Despite the frigid weather we are experiencing, February is the month when many of us hope to be feeling warm and cozy with our partners (indeed the day after Superbowl is the annual peak for online dating searches). Increased time spent indoors, combined with little cupid hanging over our shoulders, perhaps leads us to think more about the state of our closest relationships.
When it comes to love, theories abound, with limited consensus as to how to find or maintain it. Browsing through magazine racks at the checkout counter we might be led to believe love is acquired by wearing the most beautiful fragrance and maintained with sexy lingerie. Indeed, there is no end to the marketing of products and services that call out to that vulnerable part of us that longs for the most secure of connections.
Fortunately, there is information (as well as tools) available to actually help us discover and protect a bond that fulfills our deepest longings. According to leading Psychologists in the field of couples’ therapy, our basic love related needs are security (this can mean anything from protection to physical closeness and comfort) and affirmation (feeling that our loved-one respects us, really "sees us", has confidence in us etc.). Although not completely mind-blowing, it’s interesting to note the discrepancy between where our current efforts to maintain connection lie (for example, in the hours we log at the gym), versus where we could be putting them (i.e. listening more closely to what our partners are saying when they speak). You might want to take a moment to reflect on the degree to which these needs are being met in your own relationship and whether you are attempting to meet these needs in your partner.
Becoming aware of factors associated with relationship satisfaction can be intimidating. Many of us feel stumped as to how to go about maintaining feelings of security and respect through the toughest domestic scenarios and the doldrums of daily routines. The good news is that, although difficult work is required, skills for strengthening relationships can be learned and practiced. Two books which offer a number of suggestions include Dr. John Gottman’s, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” and Dr. Sue Johnson’s, “Hold Me Tight”. Both authors provide a theoretical explanation for relationship difficulties and practices designed to increase insight into relationships and strengthen the bonds between partners.
Sadly, some of us may be in situations where our relationships have become so stressed, we are unable to repair them alone. In these cases, a skilled therapist may provide a safe enough space to move beyond what is known, to the factors underlying conflict and disconnection. Where there is domestic violence or active substance abuse, specialists are needed to manage the individual, as well as relationship, challenges.
For those still looking for that one “true love”, it may be worth investing in understanding the way we express our needs for attachment and affirmation. In doing so, we may have a better chance of communicating our needs to potential partners and exploring their capacity to respond in kind.
Our needs for security and appreciation are highly adaptive and legitimate, despite how exposed we may feel when we express them to others. Let’s hope that as research into relationship satisfaction is shared, it becomes easier to show our partners what it is we really need and to provide what is needed in return.