EMOTIONAL HEALTH
June 8, 2011

Close Relationships, The 411

Psychologists have discovered some unexpected things about the close relationships key to well being.
Why Close Relationships Matter

Humans are social animals. We need relationships with others as much as we need shelter, food, and water. Our relationships with lovers, friends, and family confirm beliefs, give us information about the world, and reduce our Anxiety, making us healthier. Relationships don’t come naturally to most people. We rush into – and run from – romantic relationships because we just aren’t good at making those intimate connections and keeping them up. The good news is relationship skills can be learned quite effectively. Think about how important your close relationships are to you, then test your "Relationship Quotient" or RQ.

Location Location, Location.

Finding good people isn't as hard as you might think. The key to finding close relationships is most often proximity. Living near someone or repeated contact often lead to relationships, a fact supported by psychological research. Chances are at least some of your friends are from work or school or neighborhood., So whether you are looking for friends or love, you probably don't have to look too far. It’s usually those who we come into contact with the most who will become our closest confidants. Rate the places you frequent the most for their contact potential.

Do Opposites Attract?

The short answer is "no," though we may like those who are our opposites in a few specific ways. The saying "birds of a feature flock together" is a more accurate description: we are drawn to friends and romantic partners with outlooks and interests similar to our own.

Imagine you are at a party, you and Jack talk briefly as you wait your turn in the buffet line, covering three subjects and agreeing on all of them. Later, you have a conversation with Mike. You talk about 10 different subjects, but only agree on five. Who leaves a greater impression of compatibility? It’s Jake, with whom you have a 100% agreement rate, vs. just 50% with Mike. We are hardwired to find similarities between ourselves and other people because doing so makes us feel "agreed with" and therefore good about ourselves. Opposites may challenge us and expand our horizons, but they don’t give us the same feeling of validation.

Improve Your Dating Skills

Being a good partner to others involves getting to know yourself thoroughly. Some experts recommend taking yourself out on a date once a month. Literally. Get ready the way you would if you were going out with someone else. Then go see a movie; take yourself to dinner; or otherwise hit the town. What do you find enjoyable during your self-dates: what movies do you like, what cuisines, what activities? What annoys you? Learning about your own needs and dislikes, means you can own what's yours, making you all the better as a partner.

Create a Relationship Resume. Write it as you would a professional resume, with sections for Objectives, Personal Statement, Experience, and Benefits Sought. Get together with some close friends for a "Relationship Resume" party. It's often easier to write about others than oneself.

Do You Run From Or Relish Intimacy?

While most of us crave closeness, we can be scared by the reality of it. While being cared for and caring for another deeply is undeniably exciting, to feel these strong emotions puts one in a vulnerable position. For some people, intimacy is tied to commitment; so finding it can bring a sigh of relief, and a feeling that one now has the freedom to focus on other things in life. For others, commitment signals the end of certain options, so they instinctively resist it.

There are two major risks that come along with intimacy: rejection and betrayal. Many of our reactions to intimacy are unconscious; it’s impossible to reason with them. Therefore, learning about the roots of these feelings can help us begin to change our unconstructive reactions to intimacy. Consider your response to closeness with this exercise.

Communication: Harder Than You May Think

The basis of all relationships, from the superficial to the deepest, is communication. This, of course, is a mixed blessing, because communication isn’t exactly the easiest skill to master. But it is attainable. Consider this conversation between a man and woman who are dating:

He: "What time are your parents expecting us to be at their place?"
She: "Well, they know we have to drive through town and that means bad traffic."
He: "So what time are they expecting us? Six o'clock, seven?"
She: "It starts to get dark already at five. I know you hate to drive in the dark, so we shouldn't leave here too late."
He: "What time do they want us there?!"
She: "It says right on the invitation, seven-thirty! You don't have to yell!"

These two people obviously have very different perceptions of what the conversation is actually about. Learning to speak the other’s language is key — you can do this by learning to be an active listener.

Conflict Happens. How to Fix It

Conflict in relationships is inevitable. It's how we react to it that's important.

Disrespectful Exchange:
Ralph: "Alice, I am the man in this family and what I say goes!"
Alice: "Yeah, right. You are such an idiot."

Respectful Exchange:
Chandler: "I made a decision and I want you to back me up!"
Monica: "I don't think it was the right decision. But I want you to be happy and I'll work with you."

Being an active listener is essential in fixing problems and disagreements. Say what you mean and stay calm and kind. Here are tips on how to resolve relationship rough spots.

Tips From The Pros

Relationships don’t just magically work themselves out. They are the products of circumstance, communication, and, face it, hard work. The experts say that there are a few key features in long-lasting relationships:

  • Root yourself in reality
  • Expect change
  • Continue the attraction
  • Keep your sense of humor

The last tip may be more useful than you realize.

Angry accusation: "What did you do with my wrench? It's not where it belongs!"
Angry Response: "I haven't seen your stupid wrench! Get it together. You probably lost it."
Humorous Response: "I hope you haven't lost it. I'm the one who loses things around here. Maybe your wrench is with the last three sets of keys I lost? Here, I'll help you look."

Here’s to many years of successful relationships with friends, family, lovers — and yourself.

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