Intimacy (a very important subject that should be discussed openly amongst couples)

The concept of intimacy is often misunderstood in relationships.  It is mistakenly thought to be just physical rather than a complex interplay of emotional, psychological and physical needs.  True intimacy stems from physical and emotional closeness.  Each impacts on the other, meaning that intimacy is either increasing or dissolving in a relationship as one side cannot exist without the other.  The need for intimacy often gets lost in the course of a relationship, either due to the demands and drudgery of everyday life or because of misunderstandings between couples which are subsequently denied or repressed.  Yet intimacy is what makes a relationship truly fulfilling and increases happiness on both an individual and collective basis.

The impact of evolution

It could be argued that intimacy is even more important in our close relationships in this day and age.  In the past, we often lived in closer proximity to others, either as part of larger families or communities, so in a sense we are herding animals.  Therefore, many of our needs were provided for from this broader network from whom we could gain support and understanding and have a myriad of other needs met.  Today we lead more solitary lives and consequently need more from the significant other in our lives.

Additionally, sex and emotion are increasingly separated in society with so much focus on diverse dating apps, websites and pornography which suggest a dichotomy between the physical and the emotional.  The need for true intimacy has its roots in evolution with predispositions for attachment and biological needs - it is human to long for real connection with our partners.

Building intimacy

Creating real intimacy is not just about what we do in a relationship.  Although it sounds clichéd, it is vital to know ourselves, our beliefs and have an understanding of our desires and expectations before we can build intimacy with another.

The work we need to do on ourselves

We need to understand ourselves and how we have developed our attitudes to relationships before we can build true intimacy with a partner.  Our beliefs from what we learned about relationships when we were young will influence our relationships today. Additionally, these beliefs will have led to experiences in previous relationships which determine how we interpret behaviour in our current relationship.  Conflict in relationships is frequently caused by our interpretation of events in accordance with previous relational experiences rather than what is occurring currently.  Understanding our biases, past hurts and positive aspects of our belief system will help us understand our responses.  Furthermore, it is imperative that we are clear about our needs and expectations before we can communicate them to a partner, and being able to communicate them is the real key to intimacy.   

The work we need to do with our partners

The biggest barriers to intimacy are misunderstanding and miscommunication.  Most of us fall to attempting to ‘mind-read’ our partners, filling in blanks, making assumptions and failing to see that what we perceive to be going on in their minds is largely based on what is going on in ours.  To overcome this we need to be open to listening to our partners and discussing our needs and expectations clearly with them.  The most important thing to remember when listening to our partners is to understand that we are looking through different lenses.  A deep understanding comes from empathy and perspective-taking rather than processing what we are being told through our own way of looking at the world.  To do this well we must drop criticism and judgement and take a compassionate and open mind-set towards our partners.  We must also avoid the tendency to engage in ‘selective hearing’ and only hear what is relevant or important to us.  The more you can interrupt the routine and habitual ways of relating that are not working, the better your chance of building the deep connection that can only come from a true understanding of the other person.

With physical intimacy the basis is the same.  You need to know your own needs and desires to be able to communicate them to your partner so that a fulfilling physical relationship can be achieved.  A poor sex life is generally the result of poor communication and misunderstandings which are never explored, and so solutions never sought.  Intimacy is a frequently misconceived concept in relationships, but its foundations are in open and compassionate communication. 

Big spender or a savvy saver - making a statement when it comes to relationships

We are given an insight into ourselves on a monthly basis when our banks provide us with a statement detailing our incomings and outgoings, deposits and expenditures. While the data contained therein is largely numerical and functional, catalogued and listed column by column and row upon row, the information that can be gleaned is invaluable in that it offers a truly sanitised reflection of our habits, whims and priorities. In addition, it provides us with a true statement of our outlooks and approaches through the prism of our financial transactions, our cash withdrawals, card payments and online purchases, forming a composition of our mental make-up.

So what kind of statement is yours? What does it say about you and your attitude to the fundamental areas of your life? Are you a spender or a saver? Is your financial forecast long-term or short-term? Do you like your gratification instant or delayed? Our relationship with money can be very telling of our relationships with the people in our lives, nowhere less so than in our romantic ones. Could it be that those predisposed towards saving and investing are more likely to favour monogamy and equally to invest more in the relationship itself? Are the serial spenders and compulsive clickers more fickle and fleeting in their pursuit of love and consideration of a partner?

