Given February is Heart Research month and Valentine ’s Day it’s timely to think about heart health from an emotional perspective.
One of the factors that sets us up for pain in intimate relationships are our expectations.
Our expectations in relationships are influenced significantly by the relationship our parents had and by the ideas perpetuated by the popular media. Being aware of both these contexts and how they are influencing you in your intimate relationships can give you greater control of your choices. It is the lack of awareness of these unconscious drivers that means we end up falling for the same type of person or have the same fight time and time again, even though it never works out.
Each of us, quite unconsciously, enters into a relationship with a template on how relationships “should” be. This has been determined by how our parent’s interacted. From this modelling we internalise unwritten rules, like “A partner shows love by bringing flowers” and “Soul mates don’t argue”. But given the diversity in parenting style and early life experiences, your template will vary from that of your partner’s. If you are with a partner who was brought up with the message that love is financial security, the absence of regular bunches of flowers may leave you feeling unloved.
Add to this, the myriad of messages we receive about “true love” from the popular media. Think about recent movies you’ve seen or books you’ve read. What are some of the key messages? In the Twilight Saga for example, the key ideas were that true love means giving up everyone and everything in your life including your humanity. True love saves you from everything. True love is the only goal, with all other life pursuits, relationships etc. being inconsequential. What a lot of pressure and an impossible task!
Here’s a few suggestions to offset the unhelpful messages we’ve received about romantic love:
- Personal responsibility is the most important ingredient for creating a healthy relationship. No-one else is responsible for your happiness. No-one else can rescue you or make your life better. A supportive partner can make a huge difference but as adults we are responsible for choices that maximise our chances of happiness and fulfilment.
- Conflict is normal in any relationship and in healthy relationships it is an opportunity for growth. Healthy relationships are able to negotiate conflict with fairness as there is the foundation of goodwill. Each person has the other’s best interest at heart enabling them to be willing to compromise, accept change, and seek mutually satisfying solutions to conflict.
- After the heady whirlwind stage of falling in love, healthy relationships find a workable balance between being a couple & maintaining an identity as a separate person. Life satisfaction is broader than just one relationship. A healthy relationship allows the space to pursue goals in all areas of life. Healthy partners are delighted by each other’s success and joy, instead of being threatened by it.
- Acts of love aren’t always grand sweeping gestures they can be simple, domestic and not always obvious. Love can be shown through simple gestures such as your partner topping your car up with petrol to save you the hassle or wanting to watch a TV program by your side.
- Like many things in life, there is no instruction manual for love. There is however always help and the opportunity to learn new skills. You don’t have to wait until your relationship is in crisis to benefit from couple counselling or individual counselling around how you operate in relationships. Most relationship counsellors would agree that couples usually leave it too late to seek help and learn new skills that could save their relationship.
By doing your own work on your relationship templates, you can become an emotionally responsible, kind and loving person. You can do your part to create a healthy, authentic, loving relationship! This is why entering into a relationship with appropriate expectations and a clear awareness of the reality of love is the healthiest choices for your heart this valentine’s day.
Article by Dr Kris Kafer,
Principal Clinical Psychologist – Psychology Options, Adamstown.
Psychology Program Developer, Black Dog Institute.
Guest speaker at Golden Door on “Self Compassion” & “Being Mentally Healthy” specialty retreat with Matt Johnstone, for more information click here