Love + Dating
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Remember our 3 Dwarves of relationship attachment? Meet the 4th: ‘Diffy’

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I’m not a relationship guru by any means. Aged 51 now, and still never married, nor wanting to be. The longest relationship I’ve had is approx 3 years, with a whole bunch of quick romances and much solo time in the mix.

But this last year has eased change into many of those old patterns like a soft new thread, specifically after reading Levine’s ‘Attached’, and ‘The Course of Love’ by Alain de Botton. Plus meeting ‘H’ too. (If you’re new round here, you probably need to read THIS to catch up).

I’ve been studying relationship dynamics, specifically Attachment Theory, as it casts so much light into dark corners I’ve been hiding from since being a young girl, which I’m also exploring in therapy and other reading material.

One of my favourite posts on bone&silver is The 3 Dwarves of Attachment: Grumpy, Stressy & Happy ; well worth reading to get you up to speed on our three main attachment styles (Avoidant/Anxious/Secure), with clues as to which one is yours.

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I believe I’ve done an honest job of blogging my attempts to move beyond my personal Avoidant style, and head in the direction of being more ‘Secure’; H and I talk about it fairly frequently, trying to bring our poor habits out onto the table. ‘Bumpy’ was a classic example, as well as ‘Is it a pothole or a cliff’ HERE.

But now it seems there’s another Dwarf to learn about! Introducing ‘Diffy’, which stands for Differentiation:

“Ellyn Bader defines differentiation as, ‘the active, ongoing process of defining self, expressing & activating self, revealing self, clarifying boundaries, and managing the anxiety that comes from risking either more intimacy or potential separation.’

Differentiation is crucial for partners to avoid compromising core values and beliefs, to work effectively with conflict/differences, to negotiate effectively, and to develop ongoing intimacy in a loving relationship… a partner needs to hold two realities–that of Self and Other. At times doing this means facing tension.” Ayla Garlick- Heart Matters

*Sigh. So basically, that uncomfortable feeling of realising you have completely different values to your Beloved around Christmas for example, or being a vegetarian, or liking reggae music, is actually a healthy sign.

To be able to rest in that discomfort, not rejecting them, nor trying to persuade them of the rightness of your views, is the fine art we need to cultivate as we move beyond the intense bonding and ‘sameness’ of the initial honeymoon period.

Which means after having a grumble to a smart friend about disagreeing with H over Xmas presents [for I’m the Grinch, I love it, and I ain’t gonna change], it was a relief to hear about Diffy, the Advanced-Relating Dwarf.

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It’s not as blissfully idealised as when we simply agreed on everything, floating along in a hazy bubble of rainbow endorphins and oxytocin, but I notice I’m enjoying the sense of still being ‘Me’, yet also being in love with someone amazing…

Does that resonate for you? Any examples of experiencing ‘differentiation’ that you can share here? Especially if you’re in a long term relationship, and can help all us dating ‘newbies’!

In gratitude for learning about Love, G xO 

PS: See you soon in Melbourne H… 3 more sleeps… xxx


  1. This was my revelation, when I read this: The third dwarf is not actually “happy” but ” Diffy” himself. So we have Grumpy (Moody),Stressy and Diffy, because that is what a secure self is: differentiated. Secure in it’s own diversity and boundaries of being different. Happiness is far more elusive and complicated. My personal translation of these relationship styles is still: autonomous, relational and secure and I find these distinctions very helpful. Thanks for turning me on to the book.

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    • Oh my goddess that is such a good revelation! Thanks for commenting; you’re so wise; and so committed to delving into the details of relating and love, I value your experience so much 🙏🏼❤❤
      I hope everyone reads this awesome comment! 🙏🏼🌈❤xO

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    • Thanks Carla; I just love how WordPress often helps the right folk find each other; thank you for Following along, and yes, am looking forward to Melbourne very much xO G

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  2. I still need to read the book and I have it on my list of things to do! However, after being married for 20+ years to someone who was in many ways my polar opposite, and for most of those years being content and reasonably happy, I would say that difference itself is not a problem – problems are more the lack of capacity for self-reflection, lack of interest in meeting halfway or negotiating differences of opinion, and lack of ability to effectively communicate beyond sex. That’s my thoughts straight off the cuff!

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    • You are so right in all of those observations; read the book, DEFINITELY. I like difference, it’s just getting the balance of not too much hey? Thanks for your wise input : ) G

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  3. I’m in such a long-term relationship–38 years in Feb, and we’re not married, yet we’ve lived together the whole time with commitment and partnership. Living together for so long (I was 20 when we first moved in together), we really have grown up and older with each other. During menopause, I became… ME. As in, everything that wasn’t me sloughed off, including identity, belief, sense of self–everything. And coming out the other side, as I am, with everything stripped off, I was quite surprised to discover that J was not ME! He was himself, with his own beliefs about very core issues–and our beliefs no longer completely tallied, for he’s also grown up and older, and yet…. we still love each other, even now that we are diffy. Maybe, we’re discovering, especially now that we’re diffy.

