If you were to imagine for a moment what has made you who you are today, you would conjure up an insurmountable number of events, situations, places, culture, values etc. that have contributed to who you are today. There is no way that we can be reductionist when we discuss human behaviour and who we are. No one other than you can truly understand what goes on in your head. Relationships are complicated and unique yet this creates the foil of what they are, relationships are exciting, scary but amazing because of their complexities. The aim of this article is by no means to put any one in a box but simply just to open your eyes to some explanations as to why we are the way we are. This understanding will help you understand who you and your partner are and ultimately create a more truthful and open relationship.
A reminder that we are all ego, soul, body and energy circles. In every situation all four of these aspects of ourselves are delicately dancing to find their centre. Remember that the truth of who you are is always your soul but we are still human and it is to allow the human aspects of ourselves to be listened to, this is honouring the fullness of who you are.
How do relationships form?
First encounters are important when it comes to encouraging the formation of a relationship. Let’s also put first dates under the same analogy. The sun is shining, you’re swimming in the sea, sipping a fantastic cocktail and all of a sudden you meet a gorgeous stranger. You fall in love, or so you think. The Reward/need Satisfaction Model (Bryne and Clore, 1970) talks about how relationships are formed not because of the person themselves but because of the association you make between the person and the pleasant situation (stimulus) explained by the principles of classical conditioning. You are in a good mood when you meet the person, you are relaxed, you are in a good ‘headspace’. You associate the feeling you are feeling with the person. Using this idea, here is a great tip for a first date. Take you partner to an event where they will feel good, roller coasters, jazz etc. that way they will associate you with the good feeling. Equally, it may not all be in your control. If they are in a bad mood when they go on their date, they may associate you with their bad mood. Oh! Oh!
Operant conditioning explains that relationships form when people are positively reinforced for being with the person e.g. increase in social status, finance, the other person makes them feel good etc. You start going out with a person because of the rewards (happiness, a family, companionship, security, sex) that you get from that relationship. One could also enter into a situation to avoid an unpleasant situation (stimulus) e.g. we all know people who don’t like being alone so enter into relationships to protect themselves from feeling loneliness.
‘They are way out of your league’. I’ve never heard this saying in person, only in movies but according to Walster’s Matching Hypotheis (1966) we unconsciously choose a partner who we perceive to be of the same social status as we are. Our initial attraction to someone is determined by how they compare to what we perceive our social desirability score is. Thus we are influenced by what we think our ‘chances’ with the other person are.
Shavel et al. (1988) talks about how the attachment system of your earlier years helps you form an internal working model (an idea if you wish) of how relationships should be and as a consequence you unconsciously act out (model) this working model based on what they have seen in future relationships. The primary care giver is key what type of internal working model is established. If your primary care giver was distant, this becomes the ‘norm’ and so forth. At the heart of all of us we all want love. A child who didn’t get love as ‘affection’ but got perceived love from their parents through avoidance and distance may find it pleasurable to have sex without the involvement of love as this is what they experienced.
Men always joke about women with ‘Daddy issues’ and they joke about the fact that these are the types of women that are the ‘easiest to get’. Is there a theoretical explanation for this? There is a theory that talks about why women end up dating their fathers and men their mothers. It talks about how we wish to still find the love that we didn’t get from our parents. Let me explain, if your father was emotionally distant you may end up with an emotionally distant man because you wish to find the love within them that your father never gave you. There was something missing from your relationship with your father and you would like to complete it by choosing a partner that closely resembles them.
How are relationships maintained?
What is the cost benefit ratio of your current relationship? If the rewards out way the costs then the relationship is likely to be maintained. The Social Exchange Theory (Rusbult, 1983) says relationships are maintained based on a comparison level. The more rewards, the more positive the relationship will be and vice versa. What is interesting to me is that we change, our needs change, what we want changes which is a potential reason why the equilibrium in relationships often change.
In order for a relationship to be successful one has to be satisfied with the balance of costs vs rewards. Secondly, the quality of any alternatives has to be minimal. The moment we spot a better alternative, the balance is tipped. However, one may still decide to stay in this unbalanced relationship because of the amount of perceived investment e.g. time, finance, friends that they believe they will lose if the relationship ends. This is a tricky one to balance out but I believe that this model does outline how important it is for us to be honest about what we perceive we are putting in and getting out of the relationship.
According to the Centeredness Model (Bennett 2014), in order for a relationship to be maintained knowing who you are and then remaining in one’s centre is vital. Every person has their own centre. This is when a person acts and talks from a place within their true centre, who they really are. All too often in relationships partners want to either bring their partners over to their centre or they go into the other person’s centre (space). This is where communication is important. One has to be honest with their partner about how they feel and what they want. Secondly, their partner has to understand that it is not a personal attack but just the other expressing how they feel. Once this exchange takes place, the two partners should meet in the middle. When no compromise can be found for whatever reason, it is often at this point that partners decide to walk different paths.
The wine bottle analogy (Bennett, 2014)… If we sit on opposite sides of a table and look at a wine bottle for example and I say to you, “There is a bar code here”. The person on the other side of the table is likely to say ‘No’ because they genuinely cannot see it. Relationships break down when people are more focused on their own side than their partners. Yes, there is definitely a bar code. We cannot deny that. Your feelings are real and should be honoured. However, so should the feelings of your partner. Just because they can’t see and understand your side doesn’t mean that it is not valid. They key is to honour your partners feeling by letting them explain how they feel. Even if you don’t understand them, you should honour that to them, they are real.
