By: Lisa Kift, MA
One thing I notice in a lot of
couples who come through my door is a lack of balance in their
relationship. What do I mean by this? When two people come together
there are now three parts to this system; "you," "me," and "we."
Imagine if you draw two overlapping circles. There are three parts -
the individual pieces on the sides and the overlapping piece in the
middle. The outer parts represent each person and the middle is
where they join in relationship. Every relationship will look
slightly different on paper in where the emphasis is.
On one end of the continuum will be the couple where each person
essentially lives a separate life with different friends, few mutual
decisions and little time spent together. I once had a couple who
literally never sat down to eat with one another and had separate
bedrooms. On paper, this couple would be drawn as two separate
circles next to each other with no overlap. Essentially, they are
extremely "you" and "me" focused with no "we." In this scenario, one
partner often desires more togetherness with the other but their
mate possibly fears intimacy and a perceived loss of their
On the other side, there's the couple who spends as much time as
humanly possible together, with no outside friendships or interests.
They are totally enmeshed in one another. They live "as one." The
circles would be almost totally overlapping each other, with most of
the focus on "we" and very little, if any "you" and "me." Sometimes,
this can be the dynamic in a controlling relationship where one
person pulls the other one in very close to maintain control.
The previous examples are extreme and the reality is that most
people fall somewhere in the middle. It's important to mention that
these balance styles may work for some people and if it does, that's
wonderful. However, in my experience, I find that the most content
couples are those whose circles overlap in the middle, where there
is equal attention paid to "you," "me" and "we." Each partner is
able to maintain their own identity, friends, hobbies and outside
interests while nurturing the relationship. A personally fulfilled
person can be more open, giving and loving to their partner than one
who has lost their identity. The relationship is where they come
together to share their friendship, intimacy, struggles, mutual
friends, hopes dreams, meals and bills.
When I work with couples, I always assess their relationship balance
and whether it's working for them both. If it's not, it first must
be understood why they operate that way. There are many reasons that
motivate people towards the various styles including family of
origin experience (what did their parents do?), fear of engulfment
or the opposite, fear of abandonment. The next step is figuring out
what they can do differently to create more balance. Often it
involves increased awareness, better communication and behavioral
change. Ideally, the end result is the two overlapping circles that
validate all three parts - the "you," the "me" and the "we."
Lisa Brookes Kift is a Marriage &
Family Therapist Registered Intern practicing in San Diego,
California. She does individual, couples and premarital counseling.
For more information see her website at