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    • 38 years OMG- thank you so much for commenting! How interesting that so much of you changed, yet you are still in love, and happily differentiated. The first commenter here also suggested that a truly secure connection and commitment actually HAS to come from two contentedly-differentiated people- and it sounds as though you are supporting that suggestion with your lived experience? I feel like such a ‘baby’, only having done one year of this new relationship… *sigh… have to start somewhere though : ) Thank you once again for your great contribution, much appreciated, G

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  4. I’ve been married for 37 years now, and I can honestly say that you do just have to learn to live with the differences. At first, I thought I could manage to bring my husband around to my way of thinking on several key issues, and it seemed to work. But that was just the surface and his efforts to make me happy, because you really can’t change who someone is at their core. And honestly, I don’t think we should even if we could. We agree on the truly important stuff, and that’s enough.
    So we work around our differences, and for the parts of me that he doesn’t understand, that’s what friends are for. I don’t discuss favorite books with him because he’s not a reader. He doesn’t wax eloquent on his team’s latest exciting win, because I don’t share his enthusiasm for sports. But I have lots of readers in my life, and he has sports enthusiasts in his.

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    • Now that’s a great perspective Ann, thank you so much for joining in. And I totally agree that one person can’t be ‘everything’ for another; sounds like you two really have found a good balance, so congratulations on that! I guess a certain comfort and security comes over time, which obviously feels way more fragile at the beginning of the relationship… differences seem to mean more at the start.

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      • I agree! It takes time to truly know and accept another person, and the scary thing is, in the beginning you don’t know if it is truly going to mesh or not. That’s hard. The other issue is that so often we are trying to form our long-term relationships when we are young, and it is so easy to grow apart. Relationships are hard, any way you look at it!

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        • Ain’t that the truth? I have changed SO MUCH in the last 5 years, 10 years, & 20 years; I can’t imagine someone being able to handle that, as well as their own incredible growth & changes too. Yet still we are compelled to bond somehow, even if it’s sometimes ‘unconventional’ ❤

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          • Nothing wrong with “unconventional!” All that matters is love and a sincere desire to be in a strong relationship. If we are lucky enough to grow together with the one we love, all the better….

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  5. Have you seen the movie, A Beautiful Mind? There’s a scene where Nash finds inspiration for his thesis thingy. ( 🙂 ) He’s out at a pub with a few friends and they spot a group of women and decide that in order to get dates/laid it’s ‘every man for himself’. He thinks deep thinky thoughts and realises that they’d all have a better chance of getting what they all wanted if they worked co-operatively.
    This led Mrs Widds and I to create what we call the ‘third option’. If we both want a specific outcome, without shifting too far from our, sometimes, quite separate viewpoints, we need to find a ‘third’ point of view that will work for both of us.
    This circumvented the ‘compromise’ method where someone inevitably feels like they have to ‘give way or lose’ in order to find a resolution.
    It takes some practice but it does work.
    Basically it all comes down to communication and setting clear agreements. (that are negotiable, before the fact. For example wanting to change something and talking about it before taking any action)

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    • OK, I haven’t seen the film, but I really like this advice, thank you. I absolutely hate compromise, as it feels like a ‘lose-lose’ situation for me, and I admit I’m fairly strongly opinionated (it’s the feisty French woman in me!). You two sound like you’ve done a lot of good work in this regard, so I’m going to try to remember this for the future… “The 3rd Option”- sounds like a good title for a film too : ) Thanks as always for your great comments Widds : ) xO

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  6. My husband and I have been together 16 yrs, 11 of them married. We are both 67 and it is the second marriage for us both and we hardly ever have issues, we worked through all the hard stuff in our first marriages so this marriage seems so easy. Yes, we have differences but very few disagreements. I never feel lost in the relationship but I think that comes from being older and having spent 15 yrs single between marriages.

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    • Thanks so much for offering up your experience Victoria; it sounds like you really have a good connection with your husband, which is wonderful. I have spent so long being single now that I have a dread of too much ‘entwining’; I’d hate to feel like I was getting ‘lost’, or that the other person was getting ‘lost’ in me. Aren’t we funny creatures? It seems to take us all our adult lives to get our acts together to live in more love! Thank you for sharing & commenting, G xO

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  7. THIS!
    “To be able to rest in that discomfort, not rejecting them, nor trying to persuade them of the rightness of your views, is the fine art we need to cultivate as we move beyond the intense bonding and ‘sameness’ of the initial honeymoon period.”
    The constant demands for me to change slowly killed the relationship. This acceptance of the different is what I look for in my future.

