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Romantic relationships – Part 1

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Evidence has shown that the propensity towards developing stable relationships begins in infancy, in a child’s earliest experiences with a caregiver, who reliably meets the infant’s needs for food, care, protection, stimulation and social contact. As human beings we all crave and desire love.

Love is one of the most profound emotions known to human beings. There are many kinds of love, but most people seek its expression in a romantic relationship with a compatible partner.{{more}}For some, romantic relationships are the most meaningful element in their lives, providing a source of deep fulfillment. The ability to have a healthy, loving relationship is not innate. Failed relationships happen for many reasons, and the failure of a relationship is often a source of great psychological anguish. Most of us have to work consciously to master the skills necessary to make them flourish.

In thinking about the different types of relationships, it is important to realize that you can have an intimate relationship with anyone. An intimate relationship is one in which you can truly be yourself with someone whom you respect and are respected by in return. It is an emotional connection that can also be physical. It does not have to be in the context of a romantic or sexual relationship.

Many people think that “intimate” means being physically intimate, such as being in a sexual relationships. However, an intimate relationship can be with anyone who you are really close to and with whom you can be completely open and honest. Intimate relationships afford you the opportunity to grow as an individual.

Now, let’s talk about romantic relationships, which, unfortunately, are not always intimate relationships. In a healthy romantic relationship, both partners respect each other and have their own identity. Each partner is an entire individual, not simply part of a couple. Just as peer pressure can negatively impact a friendship, partners can overpower each other and create instability in a romantic relationship.

Romantic levels:

1. Cautious Relationships

This is the period of acquaintances in your life. Bearing in mind that you cannot date if you are not meeting people, romance relationships usually begin with your acquaintances at work, church and other social circles.

You are cautious because you don’t know them well enough to trust them with your personal information. Once you determine that someone ought to be in the “Cautious” category, it is in your best interest to:

o Restrict conversations to small talk you would be willing to let anybody know

o Avoid physical contact beyond anything you would offer in a professional setting (like shaking hands)

o Only meet in the context of a safe group. Since they are not part of your circle of trust, you have no idea what they might do or what they might say happened when you were together.

2. Curious Relationships

As we spend time with people, a few individuals will get our attention. We will sense some attraction because we are growing curious and would like to learn more. Having more questions than answers, we will want to:

o Expand conversations to casual goals and personal interests. This is, however, not the time to talk about our fears, closely held dreams, or sensitive details of our life

o Maintain the same level of physical contact we would exercise in “Cautious Relationships”

o Only meet with these people in the context of a safe group, since you are still testing the reliability of these connections

3. Confident Relationships

As you stay active in relationships, you are likely to meet someone who demonstrates genuine concern for you and your well-being. Your values in many areas of life are similar, and you enjoy each other’s company. As a result, you are willing to spend exclusive time together. In the back of your mind you have a notion this could be someone you eventually marry, but you don’t quite have enough information or interactive experience to reach a conclusion.

You will discover the strength of being in a “Confident Relationship” when you:

o Talk about your personal convictions and challenges which will make you more vulnerable to one another

If conversations go well, your confidence and joy will grow. If conversations don’t go well, you will experience intense feelings that may range from disappointment to panic to even the intense need to run. You have these reactions because you are testing the relationship to see if further vulnerability is a good idea.

When relationships are at this stage, it is important to talk about it as a couple. Questions like, “What kind of relationship do we have?” or “What is your interest in me?” help clarify how vulnerable you are willing to be without guessing. Anytime you sense movement in the relationship, ask these questions again. If you find your interest levels are different, it is time to end the dating relationship before you hurt each other unnecessarily.

Next week, I will continue the discussion on confident relationships and also speak about ‘Connected’ and ‘Committed’ relationships.

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.

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