Love songs, poems and stories glamorize instant connection—soul mates. “Happily, ever after” is a mainstay of love folklore. Beautiful images of love imprint magical expectations in our hearts dulling the sparkle of reality. The normal struggles of relationships can’t compare with the idealistic images popular in the arts. Not every relationship is fit for the silver screen or scripted in beautiful prose. New love, however, solidifies childhood fairy tales with the accompanying rushes of intense emotions. “Finally,” we think, “this is the person of my dreams. Now life will be all better.” We only discover later, as we walk down the challenging road towards connection, hoping for relationship security, that our fears remain intact. Successful relationships demand confronting differences and making sacrifices.
Biologically equipped with desires to mate, we chase, flirt and seek partners. Sexual attraction excites; new romance feels good, stirring hopes of a different biological desire—a secure future. But instant attraction doesn’t predict future success. Once the hot embers of early desire cool, we are tasked with developing a secure future by employing skills that create security, intimacy, and acceptance.
Relationship success is built upon bonds of trust and warmth of friendship. These require work.
Importance of Loving Behaviors
Bonds strengthen from loving behaviors. A nurtured and developed connection navigates conflicts without shaking underlying foundations. Each partner feels the reassurance of respect even when issues remain unresolved.
When the conflicts are non-threatening, the relationship is secure. David Richo in his book, How to be an Adult in Relationships, says that relationships strengthen through Acceptance, Appreciation, Attention, Affection, and Allowance (the Five A’s) (2002). We create secure bonds by resisting emotionally spurred impulses that intrude on these five A’s of relationship connection.
John Gottman in his “love labs” found that the strength of a relationship is not created by lack of conflict but by how conflict is addressed (2011).
Managing conflict is an essential relationship skill. Does conflict set in motion uncontrollable fears, leading to regrettable behaviors or does it signal an obstacle that simply needs constructive solutions but does not shake the security in the relationship. Several factors play into our response to a conflict, skillfully improving how we respond at these critical junctures is essential for a healthy relationship.
”When you and your partner can’t lean on each other, disconnection will ensue. Disconnection breeds fear, anger, and conflict.”~Giordana Toccaceli | Thrive Global
Emotions and Relationships
The stabbing emotional darts, shooting from insecurities, erupts in fear and anger, puncturing the warmth of companionship. The conflict evolves from a manageable negotiation to a frightening battle for power.
The personal ebb and flow of feelings when unmanaged victimizes partners. The safety that intimate relationships should provide is destroyed. When mundane behaviors sporadically invite condemning wrath, relationships become unpredictable, losing stability and inviting protections. The openness is curtailed and intimacy damaged.
Love and Relationship Security
One of the greatest achievements in love is building a bond that creates security. This requires duel tasks. Often insecurity flows from within. We fear abandonment because of attachment injuries in the past. The trauma then carries over into present relationships.
Not all insecurity is from the past. Sometimes we experience fears because the relationship is frightening. A relationship bully may manipulate a partner by creating an unstable environment, utilizing techniques such as gaslighting. Rebecca Noori explains that “security in a relationship happens when the emotional needs of both partners are met” (Noori, 2023).
Sometimes healthy lovers neglect the bonds and they begin to drift apart. In this case the discomforting insecurity is not an emotional scar but a helpful alarm to reconnect.
Relationship Security is confidence in a partner’s care regard and commitment to the relationship.
Predictability and Security in Relationships
Calmness requires predictability. We manage internal resources in accordance with life unfolding according to plan. When extreme moods inject into the interactions, out of proportion to the situation, partners are startled. They find themselves confronting a storm unprepared, not that they did wrong but because an emotional storm brewing in their partner. Like a child living with a volatile and violent parent suffering, the abuse (emotional or physical) is unpredictable when dependent on factors beyond our control. No security lives here.
Basically, at least in part, relationship security develops from accurately predicting a partner’s pro-relationship behaviors (Lemay and Muir, 2016). However, predictions can be tricky because they depend on both the person making the prediction and the person being predicted. These predictions may fail due to faulty perceptions, expectations, or behaviors from either party involved.
