Relatedness and Autonomy, A Delicate Balance



“Successful mountain climbers know that they must spend at least as much time if not more, in tending their base camp as they actually do climbing mountains, for their survival is dependent upon their seeing to it that their base camp is sturdily constructed and well stocked.” M. Scott Peck

Linda: Peck’s metaphor is an apt one of marriage for it is only when the commitment is strong and the relationship is a high priority that the relationship becomes a place of shelter and nurturance. When the provisions are abundant, we are fortified to take on the challenge of strenuous climbs. The climbs represent going after the challenges that we hold as our most important life goals. Most of us desire autonomy and separateness so that we can take our individual journey. And it is the best of both worlds when we have a committed partnership to come home to. When the base camp is a sturdy haven, we rest there before the climb and have a palace of shelter to return to after our climb.

The well-stocked base camp represents relatedness, joining together, being close to another, mutually committed and securely bonded. It is only with the strong support of those with whom we are close that we dare to reach high, set goals and move toward them, a major component of our well-being. The climb itself is the metaphone for autonomy, standing alone, moving out into the world, independent and apart from another. Knowing our own mind and making our own choices based on knowing our truth is also an essential aspect of well-being. When we are strong in autonomy, we take responsibility for designing the vision for our life, choose our path with confidence, lean into the challenges that come with our choices, and take pride in our accomplishments.

Some people are strong on the relatedness end of the spectrum, but not as accomplished in the area of autonomy. These people are great at stocking the base camp and are sometimes content to stay there. Others are adept in making decisions alone without input from another, and are excited to climb. They may not be as adept in the fine art of stocking the base camp, and may be lacking in good co-ordination, co-operation and teamwork. Only being well versed in both areas will move us into the highest levels of fulfillment.

Both partners share responsibility for creating the well stocked base camp, and both partners also share responsibility for deciding which peaks are calling to them to climb and which challenges to pit themselves against. Relationships can get into trouble when the balance is off. If one person feels stuck at home, taking care of children, cooking, cleaning. and holding the concern for the emotional well-being of the partnership, resentment can ensue.

On the other hand, if one partner is taking on the exclusive responsibility of being out in the world, making a living for the family, that partner can feel unfairly burdened and unhappy. Sometimes the system breaks down when both are out climbing, building careers, earning degrees, working on political campaigns, volunteering for the church, and neither one is tending to the base camp. What worked in one phase of the marriage may have already served its usefulness and a new plan is required. The provisions will run out if not restocked.

Neglect of base camp can take multiple forms and there is a special danger for those who hear a calling. Some feel a call to service in the big world and neglect the family back home. Some have enormous drive and ambition and feel called to rise to prominence in their company or organization. Some are gifted artists and an inner demand to bring beauty into the world envelops them. Others find a spiritual path which demands their time and attention taking the away from mundane household concerns. Any call can become so all consuming that the primary relationship withers from neglect.

The base camp will no longer be an inviting place to come home to if there isn’t warmth and safety there and it’s filled with trash. The situation can be rectified of course, with a revision of the priorities. Both have responsibility to speak honestly and openly about what is and isn’t working and put a plan together to put the relationship back in balance. With a strong commitment a realization of how much is at stake, how much can be gained; a new form can be created. The new form can be one in which both can explore exciting new paths, that of autonomy and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with the certainty that there is a safe haven to return to following the climb, that of relatedness.


Linda and Charlie Bloom are excited to announce the release of their third book, Happily Ever After . . . and 39 Other Myths about Love: Breaking Through to the Relationship of Your Dreams.

Praise for Happily Ever After:

happily-1Love experts Linda and Charlie shine a bright light, busting the most common myths about relationships. Using real-life examples, they skillfully, provide effective strategies and tools to create and grow a deeply loving and fulfilling long-term connection.” – Arielle Ford, author of Turn You Mate into Your Soulmate

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Shared by: Linda Bloom, LCSW, & Charlie Bloom, MSW, Contributing Bloggers

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