3 Relationship Essentials
On your journey to optimal health, who are your traveling companions? What do you consider relationship essentials?
Relationships keep us happy and healthy as we go through life. Researchers demonstrated the importance of relationships through the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. According to Robert Waldinger, current Director of the study, researchers have learned three big lessons from the study. On average…
- Social connections are really good for us whereas loneliness kills.
- The quality of our close relationships matters. For example, high-conflict marriages, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health whereas living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.
- Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains; that is, memories stay sharper longer.
So, given the impact of relationships on your health, what can you do to improve the quality of your relationships? Read on to discover 3 relationship essentials you can use to improve the quality of your relationships.
#1: Know Your Attachment Style
What’s your attachment style? Take the attachment style quiz!
Your attachment style can be a good predictor of your relationship success. According to attachment theory, which was developed by Dr. John Bowlby and Dr. Mary Ainsworth, your pattern of attachment is set in childhood and tends to follow you around wherever you go.
Based on their relationships with primary caregivers, people emerge from childhood more or less securely attached. For those who are less securely attached, researchers noticed three patterns of adjustment, which they called anxious, avoidant, and fearful, which is rare (1-5% of population). Later, Dr. Phillip Shaver and Dr. Cindy Hazan took the research on parent-child relationships and applied it to romantic relationships. Here is an explanation of each attachment style including what percentage of the population has adopted that attachment style.
- Secure Attachment (55%): People with a secure attachment style tend to be less anxious and more satisfied with their relationships. Securely attached people have an easy time forming connections and have less doubt about the equality of the relationship. They also have an easier time reaching out for comfort.
- Anxious Attachment (15%): People with an anxious attachment style tend to worry more about their relationships. They are said to experience an “emotional hunger” and are desperate for a fantasy type of love. They tend to look for a partner who can rescue them or ‘complete’ them. Unfortunately, their desperation sometimes can push away the exact person they want closeness with. When they are afraid of losing their partner, they can become clingy, possessive, paranoid, or need constant attention.
- Avoidant Attachment (23%): People with an avoidant attachment style tend to be emotionally distant from their partners. They take pride in their independence and can see attachment as weakness. They like to process emotions on their own and don’t like to share vulnerabilities with anyone else. Unfortunately, they tend to pull away when they need help most. They are not as attentive as their partners because they worry they will become too co-dependent, and this will take away their independence. They also can shut down emotionally during arguments or close themselves off from feelings. Discover How to Deal with Avoidant Attachment Style.
- Fearful Avoidant Attachment (7%): People with a fearful-avoidant attachment style are extremely inconsistent in their behavior and have a hard time trusting others. They could also suffer from other mental health issues, such as substance abuse, depression, or borderline personality disorder. This attachment style develops when the child’s caregivers become a source of fear rather than a source of safety. Discover How to Overcome Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style.
Earned Secure Attachment
Fortunately, you are not doomed by your attachment style. It is possible to “earn” or develop a more secure attachment style. Awareness is the first (and most important) step. What are your patterns? Do you tend to pull away or smother? Being honest with yourself and your partner is crucial. Second, it’s important to treat your relationship as a foundation and develop it as a secure base. That is, your relationship can be a home base, a touchstone, a foundation for you. In the right relationship, you seek out a satisfying and loving mutual connection.
Discover How to Identify Your Attachment Style.
If you’re a parent, discover How to Make a Child Feel Valued so they develop a secure attachment style!
Most of us seem to be hankering after romantic love. But few of us realize that, far from being timeless and universal, romantic love is a modern construct that emerged in tandem with the novel. But there are, of course, many other ways to love. By preoccupying ourselves with romantic love, we risk neglecting other types of love that are more stable or readily available, and that may, especially in the longer term, prove more healing and fulfilling.
#2: Appreciate the 7 Types of Love
What is Sternberg’s Theory of Love?
In his Triangular Theory of Love, Dr. Robert Sternberg cataloged seven different types of love that are comprised of three essential components of love in varying degrees.
Three Components of Love
According to Sternberg, the concept of love has three components:
- Intimacy: involves feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness
- Passion: encompass the drives that lead to physical attraction, romance, and sexual consummation
- Commitment: the decision that one loves another and then aims to maintain that love through shared goals
The three components of love interact in a systemic manner. The presence of a component of love or a combination of two or more components create seven kinds of love experiences. These types of love may vary over the course of a relationship as well.
