How Should I Feel in a Positive Relationship?

Avoiding Making the Same Mistakes

Humans are creatures of habit. Some of these habits are better than others and forming these good habits can be a tool for achieving success in life. However, negative habits formed can also make it difficult for us to make change. This is clearly seen in relationships, where people form habits from past experiences and continue to make the same mistakes over, and over again.

If you find yourself repeating old habits, you are not alone! From romantic relationships, to family, friends, or colleagues – relationships are a core part of our everyday lives. Human connection is an innate instinct. We are constantly seeking it, which can make us highly vulnerable. So, if it is so important for us to be engaging in ‘happy’ relationships, why do we sometimes feel like we keep making the same mistakes? What should a positive relationship even feel like? To aid you in answering these questions, we turn to Positive Psychology, and Attachment Theory.

Positive Psychology and Relationships

Everyone may have a different opinion of what a ‘positive relationship’ is. Generally, they all point to the same thing – a relationship which provides ‘productivity’. That is, a relationship that genuinely adds to your life. Historically, psychological underpinnings have focused on diagnosing and understanding mental illness. More recently, positive psychology emerged to focus on understanding mental wellness – it is the scientific study of human flourishing and an applied approach to optimal functioning.

When looking at how to recognise and maintain a positive relationship, the STRENGTHS CHART is a valuable tool. Relationships are not always smooth-sailing walks-in-the-park, but we can try our best to use what’s within our control to make those seas a little smoother and walks a little longer. Using a strengths-based approach to identify and importantly, USE these characteristics within our partners and ourselves can help us do so. See the chart of character strengths below, and practice by reflecting on which of those strengths you or your partner does well. Finding a partner who ‘compliments’ you, rather ‘completes you’ should be an important focus when reflecting. Be real, open and honest with your wants, needs, and your current input into the relationship.

Attachment Theory and Making the Same Mistakes

Revisiting humans as creatures of habits, Bowlby’s (1958) Attachment Theory may help explain why we make the same mistakes over and over again. The theory suggests that your earliest relationships shape (but do not solidify), your future relationships – providing you a mental schema of how relationships should work. Luckily, attachment styles are fluid and change over time, with research showing 30% of people change their dominant attachment strategies, and individuals usually being a mix of attachment styles.

Adult Attachment Styles

  • Secure Attachment: Have trusting, lasting relationships; tend to have good self-esteem; are comfortable sharing feelings with partners and friends; seek out social support
  • Ambivalent Attachment: Reluctant to become close to others; worry their partner does not love them; become very distraught when relationships end
  • Avoidant: May have problems with intimacy; invest little emotion in social and romantic relationships; unwilling or unable to share thoughts or feelings with others
  • Disorganised: Unresolved mindsets and emotions, i.e. trauma and pass losses; unable to tolerate emotional closeness/ regulate emotions; argumentative; antisocial

Recognising our attachment patterns can help us understand our strengths and vulnerabilities in a relationship. Repeating mistakes can become engrained in us psychologically and neurologically, making it difficult for us to change these behaviours. With perseverance and intent, we are able to recognise our patterns, and take small steps towards behaviour change – which after some time will create a new pattern of healthier, more positive relationships.

10 tips to help build positive relationships, from Psychologist and Director of Clinical and Consulting Services, Grant Brecht:

  1. Choose your partner for a long-term relationship very carefully
  2. Develop a good level of self-confidence and emotional maturity, and choose a partner with the same self-confidence and emotional maturity
  3. Develop guidelines and expectations for the relationship from the start
  4. Communicate open and honestly. If the relationship does not survive it was the best thing
  5. Spend quality time together, and quality time apart
  6. Spend a lot of quality time where it is just the two of you
  7. Remain ever appreciative of the uniqueness of your partner
  8. Show that you appreciate your partner on a regular basis
  9. Want the best for your partner
  10. Allow your partner to be fallible, and trust your partner to try their best

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