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Resolving Problems in Dating Towards Healthier Relationships
Adult relationships are often impacted by patterns laid down in childhood. If attachments with early caregivers were unsatisfactory, a person can end up constantly feeling bad about themselves or not trusting others. Neglect and abuse can leave a person forever feeling anxious in relationships. Being smothered or denied encouragement to be independent as a child can lead to being avoidant or aloof in adult intimate relationships. While these patterns are most often heightened in conflicts, they also can play out in dating.
A person with an early history of unsafe or unreliable parenting usually feels preoccupied with creating security in relationships. They may open up and trust quickly, but inside may be untrusting and have low self esteem. In dating they can misinterpret cues, feeling hurt and lashing out if they do not get reassurance. As quickly as they are interested, they may begin to see the other as inadequate at giving attention. This negativity can be a big turn off, as the other person soon feels they are just a replaceable source of ego boosting. Enjoyment of the dating stage is challenged by their need to always discuss the status of the relationship. Others get turned off or back off, reinforcing fear of rejection. Ironically they seek out partners that remind them of their early attachments, such as emotionally unavailable or ambivalent people.
On the other end is this avoidant or detached type. Smothered or not encouraged to be independent as a child, they grow up to resist intimacy, while still needing it. In the beginning they are seen as independent, maybe even emotionally stable and mature. They offer the ability to listen and attend but may actually be avoiding vulnerability. If demands are placed on them to be more open, they may distance or go cold. Their troubling way of dealing with relationship conflicts leave a person feeling self doubting and preoccupied with trying to figure them out. The avoidance or silence may be meant to reducing outward conflict or reactivity, but it doesn’t minimize internal distress and it hurts others. Dating partners feel rejected and may escalate emotionally. This reinforces the detached persons’ fears that relationships are overwhelming.
Communication and conflict resolution make a relationship strong, and should leave both people feeling safe and satisfied. Conflict needs to be viewed as a challenge not a threat and view of self and others needs to be positive. Both must trust and be open to discuss things with attentive listening, not defensive reactivity or shutting down. If one or the other has attachment styles that create conflicts, a therapist can always help in breaking that painful cycle by coaching towards a better way of being. Otherwise, like magic or a curse, patterns will be recreated with new partners.
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Simpson, J. A., & Rholes, W. S. (2012). Adult attachment orientations, stress, and romantic relationships. In P. G. Devine, A. Plant, J. Olson, & M. Zanna (Eds.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 45, pp. 279–328).
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