”Those who are insecure, however, may be anxious and worry that others do not love them completely. These people are easily frustrated or angered when their attachment needs go unmet.”~Linda and Charlie Bloom | Psychology Today
Blame and Insecurity
Blame can interfere with creating a secure environment for both partners. A partner constantly blamed for something they can’t change, such as a partners intense insecurity, begins to feel insecure themselves. The partner blaming also is sliding down the slippery slope of an unsolvable problem. Of the problem reside in their own feels and reactions, pointing to external problems will never solve the discomforting emotions of insecurity.
The emotionally volatile person often contributes their extreme emotions to the environment. If they feel bad, they attribute the cause to their partner. The person suffering from extreme fits of jealousy or insecurity often unrealistically expects the partner to resolve their strong emotions.
These mis-directions are subtle and destructive. Like a malignant tumor, these damaging accusations spread, infecting the entire relationship. One partner feels falsely accused, while the other feels ruthlessly ignored. Each conflict furthers the divide, demanding more calloused tactics, and deeper hurts. The impact of a behavior is magnified or diminished by the meaning we give to it. Some behaviors are inherently bad and hurt the relationship whether we paint it brightly or not. Other behaviors have little impact until we interpret the act as hostile or mean spirited.
Our subjective meanings hurt or heal. Our assumed meaning of a partner’s behavior directly impacts the relationship. Even if we weren’t ignored, but simply felt ignored, we store the emotional memory of being ignored. These memories accumulate, tainting new experiences with accompanying biases built upon past interpretations. Negative assessments in the present influence our views in the future.
Downward Relationship Spirals
We begin downward spirals, reacting to small disruptions with fear and anger. Small disruptions, however, are where the security affirming behaviors strengthen the connection, building intimacy and closeness. Unresolved small rifts accumulate, distorting assessments, leaving the relationship burdened with unnecessary resentments and guilt. Partners adopt a negative view of their partners. In psychology, we refer to this as negative sentiment override. Negative judgements override even neutral behaviors. Negative judgements suck our relationship into a downward spiral, where we lose relationship security, and flounder in fear.
As humans, we have moments of disconnection, distraction, or moodiness. Those moments are not the entirety of our character—a temporary deviation. By labeling these deviations as more, over-simplifying the entirety of character, we begin the distancing that is so harmful. Our judgments, especially during heightened emotions, ignores the complexities of personality, creating devastation. We and our partners deserve more than a moment by moment assessment of character. Strong relationships tend to error in the opposite way, evaluating with greater generosity, similar to that common in early connection.
The emotional waves, faulty assessments and character assassination redirect focus from necessary work to strengthen a relationship; instead we are engaged in partner fixing. Discussions no longer are resolution focus but endless battles to affix blame.
New Relationships and Security
We must be prepared. New relationships typically are not the answer in themselves. Eventually, the new relationship will experience the subsiding of euphoria. If not anticipated, the loss prompts fear—frightening sensations that the relationship is dying. The fear may motivate positive behaviors (Acceptance, Appreciation, Attention, Affection, and Allowance); but may also motivate destructive defensive behaviors. Intense fear demands action—controlling, manipulating, clinging, jealousy, and emotional outburst.
Many dismiss these unhealthy reactions as normal consequences of intense love. But this justification cripples our honest acceptance, limiting our ability to address harmful behaviors early before they accumulate and destroy. Beware!
We should continue to enjoy the sentiments of a timely love song; but also remember the strength of the bond is dependent on skilled work, employing energies towards David Ricoh’s five A’s—Acceptance, Appreciation, Attention, Affection, and Allowance. In conclusion, our mindful work to connect provides necessary nurturing behaviors that write our own love song; one that goes on, even through the conflict, to create a secure and lasting relationship.
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Gottman, J (2011). The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples. W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Lemay, Edward, & Muir, Heather (2016). The action model of relationship security: How one’s own behavior shapes confidence in partners’ care, regard, and commitment. Personal Relationships, 23(2), 339-363. https://doi.org/10.1111/pere.12129
Noori, Rebecca (2023). What Does Security In A Relationship Mean? Clever Girl Finance. Published 5-7-2023. Accessed 10-19-2023
Richo, David (2002) How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving. Shambhala; 1 edition.