7 Types of Love
- Friendship (intimacy): Friendship occurs when the intimacy or liking component is present, but feelings of passion or commitment in the romantic sense are missing. Friendship love can be the root of other forms of love.
- Infatuation (passion): Infatuation is characterized by feelings of lust and physical passion without liking and commitment. There has not been enough time for a deeper sense of intimacy, romantic love, or consummate love to develop. These may eventually arise after the infatuation phase.
- Empty Love (commitment): Empty love is characterized by commitment without passion or intimacy. At times, a strong love deteriorates into empty love. The reverse may occur as well. For instance, an arranged marriage may start out empty but flourish into another form of love over time.
- Romantic Love (intimacy + passion): Romantic love bonds people emotionally through intimacy and physical passion. Partners in this type of relationship have deep conversations that help them know intimate details about each other. They enjoy sexual passion and affection. These couples may be at the point where long-term commitment or future plans are still undecided.
- Companionate Love (intimacy + commitment): Companionate love is an intimate, but non-passionate sort of love. It includes the intimacy or liking component and the commitment component of the triangle. It is stronger than friendship, because there is a long-term commitment, but there is minimal or no sexual desire. This type of love is often found in marriages where the passion has died, but the couple continues to have deep affection or a strong bond together. This may also be viewed as the love between very close friends and family members.
- Fatuous Love (passion + commitment): In this type of love, commitment and passion are present while intimacy or liking is absent. Fatuous love is typified by a whirlwind courtship in which passion motivates a commitment without the stabilizing influence of intimacy. Often, witnessing this leaves others confused about how the couple could be so impulsive. Unfortunately, such marriages often don’t work out.
- Consummate Love (intimacy + passion + commitment): Consummate love is made up of all three components and is the total form of love. It represents an ideal relationship. Couples who experience this kind of love have great sex several years into their relationship. They cannot imagine themselves with anyone else. They also cannot see themselves truly happy without their partners. They manage to overcome differences and face stressors together.
#3: Cultivate Your Relationships
What are the 36 questions that lead to love?
Building close relationships in adulthood can be challenging. Many social situations call for polite small talk, not heart-to-heart conversations, making it difficult to really connect deeply with people. One way to overcome these barriers to closeness is by engaging in “reciprocal self-disclosure.” That is, to reveal increasingly personal information about yourself to another person, as they do the same to you. Research conducted by Aron and colleagues, suggests that spending just 45 minutes engaging in self-disclosure with a stranger can dramatically increase feelings of closeness between you. In some cases, these feelings of closeness persist over time and form the basis of a new relationship.
In the study, unacquainted pairs of participants who were instructed to ask one another the “36 Questions for Increasing Closeness” reported a greater increase in feelings of closeness than pairs instructed to ask one another 36 superficial questions instead. Remarkably, their feelings of closeness following the conversation matched the average level of closeness that other participants reported feeling in their closest relationships.
Download: 36 Questions for Increasing Closeness Exercise
To develop closeness, you need to be willing to open up. But opening up isn’t always easy—you might fear coming on too strong or embarrassing yourself. The 36 Questions exercise encourages you and your partner to open up at the same time and at a similar pace, thereby reducing the likelihood that the sharing will feel one-sided. The exercise offers space for your partner to respond positively to your self-disclosure—with understanding, validation, and care—in a way that can also enhance closeness. This mirrors the gradual getting-to-know-you process that relationships typically undergo, only at a more accelerated pace. The feelings of closeness generated can, in turn, help you build lasting relationships that increase your overall happiness.
In summary, relationships are a critical aspect of your health and wellness. You can improve the quality of your relationships by attending to these three relationship essentials. Know your attachment style and endeavor to address patterns of attachment insecurity that can undermine closeness. Take full advantage of all the love in your life by recognizing its various forms in your life. Finally, take time to cultivate your relationships, to ensure that they flourish over time.
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- Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363–377.
- Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental Psychology, 28(5), 759–775. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-16220.127.116.119
- Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 511–524. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1681
- Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93(2), 119–135. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.93.2.119