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  8. I’ve been with the same woman for thirty odd years. We met in the London lesbian scene in the 1980’s and had a wild and wonderful time. Lots happened, the world turned, things changed. But one constant has remained. We can’t communicate with each other. We are so different that it is laughable at times. We first realized this when we were putting up a shelf in our first flat together. Each of us was entirely capable of putting up a shelf but we couldn’t do it together. We stopped, I explained what I was doing, she looked blankly at me. Over the years I was to get that look a lot and I’m sure I give it to her too. We agreed back then that if we embark on a project together one of us is in charge and the other one just does what she is told, no questions. It saves the frustration of trying to explain a perspective or plan or whatever to someone when all you’re getting back is blank, blinking bewilderment. I am a strong earth sign and she is all water so I suppose it’s not surprising that we get a lot of mud when we try to explain ourselves to each other. Other than not have a clue what the other one is talking about sometimes, we’re fab.

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    • Ah Jean, how I treasure your comments, and that is a GREAT story. How amazing that for 30 years you have both dealt with that blank look (I just realized ‘H’ kinda does that too y’know). I’m pretty fast & spontaneous, whereas H is very methodical & kinda slow like a Snail… we are very opposite, despite a lot of similarity as well; the trick is learning to still get stuff done hey!? The shelf is a classic example; I’d lose interest in 5 minutes if it wasn’t easy to do 🙄. Whereas yes, if I’m in the appointed role of ‘screw holder’ or ‘tape measure passer’, I’ll just do that, and daydream away without concern… seems like as usual it just comes down to a whole lotta love & acceptance, & being honest about who you are (and are not). Thanks for sharing ❤🌈❤ G

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  9. I loved this post. I think I sometimes have problems with differentiation and, ironically, it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about since divorcing. I always expected my husband to be an extension of me… and I’d sometimes be embarrassed if he had conflicting thoughts or acted differently than I would in a specific situation. I took it personally. (Of course, I never verbalized any of this to anyone… I just processed it internally.)

    It baffles my mind. He is not me; why should I care?! Of course he’d be different and it doesn’t reflect upon me.

    It was a good lesson for me. I think I’ve already been smarter in my post-marriage relationships when it comes to differentiation.

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    • We’re always learning aren’t we L? Hopefully one day, we’ll finally hit the jackpot of understanding both ourselves and our loved one, even in our difficulties and difference. xO

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  10. zlotybaby says

    I really struggle with this. It’s difficult for me, if someone disagrees with me on things I know (ja, I’m quite bad) are right. Especially if there’s plenty of research on something… This is my attitude with friends and of course, with my husband. I’m quite lucky that we’re more similar than different and my problem is more with the world than with my partner. I would just like the world and everyone in it to be like me. But then I don’t really because it would be a very boring world and one of the things I appreciate the most in my husband (and other people) is the independence of thinking. It probably makes no sense to you but this is how I feel most of the time: respectful of the differences and at the same time not.

    Btw can I find your thoughts on “The Course of Love” by Alain de Botton anywhere on the blog?

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  11. My partner of five years has OCD, so there’s a HUGE gap between what we each consider “clean” or “I washed my hands enough times after taking out the trash.” One of the compromises we’ve reached is that I always do the “dirtiest” task of taking out the trash because it bothers me less. In return, my partner does the dishes because they have to be “clean” if they’re going in the china cabinet, and I don’t have the patience to wash my hands first, have one “clean” and one “dirty” hand while washing, and do all the scrubbing two or three times. Arguing about any of the OCD things — especially about whether something actually is dirty — accomplishes nothing but frazzled nerves and everyone getting upset. It took couples therapy, some medication, and a lot of talking to reach equilibrium on this stuff, but the more I remember not to take personally (being “dirty” does not mean my partner thinks I’m gross, etc.) the easier it is.

    Extreme Differentiation (TM)!

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    • Wow, that’s an amazing story, thank you for sharing. That does indeed sound like extreme differentiation, well done to the pair of you! isn’t it wonderful what arrangements we can come to together, when we are invested in the relationship, and making it work? Congratulations, and thanks again for commenting with such a unique perspective, G xO

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  12. What wonderful deeply insightful and personal sharing. I feel enriched and privileged to be reading this . It gives me hope, that it is possible to stay in relationship and honor my needs for autonomy and a high level of personal independence. I promise to never give up the quest of becoming a better ( including more fearless )communicator. Signed: Grumpy ( Moody)

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    • Darling Moody Grumpy: I learnt so much of this from you, & our investigation of other forms of ‘relationships’; I treasure your insights and wisdom, love to you xxOOO❤


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