Finding middle ground in relationships is crucial (Opinion) |

Finding middle ground in relationships is crucial (Opinion)

Danielle B. Grossman / Guest column
Danielle B. Grossman

Dear Therapist: My partner of five years no longer wants me to backcountry ski because of possible risk to myself. I don’t want to give up who I am but after a series of tragedies in our community from ski accidents, and now that we are trying for a baby, my partner is over it. We are stuck in a repeating fight that feels impossible to resolve and I don’t know what to do.

Dear Passionate Skier: These types of scenarios can definitely feel impossible. No one wants to lose connection with who they are. No one wants to be told what to do (or not do). On the other hand, no one wants to live in fear and anxiety. We all want to be free and we all want to feel safe. 

If you and your partner are like most people, there’s a good chance you are polarizing into opposite camps, trying to convince the other person why you are right and why you should get your way. You might be experiencing hurt, mistrust, disconnection or resentment. You might be seeing each other as controlling, selfish, overly anxious, entitled or uncaring. You might be getting closer to acting out your feelings of anger or hurt in ways that threaten the relationship. 

So, passionate skier, here’s another option. Start with acceptance. We might imagine that a healthy intimate relationship means having total safety and the freedom to make our own independent choices. While we should absolutely have a baseline of safety and freedom, the idea of absolute safety and freedom is a fantasy. Being in a relationship involves existing in a middle ground between different needs and preferences and sharing resources of time, energy, money and attention. In all kinds of situations, from small to major, your freedom to do what you want and not be told what to do or not do can limit your partner’s ability to feel safe and vice versa. This doesn’t mean that you or your partner are bad or wrong or that the relationship is bad or wrong. 

Next, verbally acknowledge that you understand and care about your partner’s needs. ‘You have a right to feel safe and I want you to feel safe. It is a priority for me to be there for you and for our future child.’ You can do this repeatedly. Your partner can affirm your need to be free to pursue something so important to your identity.

Then, start taking care of each other. You both have valid and important needs in this situation. Ask your partner, how can I make this feel safer for you? They can ask you, how can I be more supportive of your freedom? How can we find middle ground and make this work for both of us? In the end, you will probably need to change some of your behaviors and your partner will need to tolerate some level of fear and anxiety. I don’t know exactly how that will look for the two of you, and what agreements you will reach. What matters most is that you do this dance of freedom and safety as lovingly and respectfully as you can. 

Because at the end of the day, it is a dance. Within ourselves, within our communities, within our world, and sometimes most painfully and obviously within our intimate relationships, freedom and safety can feel like opposing forces. But they can’t actually exist without the other. We need freedom to be safe and safety to be free. In a relationship we are interdependent, and our personal safety and freedom also depends on our partner’s safety and freedom. Yes, this dance might feel clumsy and sometimes even impossible, but what’s the alternative? No dance at all? 

Danielle B. Grossman is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked with clients in the Truckee/Tahoe community for 20 years. She helps couples and individuals with their relationships, anxiety, grief, struggles with food and substance use. Reach out at or learn more at

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