A client asked me today, "How do romantic relationships change us?" The idea behind this question is intriguing and may shed light into the darker places of relationships. This question underscores our unspoken fears of loss of control and the need to conform to someone else's ideas about happiness. As a therapist, I tend to see the couples "in trouble" so I may have my own a somewhat stilted view of things. How Do You Set Realistic Expectations In A Relationship?
From a brain perspective, relationships change the way our brain releases feel good chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine. These are the brain chemicals that draw us together. Think of them a bit like addiction. Oxytocin and dopamine are key components in making us feel happy. Oxytocin is the same chemical released that bonds a mother to her newborn baby. It's also the same chemical that initially binds couples together. When a relationship ends, oxytocin is no longer produced, fueling the feeling that you are supposed to be together. In reality, you are experiencing a withdrawal from oxytocin!
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From an intrapersonal perspective, relationships harness both our strengths and weaknesses. For some reason (Freud has a great theory about this: Repetition Compulsion) romantic relationships highlight exactly where we need to work on ourselves. They bring up our deepest and scariest insecurities. They bring up our fears of being unlovable and of being incompetent. They make us think "what if I do this and I still fail?" Couples in my practice who still struggle with childhood issues fight more, exhibit controlling behaviors and feel a greater amount of anxiety. In reality, we are trying to get the love we needed as kids, which our partners can never offer, no matter how much we fight. Does Your Husband Feel Emasculated?
Interpersonally, we are challenged to accept our partners for who they are and what they represent. We may believe that they can meet our every need when in reality, there is only one person who can do that: our self. Through self-care, self-reflection and making quality decisions for ourselves, we can meet all of our individual needs. We are challenged to accept ourselves, particularly our flaws as they become so apparent within the ties of a long-term, monogamous relationship. By accepting our imperfections, we begin the work of healing. Until that time, primary love relationships can feel like jail sentences. 5 "Imperfections" That Men Find Totally Sexy
Regardless of whose fault disagreements may be (and no, I do not ultimately believe in fault for most issues), being in a relationship changes our understanding of ourselves, our partner, and of the world. Being conscientious of who we are within the relationship can give us space to enjoy. It is also important that you are aware of how you change within the relationship. Do you trust? Not trust? Do you feel safe? Does your partner? These are all great questions to help enhance emotional intimacy with your partner.
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I look forward to reading how you think your primary love relationships have changed you!
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