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Relationshipping out..

June 14, 2012

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched … but are felt in the heart. ~ Helen Keller

What lies behind us, and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


What do you do when your relationship with someone doesn’t make sense in broad daylight? but you normally meet up in the dark?

As I get older, and start to grow up a bit, ive started to begrudgingly admit that science works, and how cool that really is, how profound. So my question is, what does the statistical science of psychology have to say about relationships?

I’m interested in exploring positive psychology’s contributions to this, after all relationships affects us all profoundly.

But first a bit of background, as I was told, the term positive psychology originates with Abraham Maslow (1954), and the contemporary movement of humanistic psychologists in and around the decade that followed, it was a reaction to psychology’s history, studying humanity through the lens of mental illness, and was new orientation based on the belief that “a psychology of positive human functioning will arise, which achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving individuals, families, and communities.” Positive psychologists seek “to find and nurture genius and talent”, and “to make normal life more fulfilling”  (Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1998)

Positive psychology is a science built upon models of wellness, not of illness. It includes trans-personal states and higher functioning in its repertoire of curiosities and presents statistically based science originally inspired by our ancient religious and philosophical heritage, while based firmly in reality, rather than notions of how we should be, arrived at via our global varied heritages of philosophy, mythopoeic and religious cultures and dialogues.

Science doesn’t have all the answers, but intelligently, objectively and scientifically studying human nature based on positive models of human nature that exalt our spirit, is perhaps far more useful to us, than struggling with notions of how we should be or what is wrong with us, as traditional psychology and spiritual teachings often offer.

As such positive psychology looks at relationships, not in terms of relationship dysfunction, and not in terms of its absence, but rather in terms of relationships that are truly flourishing,  not just happiness, but growth, resilience and intimacy, which facilitates the balance between that intimate relationship and other social engagements.

According to research, flourishing adult relationships are based on secure attachment, expectations that guide behavior, and characterized by low attachment-related avoidance and anxiety. This context; safe, secure attachment, allows individuals to pursue higher states of functioning and flourishing, both individually and together.

Love according to our cultural history and the science of psychology, is the foundation of depth and meaning in human relationships, expanding perceptions of self and the world. It is also central to our very humanity, humans have a desire to belong and love, satisfied within intimate relationships that involve sexual, loving, romantic attraction and feelings, along with interdependent emotional and personal support. As the Tibetan saying goes; to cut yourself off from all worldly pleasure, is to court the deepest of hells.

World famous psychologist, Strenberg, believes that the highest and most durable intimate relationships are  founded upon three elements (a) passion and physical attraction; (b) intimacy and emotional closeness; and (c) commitment to initiate/sustain the relationship.  Commitment predicts satisfaction in the long-term, while intimacy/passion, marital satisfaction.

Despite the contributions of positive psychology to our understanding of intimate relationships, much of the motivation for the study and education of adult relationships, stems from decades of research demonstrating that elevated rates of relationship breakdown, were themselves associated with profound effects on dependent children, including significantly higher rates of unemployment, education-drop-out, drug abuse, addiction, suicide, homicide, incarceration and domestic abuse.-(along with associated mental illness)

Relationships can experience strain from time to time resulting in sub-optimal functioning which may produce maladaptive self-reinforcing patterns of interaction. Many factors can cause this to occur, including but not limited to; jealousy, greed, anger, poor communication, poor problem solving, insecure attachment, third parties, low commitment, financial strain, loss of health. These cycles and interactions are nearly always influenced reciprocally, both partners must create and also manage problems.

Through structured, collaborative, open discussion, self-directed  or facilitated by a psychologist or counsellor, partners in a relationship can work to develop self-awareness and critically engage with their perceptions and emotions, to examine the unexamined and reorient perceptions and emotions away from the maladaptive and towards healing and flourishing. This allows core values to come to the fore, for change, comprehension and respect. Allowing both partners equal responsibility for their contribution to patterns of maladaption, and beginning the process of deep change in thinking and feeling to bring about a better future, together.

This process, the foundation of much theraputic practice, requires conscious and ongoing evolution, growing and utilizing awareness of the structure and conceptualization of the relationship.

Relationships are never static, but constantly evolving, and so the need to balance between intimacy, essential for satisfaction, and autonomy, essential for stability, arises. This flow is the foundation of maturity, and in the family unit, of the inescapable needs of children.

It is through the lens of relationships, that we begin to truly understand ourselves and truly live, as J Krishnamutri said:

“Do what you will, withdraw to the mountains, sit in a forest, you cannot live in isolation. You can live only in relationship, and as long as relationship is not understood, there can be no right action. Right action comes in understanding relationship, which reveals the process of oneself. Self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom, it is a field of affection, warmth, and love, therefore a field rich with flowers.”

Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within the reach of every hand. ~ Mother Teresa

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. ~ Lao Tzu

may all the beings in all the worlds seek peace




From → Personal

  1. Susan Cerato permalink

    So much of this is true and from the heart…so much wondering…so many unwritten whys….I can only say that for those who are aware and doing what they know they are to be doing…that ONE other….that they seek and who is seeking them….will appear. So clear the deck and swab the floors…even if it seems like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic….

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful words…

  2. Science, who would have thunk it, sigh xx

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