Romantic relationships – how to navigate them
Romantic relationships can be a wondrous thing or a complete nightmare. It can all start out fantastically. You get on really well, you fancy each other physically and feel that first rush of lust and infatuation. Yay! It’s all off to a good start and those heady first days are when we often feel most alive and incredibly happy. Endorphins are rushing around our bodies and it’s a feeling many of us search for.
Romantic relationships can offer extreme highs but also extreme lows. In fact, there is a lot more that can go wrong these days.
Online dating sites:
People who regularly date online end up shifting the way they think about relationships, many shift without even realizing it. Romantic relationships become idealised and people’s expectations increase. This is normal human behaviour when we are exposed to too much choice. We end up worrying that we are missing out on something and we can end up feeling we didn’t get the best choice possible. This leaves many online daters with a feeling of restlessness and affects people’s levels of commitment.
Research shows that if you’re surrounded by an abundance of options, you typically end up less satisfied with your final decision than if you’d been given fewer options in the first place.
Too much choice
Imagine that you live in a small village and you go to the one and only wine shop. There they have only 12 bottles of red wine. You pick out the best of the 12 bottles and go home satisfied with your choice – the best of the selection. Now imagine that you move to a big city and you go to the local wine shop. In this shop, there are one hundred bottles of red wine to choose from. If you picked out that same bottle of red, you might not feel quite as satsified with your purchase. This same process applies to dating. So, not only are we dealing with all the other challenges of romantic relationships such as possible lying, cheating, infidelity, deceit, selfishness and so on, we now also have to contend with more complicated dynamics that have arisen due to the availability of choice. Having too much choice feeds us the myth that there is always something better out there. This isn’t necessarily the case.
Esther Perel focuses on romantic relationships and how online dating has changed the way we behave. We have become far too picky and this hinders our search for love. She says it’s impossible for one person to fulfil all your needs and I agree.
She goes on to say, “Perhaps, instead of looking for a person who checks all the boxes, focus on a person with whom you can imagine yourself writing a story with that entails edits and revisions. As a reminder, there are no perfect stories.”
Perils of online dating
Ghosting: Where someone you are talking to online suddenly vanishes unexpectedly. stops replying to you without warning. Where’d they go?
Breadcrumbing: When somebody seems to be pursuing you, but really they have no intention of being tied down to a relationship.
Catch and release: This technique is favoured by people who love the thrill of the chase. They’ll put all their effort into flirtatious texts, and trying to date you, until they “catch” you. When you finally agree to the date, they immediately lose interest.
Cuffing: September is officially when Cuffing Season starts — the period during the Autumn and Winter months where finding a boyfriend or girlfriend is suddenly a lot more appealing. Summer is over, and so are the fun outdoor activities. Time for a partner to fill the gap!
Devaluing and discarding: Often the behaviour of narcissists: One day you are the most important person in the world, then the next day, you are cast aside.
Gaslighting: A tactic manipulative people use to gain power over someone else. It basically makes the victim question their own sanity while the abuser warps their reality.
Haunting: If an ex tried to sneakily get back into your life by watching an Instagram or Snapchat story, it’s called “haunting.” It’s like they are spying on you.
Hoovering: when someone who hurt you tries to get back into your life. Usually, it is done by someone who was toxic and abusive, either after they discarded you or you walked away. They often say things like “I made a mistake,” or “I’m sorry for how I treated you, give me another chance.” But all their words are empty, and getting back with them is an excuse for them to hurt you even more.
Love bombing: When things are moving too quickly. A manipulative person pretends to be everything you’ve ever wanted, so they reel you in. Once you’re under their spell and emotionally attached, their mask starts to slip and you find yourself under their control while you try and figure out what went wrong. It’s all about control.
Micro cheating: Essentially, it’s cheating, but only a little bit. It is all about secrecy and deception, and keeping something from a partner. It’s having a relationship with someone at work that’s a bit too close, or texting an ex to get an ego boost.
Stashing: It occurs when the person you’re dating doesn’t introduce you to their friends or family, and doesn’t post about you on social media.
Tuning: When someone flirts with an obvious strategy, but they have no interest in committing to anything serious. People being tuned find it flattering if they’re not looking for commitment either, or incredibly frustrating if they are.
