Distance Regulation as Couples Counseling: how to push-back to feel closer
Distance regulation is a concept heard frequently in object relations. Simply it is a tool for assessing the distance required by a person so they are able to experience The Other in a comfortable manner. There is a myth that goes like this: “You have to be close all the time.”
When working with couples the issue of boundaries is significant. Most often with the primary significant other, but also with other family members and friends and colleagues and bosses.
As we process a relationship, that is, as we try to understand what is wrong in a relationship we might be frightened by realizing the problem is we are too close. We may discover that it has become difficult to say “No” to someone we love or to someone we think is in-charge-of-us. We worry what the other person will think and we let what we are thinking and feeling take a back seat to the others concerns. In time the lack of taking care of the self in relation to others becomes a blurred and chaotic boundary.
When the boundaries become blurred we have no method available to regulate the distance we need to keep in order to salvage the relationship. In other words we behave in the exact opposite way that we need to. We think that meeting the others needs will be in our best interest. When this is done to extremes, self-confidence withers away. In time we begin to have the thought that we need to end the relationship.
Often by this point in time, it is true that the relationship can no longer be saved; but, also true is the fact that maintaining adequate boundaries may make a positive shift so significant that the relationship improves dramatically and quickly. Telling ourselves, then our partner, what is the necessary distance is required for a relationship to flourish. If a person thinks that giving themselves over to the other person is what is required, in time the relationship will become too over-stimulating. Neither party will want it.
Fear of doing what is best for you will in the long run destroy exactly what it is that is being protected.
Distance regulation is about saying calmly–“I can not comfortable do this.” If the request or the expectation is one of self-sacrifice there is little chance that your needs will be met. In the condition of un-met needs the person becomes unable to differentiate what is good and what is not good for themselves. This then become the cause of the chaos. With chaos instead of clarity the person loses their sense of self and thinks that ending the relationship is a better idea than presenting calmly their own needs with an assertiveness that demands attention. Distance regulation prevents hostilities from growing into recalcitrant resentments. Although backing away might seem counter-intuitive, it may be the best route to intimacy because intimacy requires there be two people present, two sets of needs, two out-looks, two unique individuals.
Don’t be afraid to back-off to become close.