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Romantic Relationships

In romantic relationships, the secret to success is finding the right person. Improving our self-acceptance and self-efficacy are important in establishing a good relationship.

Before a Relationship: What Can Go Wrong?

Being in love with someone is a complex relationship; it is not simply a feeling. It is a relationship that makes you both want to be the best people you can be. An important fact to keep in mind is before anyone else can accept us, we need to accept and love ourselves. The following goals are what to strive for in a successful relationship.

Relationship Goals:
  • You accept each other as you are, without reservation, and in which both of you respect and understand each other even when you disagree.
  • It involves intimacy, fascination, and enjoying each other’s company.
  • Acting in each other’s best interest and being prepared to give your utmost to each other.
  • Feeling secure enough about yourselves to not be threatened when your partner does not agree with you.
  • Knowing and understanding each other well enough to know how each other thinks, how each other reacts to things and what things are important to each other.
  • Trusting each other with your lives, your children, and your dreams.
  • You permanently commit to each other.

Finding a person with whom you can have the kind of relationship described above is not an easy task. Being in love with someone is not just about having feelings for him or her; being in love is the most complex role you will ever have. Finding someone who understands and is competent enough to handle the job is essential and those sorts of people do not come along every day. Defining the qualities you value in an intimate relationship is a good place to start.

What can go wrong before you have a relationship?
  • Not knowing who you are or what you want: It is much better to know yourself, including your likes and dislikes. Then you will know and be able to convey exactly what you want.
  • How you value yourself is key: If you respect yourself, you will attract other people who respect you too. Furthermore, you will not even consider as potential partners those people who will not respect you and treat you well.
  • Being Desperate: This consists of the conviction that you need another person to love you in order for you to be okay. This is using a relationship as a quick fix for little or no self-esteem. You become a beggar not a chooser, and you usually end up settling for anyone who comes along. And anyone who dates you is essentially agreeing that you are nothing without them.
  • Rescuing: The basis for this sort of relationship is one of pity or sympathy. This person needs me desperately. People who agree to this sort of relationship believe that taking care of someone is the only way they have to earn love. If they need me then they will love me and keep me around. The question is do you want to take care of this person for the rest of your life? And what happens if this person no longer needs you in this way?
  • Using the wrong bait: A fishing metaphor: for example, using casual sex as bait is guaranteed to catch those who are interested in only one thing.
  • Looking for the missing parts of myself: Sometimes we are attracted to our opposites. We wish we could be more like them, so we are drawn to them. It is best, however, to develop that side of yourself rather than relying on someone else to do it for you. Quite often those opposite qualities and characteristics can cause conflict later in the relationship.
  • Fear of being hurt: Sometimes the fear of being hurt in a relationship might lead you to choose those people you know you will never really commit to in a deep way. This is a safe way of having a relationship without the risk. An example of this sort of relationship would be only getting involved with people who are already married.
  • Fear of commitment: Having to make a final decision that this is THE person for you can be hard for some people. Saying yes to one person means saying no to all the others. Sometimes this shows up when you keep waiting for the absolutely perfect partner, or when you are so critical of every person you date that no one meets your standards.
  • Gravitating towards what we recognize and are comfortable with: It is very easy to believe that all relationships are like the ones we saw growing up. For example, being around alcoholic or abusive men feels normal because that is what you grew up with. For others, a dominant, controlling woman feels right. Look hard at what is familiar to you and you may want to make a choice not to repeat that pattern in your relationships.

Characteristics of Healthy Relationships

It is easier to describe the characteristics of a good romantic relationship than it is to define what love is. The following is a list of some of these characteristics:

  • EXCLUSIVITY: Someone is your “one and only,” and you are their “one and only.” If you and your partner choose to not be exclusive, all involved parties must be made aware of your relationship situation so no one gets hurt.
  • ENJOYMENT: Enjoying each other’s company so much that you're always looking for opportunities to be together; you like each other and have fun together.
  • ADVOCATE/CHAMPION: You and your partner know each other well enough and advocate or champion each other’s interests; you encourage and protect each other’s interests. 
  • GIVING THE UTMOST: In a romantic relationship, couples give to each other in many ways and at many times. This type of giving has an “I’ll be there for you no matter what” sort of tone.
  • ACCEPTANCE AND AUTHENTICITY: Each partner accepts the other as they are without being inclined to change the other. I want this person just as he or she is. Furthermore, you know that you can be 100% yourself with your partner; there is no need for masks, facades, playing a role, or otherwise inhibiting expressions of who you really are.
  • RESPECT: This means you trust your partner's judgments and decisions, even when you do not fully understand them. It also means that you give your partner the freedom to exercise their judgment and that you do not degrade their decisions even though you may not fully agree with them.
  • UNDERSTANDING: Understanding goes with respect; it means that you not only know extensive personal information about your partner but also why they may choose to do what they do.
  • FASCINATION: Fascination means you want to be with your partner even when you may be engaged in other activities; you want to be with them, see them, touch them, talk to them, etc. 
  • INTIMACY: This means a deep level of sharing in which you build a history together. Sharing includes doing activities together and confiding in each other. You end up with a person who knows you better than anyone else in the world. Intimacy can include sexual intimacy but is not limited to that.
  • COMMITMENT: Being in love involves a permanent commitment based on the certainty that this is the right person to spend your life loving and being loved by.
How can you evaluate your relationship?

The following list of questions are things you can ask yourself to aid in evaluating your relationship:

  • Can we be ourselves with each other?
  • Can we accept and cherish each other just the way we are - without reservations?
  • Do we enjoy each other’s company?
  • Do we respect and understand each other even when we disagree?
  • Do we bring out the best in each other?
  • Do we act in each other’s best interests?
  • Do we know and understand each other well enough to know how each other thinks, how each other tend to react to things, and what things are important to each other?
  • Are we prepared to give the utmost to each other if needed?
  • Can we trust each other with our lives, our children, and everything else that is dear to us?
  • Is this person so fascinating that I can imagine spending a lifetime getting to know him or her?
  • Can I imagine myself with this person 5, 10, 20, 50 years from now?

Effective Communication in Relationships

Effective communication is an essential component of healthy relationships. Communication with others involves expressing ourselves, responding to someone else and properly managing conflict.

Effective Ways to Communicate in Relationships

When you are stating an opinion, making an observation or expressing a feeling, the most appropriate format to use is called an “I-statement.” I-statements allow us to state things in positive terms, to express ourselves directly and honestly, and to take responsibility for what we think, feel and need while avoiding blaming or accusing others.

In contrast, “You-statements” blame the other person, put your partner on the defensive, and often cause communication to be blocked. 

To simplify things, we can use a kind of “formula” for I-statements: “I feel/think/want (express the feeling/thought/desire)… when (state the behavior causing it)… because (identify the reason)…” The nice thing about this formula is that we can decide how much of it we want to use; it can just be the first line, the first two lines, or all three.

When other people are expressing themselves, it is not appropriate to use I-statements when responding. A more effective technique is called “reflection.” 

Reflection is saying back, in your own words, the content and/or feeling of what the other person just said. Reflection does not question, challenge, argue, approve, or disapprove. We can use a formula, similar to that used for expressing yourself, for reflection: “Sounds like you’re feeling/thinking/wanting (express the emotion, thought, desire you hear…) because (state the reason you heard it…).”

Reflection requires us to listen very carefully to what the other person is actually saying. Yet we also do NOT have to be right in identifying the emotion or reason we hear because the speaker will automatically clarify it for us and sometimes for him/her in the process.

When you first begin using I-statements it can feel artificial, however, it doesn’t take long for them to become automatic. Experiment with them and you may find that your discussions with other people become much more productive and satisfying.

This information about expressing yourself and responding to others was retrieved and adapted from the Virtual Pamphlet Collection: Counseling Services, University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire. 

Managing Conflict

Conflicts are a normal and natural part of any relationship. Learning how to properly and respectfully manage conflicts will help you and your partner maintain your healthy relationship. Managing conflict improperly may lead to resentment, causing distance in your relationship.

Effective Ways to Manage Conflict in Relationships
  • Deal with one problem at a time.
  • Focus on issues in the present, not the past; don’t dredge up old grievances.
  • Adopt a win-win strategy; there is a problem to be solved, not a victory to be won.
  • Be clear and specific both in your complaints and in your requests for change.
  • Suggest some possible solutions to the problems you present; be reasonable and realistic in your statements.
  • Check out your assumptions no matter how “obvious” they might be to you or how “certain” you are about your partner’s views.
  • Ask yourself whether the conflict is the result of miscommunication and misunderstanding.
  • Choose an appropriate time and place to be open and honest about your feelings and needs; don’t choose public places where embarrassment is probable.
  • Use tact and timing; don’t bring up important issues in a moment when there is neither time nor energy to resolve them.
  • Don’t use unfair or dirty tactics; this means no bullying, ridiculing, name-calling, accusing, blame withholding, mimicking, or exaggerating.
  • Show your partner respect.
  • Don’t nag, whine, preach, or lecture; these behaviors will only erode your relationship.
  • Avoid arguing over the “truth” or “who is right.” People have feelings that need to be heard and accepted; these feelings are neither true nor false.
  • Listen, listen, and listen.