When it comes to accruing personal wealth, how we play the markets can be a strong indication of our approach to relationships. Do we stick to the tried and trusted, diversify our assets, do we embrace risk or play it safe, do we take a chance on the unknown entity or wait for someone to prove their worth? Are we looking for an immediate return on investment or to reap significant dividends further down the line? Our natural inclinations to perceived value and worth encompass numerous aspects of our lives. While no-one wants to be emotionally overdrawn or paying excessive rates of interest on their relationships, it is important to take into account the extent to which your attitude regarding your love-life invariably defines its inherent worth, as well as the quality and depth of its resultant experiences.

To budget for relationships is as much about creating time and making effort to attract people into our lives who will enrich it. In financial terms, it is perhaps much less of a priority as in the earlier stages of a relationship there is never any guarantee of success, while once stability is established it becomes ever easier to take things for granted. Those who are truly wealthy seek continually to maintain, consolidate on, expand and pass on their fortune. Equally those seeking to build wealth might believe and behave as though the worth was already realised, acknowledging the inherent value in a particular venture and seeking less to extract value from it but to contribute value to it.

Should a first date be dinner or coffee? For some, the idea of being stuck with someone they don’t turn out to like makes coffee a safer option. If this should be the case, why default to a couple of flat-whites in a high-street chain? By affirming someone’s existing value and worth, could coffee not be an espresso martini in a sumptuous hotel-lounge or a couple of cups of a quality roast from a market stall and a stroll round the park? Likewise an exquisite bouquet of roses or a weekend at the spa is not reserved solely for birthdays, Valentines or anniversaries. Economy has only ever been a means of exchanging value and so the ultimate aim should always be to enrich the lives of the ones we love and care about.

So whether you spend or save, try to think about the manner in which you are doing it and your essential reasons for doing so. Treat your relationships as your most valuable asset and never miss an opportunity to show someone how much they mean to you. Consider to what extent your financial habits serve you, define you and add real value to your life. Make sure your future clicks and taps reflect your future goals and appreciation for others, as well as your heart’s desire.

Let's talk about money – the importance of talking about finances in relationships.

Discussing finances can be an awkward topic in general, let alone in the context of relationships. This is due to the fact that there are a number of assumptions made about a person regarding their finances. An individual's financial status can also throw up a number of questions when it comes to dating. Will they only want me for my money? Do they have the stability to raise a family? Will they be threatened by my success? These are just some of the questions that people may ask themselves when it comes to money and a potential significant other. New relationships make us feel vulnerable and when coupled with a topic which can make some feel equally as vulnerable it can lead to an unsettling and stifling conversation. The circumstances you start thinking about regarding the topic can increase any pressure already felt by a new couple, due to the fact it occurs when you start seeing longevity in the relationship and are enjoying someone's company.

Advice differs on when is best to broach the subject, however most professionals will advise that although it is certainly not a topic for the first few dates, it is undoubtedly something that should be discussed towards the beginning of a relationship, when you are still in the honeymoon stage. This is because you are still at the point of being inquisitive and exceedingly happy, which helps to counteract the negativity that talking about finances can often bring. It is also important to normalise the topic of finances early on, so as to ensure it does not become a bone of contention down the line.

A report by The American Psychological Association in 2016 found that one third of couples confirmed that finances were a major source of conflict in their relationship. This was particularly the case when there was financial uncertainty and a lack of equality in the control over finances. This inequality referred to one partner taking full control over the other, leaving the other with no responsibility, which can lead to a lack of communication which in romantic relationships is highly destructive. This is because differences are not discussed and a lack of understanding leads to heated conflicts. Dew (2008) found that couples who disagreed about finances once a week were 30% more likely to get a divorce. This highlights the negative emphasis finances can have on your relationship, if not discussed in the correct manner.

