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Creating Spaces in Your Togetherness
by Patricia Spadaro • Bozeman, Montana


Relationships, like most other things in life, are paradoxical. Even in the closest of connections, where mutual support should come with the territory, it’s essential to strike a balance between leaning on another and standing strong and tall on your own — between dependence and independence.

In one of my favorite pieces of literature, The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, the beloved wise man of Orphalese advocates just such a balance. “Let there be spaces in your togetherness,” he says. “Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”

That sound advice applies to all our relationships, whether at home, at work, or at play. We’re all asked to give and receive support in many ways as we walk through life. But we sabotage our potential for healthy, fulfilling relationships when we buy into the myth that “constant support, togetherness, and unanimity create the best relationships.” The liberating truth reflects this paradox instead: “My relationships are stronger when I pursue my own interests and nurture my individual strengths.”

The real magic takes place when everyone in a relationship, including you, is free to realize his or her full potential. In relationships at work, see what happens when you welcome new perspectives and encourage others to innovate and bring independent thought to the table. If an intimate relationship suddenly seems off balance or oppressive, be sure you are giving yourself enough time and space in your days to pursue the desires of your own heart.

The following story from the Hasidic tradition of Judaism highlights why self-reliance is indispensable. A young rabbi complained to his mentor that he felt full of life when he studied, but when he turned away from that source of support and went about his daily activities, this mood disappeared. “What should I do?”

he asked. His astute teacher replied with an apt analogy: “You must be like the man who is walking through the forest in the dark accompanied by a friend. A time will come when the two companions must part and each must go his own way alone. Neither will fear the darkness if he carries his own lantern.” When it comes down to it, you have to be able to depend on yourself to light your way. You must be the guiding star in your life, and ultimately you must make the decisions that directly affect you.

Every part of life, as it grows and evolves, naturally moves between seeking support and flying solo, between togetherness and solitude. Only when those elements are in balance can we make real and lasting progress. Navigating the paradox of dependence and independence in relationships requires a keen sense of balance. There can be a blurred line between receiving help and allowing a partner or mentor to control your life — or between giving help and stifling a loved one’s opportunity to grow and blossom.

The following questions and tips can help you reflect on whether there is enough breathing space in your relationship:

Do you find yourself becoming easily irritated with your partner?
You may become annoyed with those you love not because they are doing something outrageous but because you simply need some regular time apart. You need some breathing space —some time to honor yourself. Having a close relationship doesn’t mean you should give up being yourself. No two people have all the same interests, and it’s not healthy to expect that to be the case. Are there spaces in your togetherness? Do you allow and encourage yourself and your partner to pursue your own individual interests? Take some dedicated time for yourself and allow your partner to do the same. That act of heartful generosity will create more vibrancy when the two of you come together again, and you’ll have more to offer each other and the world as a result.

Are you in a personal or business relationship with someone who is making decisions that you should be making?
What would you like to tell that person about how you are feeling? What would you like to request of him or her? Try crafting what you want to say on paper first before explaining it in person. You may even need to send your message in writing so you can fully express what you find it hard to say in person. Follow up to make sure that the person you are addressing understands what you are asking and that you both have the same expectations going forward. Remind yourself that giving yourself room to be your own person isn’t about keeping the other person in your relationship out; it’s about counting yourself in.


Patricia Spadaro is the author of the new book Honor Yourself: The Inner Art of Giving and Receiving as well as the coauthor of several other books on personal growth, spirituality, and world traditions. To learn more about her work and for more resources on how to honor yourself, visit www.HowToHonorYourself.com.