How do relationships breakdown?
Rollie and Duck’s model of breakdown (1999) explains why relationships break down by stages:
Stage one: An increase in dissatisfaction within the relationship starts. If this escalates, we move to the next level.
Stage two: Internally we begin to focus on our partner’s fault. The moment we start seeing faults within our partner we unconsciously start to compare them to other people. It is likely that we become resentful and become socially withdrawn, from others but more so from our partners.
Stage three: At this stage a conversation is had. If it is constructive the issues can become resolved, if it is destructive, the relationship may come to an end.
I feel that a ‘Water Bottle Analogy’ conversation should be had even before it reaches stage three. Although as humans we fall into the trap of ‘I should….’. The moment you hear yourself say ‘I should…’ you are denying how you really feel. If something bothers you, talk about it. It is ok to feel and then express emotions. You will find that on most occasions the simple expression of these emotions allows the energy to naturally release itself. (Louise Hay)
Ladies, believe me, at the heart of each man is also an insecure boy. According to the evolutionary explanation of relationship breakdown, they too can feel threatened and whenever we feel threatened, it is ‘Fight or Flight’. Fight to men looks like anger and rage, flight means breaking up. If a man feels threatened he may increase his emotional commitment to his partner. ‘Marry me or else’. A women thinks that the more a male shares his resources (finances/ gifts) with her, the more emotionally committed he is. Is this why men buy flowers and gifts to ‘make up’ after a fight? Alternatively, if they feel threatened they are likely to become promiscuous so that they may have a replacement mate quickly after.
Another evolutionary explanation says that men and women are hardwired differently, in that men need to feel respected and women secure. And it is almost like they are in constant conflict with the flight or fight instinct of the other to feel worthy. A man sits in front of the TV to have some down time (It is important for a man to centre himself in his ‘cave’ on his own). A women comes to talk to him because she wants to share her day. The man is tired and asks her to leave. She feels rejected and doesn’t feel very secure. A man tells a story and naturally doesn’t remember as many details as a woman, the moment a woman corrects him he feels disrespected and not good enough. That which comes naturally to the other sex almost seems to conflict with the other. Could this be the same with sex? A man needs to have sex to feel connected and a women needs to feel connected to their partner in order to have sex. Could we be designed any more differently?
Let’s talk about SEX
Love at first sight? Physically attractive? Why? Could it be that through evolution our ancestors have evolved such that our brains and neural adaptations now see physical attractiveness based on their ability to offer better genetic qualities for our offspring?
Why do women play hard to get? Is it because they know that if a man ‘fights’ for her they can protect them because they are determined and strong? Why do we find men with muscles so attractive? Men who generally have masculine features e.g. prominent cheekbones, large muscles, large jawline etc generally have a higher level of testosterone, which is a hormone that helps with strength and protection. Why are men attracted to large eyes and breasts, generally these show the youthfulness and fertility of a female. Is it love at first sight or just our evolutionary programming to choose someone who will offer us the best chance of producing offspring and their ultimate survival?
Along the same lines, this could explain why men are also more promiscuous. The more females they impregnate the more chance of having a high reproductive success rate.
A lot of these theories are ‘head’ theories. They are great to think about because remember we are still human. We need to feel that we understand ourselves and there are reasons for why we act the way that we do. My encouragement to you today though is to start identifying when you are relating to those around you from your head (chaos, uncertainty) or your heart. Divine guidance is always peaceful, still, repetitive and to the point. Be gentle with your human side. You are doing the best that you can with what you have been given. Listening to the heart takes time and patience. You are perfect, whole and complete just the way you are… and so is your partner.
Byrne, D. and Clore, G. L. (1970) A reinforcement model of evaluative processes, Personality: An International Journal 1, 103-28.
Walster, E., Aronson, V., Abrahams, D and Rottmann, L. (1966) Importance of physical attractiveness in dating behavior, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 508-16.
Shaver, P. R., Hazan, C., & Bradshaw, D. (1988). Love as attachment: The integration of three behavioral systems. In R. J. Steinberg & M. L. Barnes (Eds.), The psychology of love (pp. 68-99). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
Rusbult, C. (1983). A longitudinal test of the investment model: The development (and deterioration) of satisfaction and commitment in heterosexual involvements. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 172-186.
Rollie and Duck’s Model of breakdown (1999)
Centeredness Model (Bennett 2014)
About the Author
Author: Connie-Lee Bennet
As the founder of Meraki Therapy, Connie-Lee Bennett is one of the leading pioneers to bring Holistic Psychotherapy to the awareness of modern society. In her practice she helps people find the tools within themselves to create a life they love. Connie-Lee had been involved in the world of psychology in both the academic and cathartic disciplines for over 15 years. Currently writing her first book, she works part time as a Holistic Psychotherapist, certified Heal Your Life® workshop leader, public speaker and teacher.
Find out more at www.merakitherapy.com where you can find @merakitherapy on twitter, facebook and Instagram
Articles contributed: Why is it important to spend time realigning yourself every day?