reminder for sacred separateness can be used to help a frustrated couple or build up an already thriving relationship. Ask each other how you can make your togetherness more intentional and how you can respect each other’s individuality better.