Will your relationship last?
That may depend on your relating style
Have you ever come home after a night out and declared that you don’t understand your friend’s relationship?
When it comes to love, one person’s pleasure is another’s poison. Every couple has a relating style, which determines their lifestyle and level of intimacy, says Stephanie Osfield.
It influences your views on roles, sexuality, romance and commitment as well as agreements about division of housework and emotional priorities. So what are the implications of your relating style? To put you in the know, here’s the lowdown on the six most common partnership patterns.
6 common partnership patterns
You take your lead from Hollywood love stories – always smooching, holding hands, writing prolific poetry and birthday cards and sharing cosy candlelit dinners for two.
“Romantic couples believe their love is spiritual and fated and will easily endure time and any hardships,” says Amanda Gordon, adjunct associate professor in the Department of Clinical Psychology at Canberra University.
Physical displays of love are central to your intimacy and both partners are proud of having maintained a satisfying sex life. But in some cases, the big passion stems from the need for reassurance because you were deeply hurt in a past romance.
Romantic love may be based on the illusion that your partner is perfect. Yet by 18 months, most partners start to see each other warts and all. “When this honeymoon stage ends, both partners may not be able to sustain the intensity to the same degree,” says Dr Pól McCann, head of Academic Studies at Sydney’s Jansen Newman Institute, which focuses on counselling for human relationships. “If there is a change in the emotional temperature of one partner but not the other, it can cause a rupture if other ways of feeling and expressing love are not also developing.”
In a romantic relationship, sex is usually regular, passionate and connected. If you can learn to resolve your differences, this relationship can prove rock-solid. But first you need to reality-check and realise that niggles with and flaws in your partner don’t mean love is over – they indicate a new level of more authentic intimacy where you trust each other enough to show who you really are.
You’re cast in the mold of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Like them, you fit together easily and if you marry, the wedding is often informal or unconventional. In egalitarian relationships, women keep their name and independence. If you earn more than your partner, he might take a break to raise the kids. You see each other as equals. “There is a greater sense of two individuals working to a common goal, rather than people becoming subsumed as simply part of a couple,” says McCann.
With few traditions to follow, these relationships require constant renegotiation about boundaries. Men whose parents had a more traditional marriage can feel emasculated if they are not the breadwinner. Women may feel guilty they’re not full-time mothers. There’s a risk this can lead to disillusionment or burnout.
“Pressures such as career demands may impact on time, communication and connection,” says McCann. “Despite the best intentions, couples may find themselves slipping into more traditional male/female roles for domestic chores or childcare and then feel frustrated or resentful.”
Egalitarian couples emphasise mutual respect and though arguments might occur, they don’t occur frequently and tend to be talked through and quickly resolved. You make decisions together, which ensures you both feel heard and validated. As you both enjoy the freedom to defy traditional roles, you may revel in pursuing your career while your partner loves being a stay-at-home parent.
Your man takes his identity from earning a good wage, taking charge and protecting you. You happily take on the role of homemaker and carer for your kids and partner once a family comes along.
After years of self-sacrifice, there’s a risk you may feel resentful that your role is undervalued or that you’ve put your personal or career goals on hold. “If this kind of relationship can’t accommodate the woman’s greater need for independence, she may leave and resume study or take personal growth courses,” says Gordon.
When you both have clearly defined relationship roles, there can be less conflict about responsibilities. “Some women may actually prefer not to try to juggle a full-on career and childcare, because they have watched this leave other woman very frazzled,” says Gordon. “If a woman is happy with the status quo in a traditional relationship, she may feel secure and content within it.”
Whether embarking on a second long-term de facto relationship or falling in love after years of friendship, companionship couples connect cerebrally first and physically second. They have often had a long period of singledom or a break up after a long-term relationship.
The danger is that the relationship will lack some excitement and sexual frisson and you may end up feeling more like two friends living together. “One partner may eventually look outside the relationship for someone else who provides the spark they feel that their relationship is lacking,” says Gordon.
Companionship couples don’t want to keep making each other over. “With many interests in common, they never run out of things to talk about and rarely argue about decisions or priorities,” says Gordon. “They can speak their minds without fear of rejection and value the relationship because it often took years for them to find this partner who they value because they are a good fit morally and intellectually.”
You spend all your waking hours together and live for the weekends to be with each other. You exist in a cocoon of love and don’t spend much time with others.
“In companionship relationships, partners can stop growing in self-development and self-esteem,” says Gordon. “Their self-absorption might cause them to annoy relatives or lose friendships through neglect, which can place great pressure on the relationship to fulfill every need of each partner. In the long-term, one partner may feel suffocated and leave or pursue an affair.”
By prioritising your relationship, you never allow work, friends, or family commitments to prevent you from spending quality time together. You are unlikely to become estranged by growing apart and often retain the sense of wonder and connectedness that other couples may lose over time.
In a rescue relationship, often one partner has suffered a past trauma such as child abuse, bullying, the divorce of parents or death of a parent or sibling.
“The more needy partner often carries emotional scars and has a history of depression or fear of being abandoned, which causes them to crave attention,” says Gordon. In this context, the relationship becomes part of the healing process.
“The rescuing partner may have an unhealthy need for control and dominance,” says Gordon. “Over time, they may feel frustrated by their almost parental role or annoyance that they are not getting back as much love as they give and may start resenting or complaining that their partner is not as caring or independent as they would like.”
The security, devotion and kindness that rescue relationships are based on can lay a great foundation for a lasting and committed love. If you are the ‘rescuing’ partner, your self-esteem may get repeated boosts from being so needed. If you are the ‘rescued’ partner, you can feel constantly reassured by the TLC and attention your partner gives you.
Regardless of style, every relationship has the potential to work if both partners understand and address the potential pitfalls. The only time your relating style becomes a problem is when one partner values something and the other doesn’t share or acknowledge that need. Then you may benefit from better communication, some counselling and making the effort to each shift a little in attitudes and behaviour so that you meet each other’s needs halfway.
According to Gordon: “Regardless of your relating style, if both partner’s needs are being met and priorities are noticed and renegotiated over time and life changes, then that is a successful relationship.”
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