In order to avoid such a fate, it is important to keep calm when discussing money and to come up with a plan to fulfil financial goals. Blending financial goals helps to minimise the effects finances have on your relationship and examine what it is that you want out of life financially, as well as a couple. The likelihood is that you and your partner will differ in your approach to spending and saving, one of you may be more money conscious while the other free-spirited when it comes to spending. Our pattern of perception is a direct reflection on how we witnessed finances in our childhood and how money impacted us growing up. Thus, it is important to understand where your partner is coming from and to recognise your differing perspectives. Once you have achieved this understanding, you will be able to figure out what works for you as a couple. It is important that you are both involved, as previously stated, but the responsibilities each partner takes needs to work for you as a partnership, whether that be dividing financial responsibility straight down the middle, or assigning specific tasks to each person e.g. one focusing on daily expenditure whilst the other focuses on savings.  

Finances can also be seen as a cornerstone of creating a life together, hence the importance of understanding each individual's financial goals as well as shared goals. As a result, it can become an emotionally charged subject, as more often than not, it can feel like there is a lot on the line, will you have the ability to buy a family home, travel to undiscovered places or afford to have a child? If one person does not feel like they will get their goals met or their partner is too controlling, it can build up resentment. There is also the chance of misperceiving your partner's intentions, which again shows the importance of positive and honest communication. Conflict regarding finances is the strongest predictor of divorce over any other marital issue, it unearths a deep-rooted power struggle of how you want to live your life. Talking about finances can bring not only a resolve in your financial status as a couple but can bring clarification on how you tackle life together as a whole. If you do so in an equal, honest and positive way it will pave the way for a happy, successful relationship.  

 

References

American Psychological Association (2016). Stress in America: The impact of discrimination. Stress in America Survey.

Dew, J. (2008). Debt change and marital satisfaction change in recently married couples. Family Relations57(1), 60-71.

The art of self-sabotage, too scared to find what you are looking for?

Time is often spent contemplating what we are looking for in relationships, coming up with a list of requirements that we believe will make us happy in that relationship. This is particularly the case for those of us who are single or unsure of a new relationship and have the time to evaluate and ponder what will lead to our ultimate goal, happiness. Although it is great for us to understand what we are looking for in a relationship, quite often these requirements become unrealistic. Consequently when we do come across a potential partner, they are held to these unrealistic criteria. In doing this, we are essentially sabotaging any chance of a healthy, balanced, successful relationship. We may tell ourselves that we will only be content if we have A, B and C fulfilled and as a result refuse to see the persons endearing and positive qualities. This fundamentally prevents any potential romance blossoming before giving someone a chance.

This self-sabotaging behaviour also occurs further on in relationship development. For example when an initial connection has been formed and we are about to go on that all elusive first date, we may start psyching ourselves out. Thought processes such as 'I have nothing to wear, I am not happy about my current appearance, do I even like this person, will it go any further than this anyway', are all self-sabotaging judgments. We try to form a reasonable excuse as to why we should not attend the date, putting off the meeting in case we actually find what we are looking for.

This behaviour is often a result of subconscious cognition, which makes changing our behaviour a little trickier as we are unaware of what we are doing to ourselves. However, if you find yourself continuously putting others down or find yourself perpetually single, tap into your subconscious mind and become aware of your motives. If we are exhibiting these kinds of behaviours then we ourselves are blocking our path to a happy relationship. Once it is clear to see that your behaviour is forming a negative pattern, when it comes to romance, then you can start to take steps to overcome them.

In some instances, the root of these subconscious thoughts can be down to one triggering event or as a result of long standing issues, such as having an avoidant attachment type. Either way, once you become aware of these thoughts you can try to establish the cause of the self-sabotaging behaviour. Once recognised, it will allow you to address the cause of the problem which will result in long lasting resolution. If we do not seek the root of the cause then we cannot truly address our behaviour. In some cases looking into ourselves and being honest will allow us to uncover what drives our actions. In other circumstances we may need to seek some help. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy could be key to helping you find conclusions and move forward. The therapy works as a chain of reaction, once the cause of the cognitions are addressed and subsequently altered then this filters into our behaviour. Accordingly, this reduces the level of self-sabotaging behaviour we partake in and increases the likelihood of forming successful, fulfilling relationships.

