Christopher Seavey, MA., PhD, LADC1, LMHC | Article


Over the years I have had some thoughts about relationships. Apparently some of these ideas have occurred to others because I’ve seen some of them in the literature.

It appears to me that there are two great fears in all relationships. It seems that this is true even in business partnerships and friendships. It is especially true in intimate relationships such as marriage.
The two big fears are:
1. Fear of being abandoned
2. Fear of being controlled, taken over, of ceasing to exist as an individual.

I think that these fears are what drive the relative closeness in relationships. All people who are even approximately normal, within two standard deviations of the mean, want some contacts with other human beings, some degree of intimacy. Also all humans want some periods of solitude, "me time", some individuality.
The need for intimacy and solitude varies among individuals. A given person needs different amounts of intimacy and solitude. Also the degrees of intimacy and solitude that any given individual desires vary from time to time. Sometime this variation is slight sometimes it is quite dramatic. Sometimes the change from desire (or need) for intimacy to the desire for solitude is gradual and takes place over a fairly long period of time. Some times it takes place frequently over short amounts of time.

This appears to be an ongoing negotiation in all relationships. This negotiation is usually subliminal, rarely acknowledged, or even recognized on a conscious level, and certainly not discussed. Because it is not recognized or discussed, there are often miscommunications which can lead to arguments and misunderstandings.

Many times I have seen some one who is very afraid of abandonment push the significant other way by constantly questioning and even conducting surveillance, examining phone records etc,. Until the object of their investigations feels so suffocated and controlled that they leave the relationship.
A factor in the amplitude of these desires for intimacy and emotional distance appears to be the experience of some significant intrusion or abuse at a time when the personality is forming.

One of the more significant issues in relationship problems, in my experience, is communication. This can be problems because partners sometimes don’t say what they mean or what they want. Sometimes they communicate by saying what they don't want. This means their partners have the option of figuring out what the other wants by a process of limitation. That is by making suggestions which are then accepted or rejected by the other until they make a suggestion in which their partner is interested. One of my standard approaches in cases where the communication is limited is to provide the partners with a form that lists feelings and asking them to record the feelings that they have, and then communicating those to their partner. I call this form a feelings log.

HOW TO INFLUENCE YOUR PARTNER (and everyone else and your dog or cat)

According to at least eighty years of research by behavioral psychologists and others, positive re-enforcement is the most effective way to influence others. The most powerful way to do this is to re-enforce behaviors that go in the direction that one wishes the subject (your partner) to move and to ignore behaviors that don’t move in that direction. Of course this progress’ incrementally in which each succeeding step toward the final goal is re-enforced until the behavior is achieved.

This concept appears to be count intuitive for many, if not most people. That is when I present the idea of positive re-enforcement to couples (or individuals) they say that it make sense and they often that this is not new information for them. They sometimes seem to have reservations putting it into practice consistently. Positive Re-enforcement
In her article Using Positive Reinforcement, Brenda L. Gargus says "If a child lives with approval, he learns to live with himself."

HOW WE PICK A SIGNIFICANT OTHER (and other people in our lives)

I began to think about this issue when I started to look back over my life and examine my relationships. I gradually arrived at a theory. I have since discovered that I’m not alone in this idea. I believe that we all have a profile in our unconscious which we seek. I think that the profile is established when our personality in being formed during childhood and is therefore influenced by people in our lives during this period and by experiences we have in early life. As discussed above some experiences can greatly skew ones capacity of intimacy. This phenomenon, I think is reflected in the profile which we are programmed to seek in intimate relationships and friendships. If one has an unconscious profile which results in choices that don’t work well, there is hope. I believe that an individuals profile is not cast in stone. Adjustment can be made. It doesn’t seem likely that a 180 degree change will be achieved, but I think a significant adjustment is possible. A change can be facilitated by psychotherapy.
There is an old saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. I turns out that an old human continues to learn new things. This according to R. Grant Steen in his book The Evolving Brain.

I routinely suggest to couples who are trying to resolve conflict in their marriage to abstain from mood or mind altering substances until they have the relationship going fairly smoothly. The most commonly reported one of these is alcohol, a powerful drug which anesthetizes the brain resulting in inhibition and judgment problems. Many couples agree that alcohol increases the likely hood of arguments and interactions which they later regret.