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  • Writer's pictureAnnelisa MacBean

Autonomy in Partnerships

In close personal relationships, especially in our partnerships and marriages, it is important to attend to and nurture a secure attachment bond and discover ways to co-regulate challenging emotional states. Being intentionally kind toward our partners, holding them during difficult times, caring about and tendering their suffering is so important. Allowing our loved ones to matter means we take a risk ourselves by leading with our own vulnerability, prioritizing connection and its preciousness in our lives. It is also essential to be aware of the difference between connection and unhealthy fusion. Humans live in a paradoxical reality where we are not only connected, but also separate and individual. A truly secure attachment between adults must include healthy differentiation.

While the perception of oneness is compelling and allows our young, wounded selves to feel safe . . . true oneness, non-duality and the interconnectedness of all things can only be known in direct relationship to duality and multiplicity. Partnerships and intimate relationships provide a direct experience of navigating these opposites. Being with and experiencing the complex and unresolvable tension between these two dynamics may, at times, mean holding firm boundaries, asserting our independence, disappointing our partners, allowing them to struggle and confront feelings of aloneness.

It may also mean relieving our loved ones of the burden we may have unconsciously placed on them to tend to the ghosts of our own unlived, unmet lives. Are you able to differentiate between healthy intimacy and emotional fusion? Are you able to make this discernment in the immediacy of your own everyday direct experience? Are you able to stay with the chaos, the contradiction, and the intensity of these energies as they arise? From a transpersonal perspective, we can orient to our oneness with all of life. But in the relative, human domain we are also separate individuals, each with our own unique histories, our peculiar and unique ways of organizing our experience, and our own distinctive vulnerabilities. Being mindful of these differences, trusting our autonomy, paradoxically honors the universal nature of the human experience. Denial of our separateness will inevitably force the innate urge toward autonomy to distort and express in unconscious ways, in twisted and ineffective conflict. Pushing people away, co-dependency, blaming and shaming others for not being what we would like them to be . . . these are all manifestations of separation, but an unsuccessful, immature unrealized, false autonomy.

Autonomy is a state of oneness with self, a state of awareness that recognizes the interdependencies of our own embodied human and transpersonal nature. Most importantly, autonomy allows for us to be fully who we are while maintaining intimacy in relationship to others. Because the early conditions of our development don’t educate or encourage autonomy, it is a capacity that we often discover later, in the tumult of adult relationships. It’s a capacity that develops over time in the alchemical tension of opposites. Talk with your partners and friends about how you see yourselves navigating this territory. Do you recognize and experience autonomy in yourselves, or in each other? Explore how autonomy, or the lack thereof, plays into your experience of intimacy, or the lack thereof! Lean into your friendships and partnerships to establish your individuality and the truest sense of your being.

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