Make no bones about it, relationships are hard. And we’re sure we’re not the only ones to wonder why some people have it so easy in love, while others struggle. We continue part 2 of our chat with e-Harmony researcher Gian Gonzaga about everything from the ‘types’ we become in relationships, to the importance of values, long distance relationships and more. We’re extending our competition for you to win a copy of Dating The Second Time Around, so don’t forget to enter.
Some people seem to have all the luck in relationships. They find partners easily, they enjoy happy, long-term relationships. Why is it seemingly so effortless for some and not for others?
People with what’s known as a ‘secure attachment style’ generally have easier relationships. If you feel basically worthy of a relationship and have a good self image, and you believe your partners are dependable, you’re secure and relationships end up being relatively easy for you. You’re generally trusting, you’re less jealous. Secure types tend to report higher levels of intimacy in the relationship and conflict will go better because they can focus on the conflict rather than their feelings about the conflict.
What are the other types we fall into?If you feel you’re not worthy of relationships and that others are better than you, you tend to have what’s known as an anxious attachment style. You may not feel worthy of the relationship you’re in, so you are constantly nervous. You desire the relationship a lot but that leads to higher levels of jealousy. People who are anxious tend to focus more on their anxiety than on their partner – if you don’t get a call from your partner you’re immediately wondering if he/she is with someone else – which can lead to questions and very different interactions. The third type is the avoidant attachment style. Avoidant people feel pretty good about their own image but other people aren’t necessarily worthy, so they tend to avoid relationships. They don’t want to show love because they believe it will make others reject them – and they withdraw when their partners need support.
So it’s not just about the type you are, it’s also the type you end up with in terms of whether your relationship is easy or hard…
Absolutely. A common pairing is an anxious woman getting involved with an avoidant male. She seeks reassurance, and the more she does so, the more he moves away. A relationship between two anxiously attached people would be a very passionate, volatile one with lots of demands for ever-bigger gestures of love. Relationships tend to be more stable and satisfying over the long term when at least one member of the couple has a secure attachment style. But there are other things going in on relationships, too, like are you compatible in your values, do you have support, do you both have good jobs, do you both earn enough money – all of that counts.
Can you swap types depending to what happens to you in relationships – say, you start out as a secure person and become anxious because someone cheats on you?
Yes. There’s a substantial amount of evidence out there that shows that people tend to evolve slowly in their types and what happens over time is that people evolve towards being secure the more good, stable relationships that they’re in.
Are similar values essential when it comes to choosing a partner?
I think long term compability is about the values we share, the characteristics. That is an important part of making a relationship work. It’s not the only one, but it’s one people don’t often think about when they get together – they’re all about the attraction and don’t necessarily think, ‘oh we should share these values to make the relationship work’. It’s important, but I think it’s one people often miss.
We often hear from women who’ve tried to get a long-term partner to commit to marriage or kids, only to have the relationship end and to watch him marry someone else six months later. Can you shed some light on this pattern of behaviour?
I think men tend to fall into relationships faster partly because they have narrower social networks around them. A lot of studies have shown that women have rich, deep social networks with their female friends so when a relationship ends they have a much wider set of other friendships to fall back on, to process the relationship with. Whereas men tend to derive their social support out of a romantic partner. Women suffer less from break-ups than men do because they have more friends to talk to. And when men suffer, tend to look for that emotional support in the place they know they’ll find it – the next person they go out with.
Long distance relationships – can they ever be a positive experience for a couple?
Long distance relationships are stressful. They’re not impossible but they are much harder to negotiate. Relationship get stronger through shared experiences, shared duties and building a home together and if you’re not doing much of any of those things the partnership won’t evolve. We expect to be in close proximity to our partners – that’s what we think of as a relationship. There are people who make long distance relationships work, because that’s what they have to do. When you’re physically separated from your partner you don’t get to have that close connection with them. It’s possible to be positive, and if there’s an end point, like you have to go away from your partner for 3 months for work, then that’s one thing, but knowing you’ll be separated for a really long period is hard. Research on military marriages in the USA shows when husbands are deployed it’s actually very difficult for the couple to adjust to the husband coming back because the wives have to learn to be independent. They don’t really talk as much because the husband might be in a remote area. And when he’s back they don’t really interact as a couple anymore; they’ve got different lives. Wives have learned how to do everything at home by themselves. So that distance – people can survive it but for the vast majority it will make things harder. In general, the closer, the better, is a good rule of thumb.