This information about expressing yourself and responding to others was retrieved and adapted from “Passage to Intimacy” by Lori H. Gordon, Ph.D. and “Love is Never Enough” by Aaron Beck, M.D.

Relationship Spoilers

There are many things that can put pressure on a relationship. The following are some examples of relationship spoilers:

  • Expecting your partner will change.
  • Hoping your partner will never change.
  • Assuming that your partner thinks as you do.
  • Believing that the relationship will fulfill all your needs.
  • Giving up on interests, activities and friends due to the relationship.
  • Seeking improved self-esteem through the relationship.
  • Feeling incomplete without a relationship.
  • Expecting that your partner will never make mistakes.
  • Expecting that each new relationship is “the one.”
  • Viewing conflict as a threat.
  • Working hard to get the relationship started but exerting little effort to keep it going.
  • Trying to be what your partner wants, rather than being yourself.
  • Not understanding that feelings of love and passion change with time, as do your priorities and expectations.

Ending a Relationship

There are always questions that arise when a relationship is coming to an end. Is there a good way to break up with someone? How do I survive a breakup? What can I do if I am alone?

Healthy Breakup Strategies
  • Do not postpone a breakup:
    Breaking up with someone is never easy to do. There is no good way to end a relationship and spare someone’s feelings at the same time. Postponing a breakup in order to spare someone’s feelings does not work. The hurt of a breakup can be greatly compounded if your partner finds out you have wanted to end things for some time. He or she usually ends up wondering just how much of the relationship was, in fact, a lie.
  • Avoid cowardly breakup attempts:
    There are some truly wimpy ways to break up. They include such things as avoiding your partner, not returning phone calls or emails, acting like such a jerk that your partner breaks up with you, and cheating on your partner in a way that he or she is likely to find out. These techniques add to the hurt of the breakup because your partner ends up having to go through a period of uncertainty and confusion about what is going on.
  • Be respectful:
    The kindest way to break up is to be honest about what is going on with you and how you feel about the relationship. When giving an explanation, try to avoid blaming the other person or putting them down. Ending a relationship is one thing, degrading your partner while doing so is another.  If they get upset and begin yelling and calling you names, you can excuse yourself and tell them you will talk to them later.
  • Realize the difficulty involved in post-relationship friendships:
    Lastly, couples often want to go back to just being friends after a breakup. It may be possible to get to a friendly point if the breakup is mutual and if the painful feelings of ending things have healed. Even if you have a friendly relationship with your ex, however, it is not one of being “just friends.” It is impossible to erase your history together and go back to a time when you were just friends. It becomes an “ex” sort of relationship, friendly or not.
Surviving a Breakup

When a breakup occurs, regardless of who initiated it, there is a huge hole in your life for a time; feelings of loss are normal. Unfortunately, there is not an easy answer but here is a list of things to keep in mind:

  • You grieve a lot, and in between the grieving, you work at filling in the vacuum.
  • You go out with friends instead of your ex-partner.
  • You try new activities, things you did not have time to do before when you were in a relationship.
  • You stay busy; don’t be surprised when grief blindsides you at odd, unexpected moments.
  • Give yourself permission to feel the loss.

Relationship Violence

Relationship Violence is also known as Domestic Violence or Intimate Partner Violence. According to the Office on Violence Against Women, Relationship Violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner or a former partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. The button below will redirect you to Wellness Services' webpage where you can learn more information about the cycle of violence, recognizing signs of an unhealthy relationship, what to do if you are in an unhealthy relationship, and campus, local and national resources. 

Relationship Violence

Counseling and Psychological Services offers couples counseling. This service is available to all students and their partner. Your partner does not need to be a UWF student in order to participate.

If you'd like to schedule an appointment for couples counseling or to discuss any relationship issues you may be struggling with, please contact us at 850.474.2420 or stop by UWF Counseling and Psychological Services in Building 960, Suite 200A, to schedule an appointment.

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