Developing Detachment and Forming a Healthy Self-Image

Couple with bike near house.
Hold your partner close, but not too close! (Image: Massonstock/iStock/Getty Images)

What you experienced as a child, what you formed as your idea of attachment with your parents, is significantly related to your adult interpersonal relationships.

Many schools of thought have sprung up around this: Freud developed the Oedipus complex, Jung the Electra complex, and they called them “complex” for a reason — relationships can be complicated! But only if you let them.

The key to developing detachment is to hold court, to cultivate separate, individual hobbies, friendships and activities that can help you grow as a person, in addition to those that you share as a couple.

Satisfying Interdependent Relationships Vs. Codependent Relationships

Middle-aged man sitting down and thinking, reflecting.
What role do you choose to play in your relationship? (Image: michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images)

Attachment theory pioneer Dr. Steven Karman developed the “Karpman Triangle” in the 1970s, through which he identified three distinct roles that people can play in a relationship: the rescuer, the victim, and the persecutor.

Have you ever felt that your significant other is not pulling his or her weight in the relationship? Perhaps you are adopting the role of rescuer. If you get upset and your significant other realizes this, when the roles reverse, have you become the victim? And when you put the weight on your significant other, do you become a persecutor, harboring feelings of resentment, anger, and hurting?

A conscious detachment from these roles can lead to healthy couple dynamics, and while a healthy level of attachment can lead to satisfying interdependent relationships, when that attachment becomes codependent, the relationship can become dysfunctional and hurting rather than loving. Avoiding that is what detachment is all about.

Follow Your Passions and Spend Time Cultivating Your Sense of Self

Girl with head phones dancing and listening to music
Dance like nobody's watching. (Image: Tuned_In/iStock/Getty Images)

Think about the hobbies that help you relax. What were you passionate about prior to being in a relationship? Perhaps you enjoyed playing an instrument or following your favorite baseball team, cozying up with a book or working on your vintage car.

Hobbies that cultivate your sense of self can help keep you grounded, so that you can have some “me” time and approach a relationship being fully engaged with yourself.

In his book “Wired for Dating: How Understanding Neurobiology and Attachment Style Can Help You Find Your Ideal Mate,” couples therapist Stan Tatkin defines a long-term relationship as a pact between two people “not just in terms of what you want to get from your partner, but also in terms of what you have to offer.” Focusing on your end of the deal prompts you to present your highest self to your partner, and invite them to do the same.

In addition to cultivating hobbies of your own, sharing separate hobbies with your significant other allows you to spend moments together without sacrificing your alone time. Watching the sunset side by side, treating each other to a picnic in the park, or surprising one another with tickets to a concert of your favorite artists can create memorable, loving experiences.

Communicate from the Heart

Man and woman wearing hiking gear going atop a mountain.
Cultivate activities that get you to communicate with your partner. (Image: BartekSzewczyk/iStock/Getty Images)

Depending on your personality, communicating may be easier said than done. Relationships expert Patricia Spindel, author of “Working with Families: A Guide for Health and Human Service Professionals,” describes three ways in which couples communicate: some couples “turn toward” each other and respond positively to their needs for emotional connection, others “turn against” each other and are perceived as argumentative and rejecting their needs, while even others “turn away” by ignoring the other’s communication efforts but acting preoccupied to show some response.

Cultivating activities together that can facilitate the first type of communication, “turning toward” each other, can help decrease dysfunctional attachment habits in your relationship.

Taking long bike rides, trying new workouts, hiking atop a nearby canyon, and discovering new neighborhoods are all activities that can be done with your partner, though keep in mind that just as important as doing things together is cultivating activities on your own so you can gather your thoughts and reconnect with yourself.

Develop Your Own Separate Group of Friends

Three friends sitting at table.
Choose your friends wisely. (Image: LifesizeImages/Photodisc/Getty Images)

We’ve all been there. Suddenly the golden couple that was thought to last a lifetime breaks up, and we are forced to choose an allegiance between one or the other.

Friends in common make for lively days and pleasantries, yet in addition to the friendships that you share, developing your own separate group of friends can help you develop detachment.

Friendships that you cultivate on your own can bring out the best in you, which you can then take out into the world, your relationship, your work, and help you gain an overall wellbeing. If the going gets tough with your partner your friends will remain with you through the good times and the bad.

In the words of Erich Fromm, immature love says, “I love you because I need you,” whereas mature love says “I need you because I love you.”

Which would you choose? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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