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More PsychNotes: Relationships

Young Adults Can Improve Romantic Relationships by Learning to Be Okay Alone
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

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The more desperate you are to be in a romantic relationship, the less satisfying your relationships will be. The best relationships are those between two people who have a strong sense of self and can balance their personal needs with the needs of the relationship. They are neither overly dependent upon the relationship nor overly aloof from it.

When a person develops an independent sense of self that person will make healthier choices in relationships which is more likely to result in good outcomes. Those who have a strong sense of self are less likely to be sensitive to rejection which often leads to behaviors that can damage relationships.

Too often in young adulthood people try to be what they think their partner wants or they try to avoid rejection by controlling the relationship. Yet, satisfying relationships are not based upon compliance or coercion. Instead, they are founded on developing a strong sense of self first and then focusing on creating a healthy relationship (Norona and Welsh, 2016).

What constitutes a strong sense of self?

1) Low emotional reactivity. Are you okay when someone you care about is upset with you? Or, do you frantically try to make them happy?

2) Emotional independence. Are you able to maintain your separateness in a relationship? Or, do you worry about losing yourself in a relationship?

3) Achieved identity. Have you developed your own beliefs and values? Or, have you not questioned them and they are the same as your parents?

4) Low dependency. Do you pursue what you think is best? Or, are you easily influenced by others?

A person with a strong sense of self knows what he/she wants and believes in. Such a person will not compromise him/herself to please others. Therefore, instead of trying to force a relationship to work, develop your sense of self which will help you in making healthy choices in relationships.

Some tips for improving outcomes of romantic relationships:

1) Focus on yourself. Work on developing your interests and beliefs. Know who you are and what you want. Don't let yourself be swayed by the need for approval from others.

2) Reduce emotional distancing. When a person is sensitive to rejection they often try to reduce the possibility of rejection by distancing themselves physically or emotionally. However, such behavior tends to backfire because it prevents positive interactions and the development of intimacy.

3) Don't use coercion. To avoid rejection some people try to control their partner to make them stay in the relationship. This is usually a sign of a weak sense of self and leads to poorer outcomes in relationships. If someone doesn't want to be with you, learn to accept it and move on. By doing so you will develop a stronger sense of self which can lead to better relationships.

4) Don't comply with coercion. Stand up for yourself and what you believe in. When someone bullies you in a relationship it is not healthy for you or for the relationship.

Norona, J.C. and Welsh, D.P. (2016). Rejection Sensitivity and Relationship Satisfaction in Dating Relationships: The Mediating Role of Differentiation of Self. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 5, 124–135. DOI:10.1037/cfp0000056

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