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Avoid the Death of Brangelina: the Importance of Self-Differentiation in Marriage

While most of us did not know THE Brangelina, we all know A Brangelina. I'm not talking about a Hollywood supercouple, I'm talking about that super annoying couple that can't go to the supermarket without doing so together and, even if they were to attempt this impossible task, they'd be on the phone the entire time with the other person laboring over the intricacies of Farfalle vs. Farfalline pasta noodles and attempting an amicable consensus on the matter. 

The rest of us throw a random box in the cart with a look that says "they're both bowtie you moron and you're dangerously close to having an uncooked box worth jammed down your throat."

While I don't have any idea what caused the demise of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's marriage, I do know that their famous handle of 'Brangelina' is a great way to describe what I often see killing a marriage - a lack of self-differentiation. If you google that you'll find a wealthy of nerdy articles on the matter but let me summarize it for you: In a marriage with poor self-differentiation it is difficult to tell where one spouse ends and the other begins.

I know when I'm speaking with such a couple when, if I were to close my eyes in a conversation and simply listen to the talking points, opinions and stories told, I couldn't be certain which spouse I was talking to apart from their voice.

It begins, of course, with good intentions. There is this inherent sense early in a marriage to be 'on the same page' with each other. Conflict is often easily avoided early in a marriage as, most often, the major stressors come after the first two years when children, job and housing changes arrive on the scene. For some, the natural disagreements that arise are misdiagnosed as fissures in their relationship. For others, feelings of fear of abandonment or other insecurities are triggered when, for the first time in the marriage, they find themselves by no means 'on the same page.' And thus, a new Brangelina is born.

It's important in any marriage that a couple retains a sense of self while continuing to adopt an identity of the whole family. It is certainly not an easy balance to strike. To embrace the concept of a family identity is to compromise a part of the self, but to compromise too much of the self is surrender personhood and become a facade of a person. And it annoys the hell out of your friends.

To help strike that balance, I recommend a family vision or mission statement. Yes, I do realize how terribly unromantic and profoundly geeky that sounds. And I don't care. To do so adds a third 'identity' to the marriage to which both individuals can aspire so that their identity doesn't become inappropriately intertwined with each other. Both parties will have to sacrifice part of self to achieve the vision they have for the family, but the resentment of turning over to the other member of the marriage a part of self is avoided. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I am biased toward that vision or mission being a Christ centered marriage. I find the construct of forgiveness and justification rooted in faith to be far superior to any other. If that's not your bag, it's not your bag. But I encourage you to consider making your marriage about something more than your self, their self, or any self. Have a picture in mind of what you'd like your marriage to be. I'll leave you with ours - which is printed on fancy paper and in a frame in our house. Yep - I'm a super geek level 100.

Timm Family Vision

To each cultivate a personal relationship with our savior Jesus Christ, while collectively glorifying God in all we do.

Husband: Not My Job