What’s Your Relationship with Relationships?
When I asked followers what information they’d like to see, I received numerous requests for information on relationships. Needless to say, we spend lots of time and energy in the realm of romantic relationships, whether it’s thinking about them, investing in them or arguing over them.
We often wonder, why am I the way I am in relationships or why is my partner the way he/she is? Well, we have to take a look back at our very first relationship ever; our parental relationship. It is thought that second to parent-child relationships, our romantic relationship is the most important. I am a firm believer in attachment style and it’s influence on romantic relationships; they are both based on connection and emotional bonds.The attachment style that is developed in childhood is based on the relationship between infants and their caregivers and plays a role in shaping expectations of others, self-esteem and one’s ability to maintain a successful relationship. Through a series of observations and research, the terms secure attachment and insecure attachment developed. Below, the table briefly outlines attachment style, parental behavior and resulting child behavior. (Bare with me, the research is almost over!)
Attachment theorists also believe that the infant-caregiver relationship develops a general representation or working model of how a child views relationships. So wouldn’t it make sense that our very first childhood relationship would partially influence our future romantic relationships?
Well yes! Researchers have applied attachment theory to romantic relationships and found that chilhood attachment styles tend to carry over into adulthood. Below are a few examples of how childhood attachment may translate into adulthood.
Secure: feel confident that their partners will be there for them when needed, and open to depending on others and having others depend on them
Avoidant: they may appear not to care too much about close relationships, and may prefer not to be too dependent upon other people or to have others be too dependent upon them.
Now that we have a framework for understanding the origins of our relational experiences, here are some key pointers to keep in mind in your relationship!
We Communicate Differently!
One of the most common complaints between men and women is that women share about their day and problems and become frustrated with their partner for giving them solutions, while the other partner feels he/she is simply being helpful. This scenario is based on the fact that men and women relate differently. Women typically desire empathy and a listening ear, while men go into problem solving mode. While neither is “wrong,” it may be useful to talk about when listening and problem solving feel appropriate for both parties.
None of Us Are Mind Readers!
How many times do we assume that our partner knows how something will make us feel or assume that they know what we want? While we may try to put ourselves in the others’ shoes, that doesn’t always account for the gap in communication. You and your partner may know each other very well; however, he/she doesn’t always know what you think, feel, want or need. Man of us enter into relationships thinking that our partner has the same ideas on what relationships are for, our role in them and other expectations. Talking about differences in expectations can help prevent miscommunications. It is key to communicate your needs and wants to your partner, no one else will do it for you.
Know Your Iceberg
Many therapists will talk about the “anger iceberg,” which essentially means anger is what you see, but underneath there are a whole chunk of emotions that may be invisible. Anger is a secondary emotion, while emotions like sadness, hurt, abandonment, or embarrassment are primary emotions. When you are able to identify the emotion underneath anger, you can more clearly communicate how you are feeling to your partner. When we communicate with the hidden emotions rather than anger, we can lower defensiveness in our partner so the conversation is less likely to escalate.
We all know that communicating through texts, e-mails and all the different gadgets we have can be a disaster. When there is an important issue to talk about, set aside the time to talk in person to avoid any unnecessary misinterpretations or theatrical readings of your messages. Oh and ladies, do not pass it around to your friends to verify that you’re not “reading into it.” Some of you say, well it’s easier to write/type because I get nervous or flustered. You can write or journal ahead of time to organize your thoughts, but reserve indirect communication for Facebook posts or sharing e-mails about your boss!
Define Your Own Circles
Something that every couple struggles with is distance and balance. Think of a relationship as a venn diagram, where each person is their own circle with an overlapping one in the middle. It is essential for couples to go through trial and error to define what their circles look like. What level of closeness works for you? How much distance and independence feels comfortable? Try not to compare your distance to another couple’s; everyone is different and it is a process to find your balance as a couple.
Most of us feel so safe and comfortable with our partners that they tend to get the brunt of our frustration and agitation with daily life. When two people are so close and know each other so well, it opens up the possibility for greater hurt. Take the time to notice the small things and appreciate the other person. When we are grateful for our partner, rather than taking them for granted, we move closer to feelings of joy and happiness.
Have A Sense Of humor!
Last but certainly not least is humor. There has been research done in health and psychology fields that continually points to humor as a source of resilience for people of all ages. Learn to laugh at yourself, your partner, and at that same argument you seem to have every Thursday at 6 o’clock. Some issues may never be resolved, but laughing together at the way the two of you interact can reconnect you after an argument and is a great coping mechanism to recover from bumps in the relationship.