Feb 062018

Workshop: The Same but Different – the Paradox of Belonging
Presented by Lis and John Heath (both TSTA -P)

Lis and John – having been in a marriage for a considerable number of years, considered what it means to be in a committed relationship and keep one’s own sense of self, and at the same time create a rich shared sense of the we-ness of the relationship.

They shared some thought provoking quotes such as:
“You can only be like someone if you are already different from them” – Adam Phillips

Some key points in the workshop were:

Autonomy vs homonomy
They explored how autonomy in each partner can enable both individual growth as well as intimate belonging by each having an authentic encounter with the other, and being willing to receive and hear without interpretation. Sometimes partners find themselves competitive in terms of the Parent values each holds – can we be open to hold different values? Are we willing to be close (Child to Child energy) or do we stay protective of our individual sense of who we are and avoid closeness for fear of being “swallowed up” in the other?

My culture? Your culture? Our culture?
Each partner comes from their unique family culture and in relationship creates a new shared culture – are we open to do this, or are the cultures of our families of origin / ancestors held on to with rigidity and a refusal to think differently?
We need to be open to co-create a new shared culture which is always changing and alive.

Symbiosis and healthy togetherness
The initial point of attraction in a relationship often has symbiotic elements. We look for what we lacked when we were growing up, in a partner. We need to give up what we never did get in the past, and then we can be open and available to get what there actually is right now in the relationship.

They described symbiosis as “ belonging TO somebody”, and a healthy intimate relationship as “ belonging WITH somebody” – a paradoxical sense of separateness and togetherness.

They shared a new ego state diagram that captures this:
The intersecting parts of the 2 Parent ego states represent the new, always emerging shared co-created culture, the intersecting parts of the 2 Child ego states represent the shared history of intimate and authentic experiences, and the relationship is always grounded by the Adult to Adult co-creative relationship – dynamic and present centered but unique and separate.




This separateness and togetherness is a dynamic process – it’s not dependant on what’s gone before and a continuing striving to reinforce old patterns – it’s being present in the here and now in the integrating Adult. Intimacy carries a high risk – it is unpredictable. Each partner needs to be secure enough in themselves to be able to endure the unpredictability of intimacy. This doesn’t mean we want to have a flawless, perfect, game-free relationship. They remind us that games can be viewed as gateway towards intimate relating if we are prepared to stay with the dynamic honestly and openly and learn from it.

Questions for reflection

We had time to consider some provocative questions, sharing with another person in the workshop. I invite you to consider them holding in mind one of your intimate relationships:

  1. What aspect of myself am I wanting the other person to see? / What in me is longing to be known?
  2. What aspect of the other do I think that they long for me to know / see?
  3. What would I be prepared to give up in order to improve this relationship?
  4. What might I like the other to give up?

Final thoughts

Although John and Lis were speaking from their own personal experience of their marriage, I think the principles have a wider application to our many relationships – with colleagues, friends and acquintances.

Living in the dynamic multicultural milieu of South Africa – what principles might be useful to consider as we relate to people the same as, or different from us? How do we remain authentically powerful within ourselves and at the same time authentically in relationship with the other?

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