There are any number of meanings of relationships (with a capital R, as in ‘significant other’). We can put our own definitions onto what they mean, and so, really, there are as many types of relationship as there are people – only more, because relationships are networks of communication between people, and therefore more numerous than people.
Here are four psychological needs that many people look to relationships to fulfil. There are many more, but these four seem commonplace, and therefore deserving of discussion.
Humans are social animals, and generally like to have company of one sort or another. Friendship groups provide company, but many societies do not structure their accommodation so that the presence of friends can be constant.
Individualistic housing arrangements lead to great loneliness. For example, in 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, approximately one third of British adults (7.4 million) reported that loneliness had affected their wellbeing in the last seven days. (You can read the analysis here.)
Humans are also anxious animals, and like to experience reassurance. Sometimes this is from the mere physical presence of another person, and sometimes it is from other, more nebulous forms of support and communication.
Two of the most common types of reassurance sought are answers to the question: ‘Am I justified?’ and ‘Is the world a dangerous place for me?’ The justification need extends to both physical and mental justification. Finding a partner who is prepared to admire and respect our physical and mental presence, can engender a powerful sense of fulfilment. Equally, for many, finding a partner who makes the world feel less dangerous (with practical assistance or moral support) can be experienced as a valuable thing.
Humans have evolved around mating habits and rituals, as well as attachment routines. These can include:
- displays of physical attractiveness (e.g. wearing make-up and flattering clothes)
- displays of agility or competence (e.g. some aspects of dancing and flirtatious movement)
- physical gestures of control and intimacy (e.g. sexual stimulation, holding and being held)
- role play as protector or protected (e.g. playing powerful or helpless)
- gestures of physical interdependence (e.g. hand-holding, sitting together)
Humans often have a need for order in their lives. This can seem strange to those with less of that need. But it’s true. For some, any need for company, reassurance and physical gratification, takes second place to a need for the environment to be in order and under control.
Have you ever seen a partnership where one member of the couple barks orders at the other pretty much constantly? You might be witnessing this in action. They may be very low on the need for physical reassurance and gratification – what they need is to have a sense of control over the world around them.
The world can be a frightening place, full of potential chaos. The need for order is perfectly understandable. For some seeking a relationship, a prime concern is for life to match an orderly expectation.
WHAT COMBINATION ARE YOU?
Interesting things happen when people couple up. For example, if one partner wants order and control, and the other wants company and reassurance, then they can combine into a co-dependent unit where each of them has a very specialised function. The controller gives out orders and fights off any challenges to their authority; conversely, the people-pleaser goes into servitude, trying to avert the controller’s bad temper. The controller finds the people-pleaser frustrating because they don’t obey; the people-pleaser find the relationship painful because, despite best efforts, they never seem to be able to do anything right.
BALANCING YOUR NEEDS
By being aware of your own relationship needs profile, you can, if you want to, work on balancing out your skills. For example:
- Are you too much of a controller, always imposing your structures on the relationship through fear of uncertainty?
- Are you only in it for company? Are you ignoring your partner’s need for reassurance, physical gratification or order in their lives?
- Are you seeking so much reassurance from your partner that you have ceased to be able to generate your own sense of fulfilment and self-esteem?
- Are you so focused on the physicality of sexual interplay that you change relationship frequently, seeking to hang on to what you call passion, whereas really there are many other kinds of passion to look out for?
Who am I in one-to-one relationships? What do I look for, consciously or unconsciously, from a significant other?
Am I prepared, as I grow up, to modify my relationship skills, so that I demonstrate a better balance of attentiveness to different needs?