Online dating fatigue
Sadly, online dating can wear you out. Whilst it’s never been easier to date others, it’s also never been harder! I hear from many disillusioned clients and friends about their online dating woes in their search for a romantic relationship. Men tell of sending out many messages and not getting one reply and women complain if men only “wanting one thing”. Two individuals meet with high expectations and a lot of pressure to make it work in one meeting as opposed to the old fashioned way of meeting someone through a friend or through work. This traditional ways allows for more time to get to know each other without any pressure to give ‘romantic’ feedback straight away.
In general, I have found that meeting people the traditional ways leads to more satisfying relationships. Of course, there are many online dating success stories but with online dating there is ana cceptance of the rushed status quo and the odea that everyone you meet is probably also talking to a few other people simulatenously.
Challenge online dating fatigue
Be braver in your every day encounters. Smile at strangers and be chatty wherever possible. Meeting people face to face seems to be going out of fashion in may ways but there are many avenues still open to meeting new people without an initial online hook-up.
Some romantic relationships have added complications apart from the usual stuff. There is abuse in some form – this can be emotional, mental and/or physical.
Emotional punching bag
For some people, they experience a relationship as a huge source of anxiety. This is because their partner is emotionally immature and takes their frustrations out on their nearest and dearest. This is not acceptable but it is a widespread phenomenon. When you are someone’s emotional punching bag they enjoy making you feel miserable. Everything is your fault and they project their anger and frustration onto their partner. The best way to deal with this is to nip it in the bud as soon as it happens. You teach people how to teat you and if you let it go, you will be allowing that abusive behaviour to continue. If you are assertive and it still continues, you might need to ask yourself about the motivation of your partner. Despite asking for better treatment you are not receiving it. This is not a sign of a healthy relationship.
Similar to gaslighting – you are made to feel your perceptions are inaccurate. You begin to doubt yourself and wonder what is real and what is imagined. A controlling person loves engaging in crazymaking. If they can unsettle you and make you doubt yourself, they can insert their authority into that gap and take control. An unsettled person who doubts themself is far easier to manipulate than one who feels sure of themself.
How to communicate:
An excellent skill that has helped many of the couples that I see in therapy is to practise switching from reacting to reflecting. When you’re having a conflict, before you disagree, try telling the person you’re speaking with what you heard them say. This is a great skill in romantic relationships.
Research shows that when you’re in a disagreement, you’re generally capable of repeating what the other person said for only 10 seconds. After that, you go into your rebuttal or tune out. But it’s important to repeat what was said so they feel acknowledged. This encourages open communication and reflects empathy between two people.
“What I’m hearing you say is that when I do this at these moments, you feel X.”
It’s also helpful to use a method developed by relationship scholar John Gottman and colleagues called an XYZ statement: When you do X in situation Y, I feel Z. (Also known an assertive script).
“When we’re out with friends (or in a meeting) and you cut me off, I feel put down.”
I’m not telling you that’s what you’re doing, I’m telling you how I’m feeling. (You can argue with how a person defines you but not with how a person feels.) This also helps defuse escalating fights because it forces you to slow down and think about what you’re trying to say, and then the other person has to repeat it.
Next comes validating and empathizing.
People fight because they want to feel that they matter, that the other person respects what they’re going through. A simple I can see where you’re coming from is deeply validating.
When your experience is acknowledged, you feel sane.
The two of you don’t have to agree, but you do have to acknowledge that there’s another person who experiences the event very differently from you.
“It makes sense that you would feel unappreciated if you experience my chronic tardiness as a lack of investment or a sign I’m taking you for granted. If I had interpreted my action that way, I could see myself feeling that way too. But that was not where I was coming from.”
Suddenly, you’re not arguing anymore. (This is not the same as agreeing to disagree, which actually creates a disconnect and means you’ve reached a dead end.) You are holding on to your truth yet are able to acknowledge that there’s another person who has another interpretation of the same event.
Being in the right relationship can bring great rewards but being in the wrong relationship can affect every area of your life. Be happy within yourself first. Value yourself enough so that you don’t end up in a cycle of abuse and unhappiness.
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