You Do You

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image.
— Thomas Merton

Relationships are one of the most meaningful things we create and share with another human being. They are simultaneously wonderful and hard, requiring work to maintain. As mentioned in last week's post, thriving relationships lead to personal happiness and well-being. So they are worthy of our effort and attention.

From Dr. Dan Siegel, we know that one must feel seen, safe, and soothed in order to be secure and thrive. If this is our foundation, what are the walls that help create a sturdy home in which to inhabit? 

My colleague, Rachel Gardner, and I were discussing what it looks like for two individuals to healthily relate to one another. She shared three vital components: Separate/Equal/Open. (While this goes for all forms of relationship, (platonic, parent-child, romantic), I'll be using language in reference to romantic partnership. The following material is informed by Roberta Gilbert's, Extraordinary Relationships.)


In relationship, you maintain your individuality while still experiencing intimacy and closeness. You understand that you do not complete another person because you are already 100% whole on your own (sorry, Jerry). And the same goes for your partner; they are not deficient nor are they lacking without you. Your identities remain in tact with or without the relationship.

The letters H vs A provide a helpful illustration. The horizontal line represents the relationship and the vertical/diagonal lines the two individuals in relationship. H shows separateness. Two individuals standing on their own but in relationship. Should the relationship dissolve, though painful, they are still individuals standing on their own. In contrast A shows that even without the relationship, these individuals are still dependent upon one another to exist...they need the other for support. 


You see yourself as equal to your partner. Your partner is seen as equal to you. Neither is more or less than who either of you are as individuals. Because you come to the table as separate individuals, it allows you to stand as equals in the relationship. This means each person has equal capability to take responsibility for themselves and only themselves.


You make yourself available to the other. You don't cut off contact when either of you is upset or distressed but you also don't chase. "Chasing" would be qualified as anything pushy or pulling. You have a posture that is inviting, not manipulative or demanding. You allow the other person to have their process and they are aware that you're there when and if they would like to speak and share. You are, as Rachel says, "calmly present and accounted for" to your partner.

What a Separate/Equal/Open relationships looks like:

  • You are not dependent upon your partner for your happiness or emotional fulfillment because that is your responsibility to give to yourself. You may experience happiness with them but it is because you are choosing to feel happy.
  • You are in charge of your own self: managing and communicating your own emotions and thoughts. That is not your partner's responsibility. Nor is it your responsibility to manage or interpret their emotions and thoughts.
  • You are present with and make yourself available to one another.
  • "Awareness also marks the ideal relationship" according to Gilbert. In order to relate healthily and create a thriving relationship, we must be responsible to know ourselves, what makes us the separate individual we are: the stories and nuances and patterns we bring.

Does this describe your current relationship? Or might you be relying on your partner (or child or friend) to fulfill you? Maybe you feel empty without a relationship? Do you find that you are trying to meet someone's emotional needs or want to control how they respond?

If you struggle to define your relationship as separate and equal and open, begin the work of self-examination. If you don't invest in your own individual awareness, you will unknowingly rely on another to complete these "missing" things that you've yet to discover about yourself. This will inevitably create an unhealthy "A" dynamic. No relationship can thrive under that kind of pressure or demand to support another's emotional weight.

By knowing ourselves, it allows us to offer something to another freely and willingly, without expectation they be something for us. In turn, we are able to accept what our partner freely and willingly offers. And isn't that the type of relationship we long to have?

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.

(Fritz Perls, "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim", 1969)

You are you and I am I.

You are you and I am I.


I recently partook in a trauma and addictions training. The presenter, Dr. Margaret Nagib, PsyD, Clinical Director at Timberline Knolls, presented various therapeutic interventions she uses with her patients. While all can be powerfully healing, one, in particular, struck me.

We were separated into groups of 4 with a blank piece of paper in front of each participant. Provided with colored markers, we were instructed to write our name and "my life" at the top of the page. Music would play in the background while we filled our blank paper (however we chose) until the music stopped. When the music stopped, we left our papers and rotated to the person on our left's paper. The music resumed and we were to draw. This continued until the rotation brought us back to our original paper. 

At the end of the exercise, we processed what had just occurred. How did we feel drawing on someone else's "life" and how did we feel about someone drawing on ours? The answers were varied. Some felt very protective of their page, some felt it was invasive to draw on another's and others viewed it as fun and exciting. What were the things we chose to add? Did we add color, plants, try and decipher what the author intended and complete what might have been unfinished (I'm looking at you naked stick figure.)? The last question was whether or not anyone was upset by what was added. In our particular setting (a room full of mental health providers) everyone reported feeling pleased with the end product. My picture was actually filled with more detail and life at the end (my dog was given a collar and tongue, the airplane given movement and a passenger and stick figures received faces!).

Why am I telling you this? You're most likely not going to re-enact this group activity. The take away was that our life is ours but we daily interact with others who add to our life. Some may have had others contribute pain, trauma, disappointment, abuse, and neglect to their life. We cannot always control what people have added. BUT what is within our jurisdiction is HOW we respond. That's ours and ours alone. We get to decide what we do with the unwanted things that have happened to us. Will we let them define the entire page? Will we let others speak into the harm and help us heal?  

We also get to decide if we'll make room for safe people to leave their mark, making life more detailed and rich. And we also have the choice of how we want to imprint the lives of others as well. Will we choose to leave color, beauty, and brightness?