It can be difficult to remind ourselves that we are all deserving of love and that not only do we deserve love but that it is something we can achieve, if we allow ourselves. With the right manipulations in our thinking patterns we can open ourselves up to the opportunities of love. These changes will allow you to jump head first into dating rather than being too scared and abandoning love when you find what you are looking for. 

How old should my partner be?

In looking for a long-term partner, possibly the primary and single most telling and influential factor considered is that of their age. From this one piece of information a significant number of assumptions are made and the importance of a variety of other factors ignored or summarily dismissed in the bat of an eyelid. This might seem a touch unfair as our age is perhaps the only thing alongside our gender that is not under the realm of our control. Our age though, once framed within deeply embedded socio-cultural norms, standards and expectations, themselves highly dependent on biological and evolutionary aspects, is so highly indicative of a partner’s suitability that many decisions hinge on it almost entirely. It’s the touchstone of relationship compatibility.

But why should age be so determinative? Contemplating the mysterious, enchanting and often unfathomable nature of love and romance, it would seem somewhat at odds with the specific and delineated marker that is our numerical age. It establishes limits and boundaries where flexibility might serve us better. It puts a spotlight on what we want and relegates what there is to the shadows. Yet there are undeniably evolutionary elements at play here and there is invariably an optimum age for both males and females to reproduce with regard to levels of fertility. The closer the couple is to this age and the less disparity in age there is between the two the greater the supposed likelihood of their being able to reproduce successfully. This evolutionary impulse influences our behaviour in subtle yet profound ways and does go some way to explaining the importance of age in our selection of a long-term partner.

This expectancy has been reinforced and compounded by social attitudes to romantic relationships. There has been no insignificant amount of social stigma attached to those who remain unmarried or do not have children, as well as sustained pressure on people to have achieved certain relationship milestones by a certain age or after a certain amount of time in a relationship. A partner of similar age is also common and more likely in those relationships where the couple have gone through stages of life together or have shared cultural experiences such as going to university at the same time or growing up in the same town. Equally, social factors are inextricably linked with age, such as in rational choice theory, whereby a mate is chosen in terms of their suitability over others to provide the desired social circumstances in which to maintain a relationship and raise a family.

As pervasive as these factors are, and as influential as they often prove to be, we are evidently living through an age of cultural shifts and have developed to the extent that biological aspects are no longer necessarily of primary importance. It is perhaps more important than ever given the transitory and changeable nature of modern-day society, to take a more relative view of the idea of age and the priority it is given in gauging how right someone is for us. If we truly wish to find a long-term partner then only dating women under thirty five if you are a fifty year old male or refusing to date anyone older than yourself will very likely hamper your chances of happiness. Age is also relative to a person’s outlook on life and how active and engaged they are in their lives. Added to this are the enduring appeal of physical attractiveness and wealth which have always proven themselves capable of overcoming differences of age, sometimes at incredible odds. We need to appreciate as well, that as people get older it is possible that they may be divorced and have children and that we should not forego the opportunity of meeting someone special, simply because we have only met them later on in life.

Age is a number, a gauge, a benchmark and no more so. While this is helpful in establishing our commonalities with others, it is often too easy to make snap decisions and judgements based on the information we glean from it. This is not conducive to a true evaluation of someone as a long-term partner and is often counter-productive in that it might prevent us from meeting the very person we would otherwise fall in love with. So while you remain single, remain aware of who people are, not just how old.

‘Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.’ Mark Twain

How to get insight into your partner - the most important questions to ask early in a relationship

Many people encounter difficulties later in a relationship because they haven’t asked or paid attention to information they needed to know about their partner in the early stages.  Often this is because we’re caught up in the excitement of a new relationship, or equally it could be that we just don’t want to know, as we fear disillusionment or facing the realisation of incompatibility with the person concerned.  However, as all psychologists will advise, past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour meaning that healthy, value-laden behaviours are repeated but dysfunctional and negative behaviours are too so it is in our interest to know something of our partner’s past behaviour.  Asking questions early on is not about judging another human being – we all have our skeletons in the closet and moments we are not proud of and this is how we learn and grow.  However, it is essential that we look out for ourselves and our future and choose a partner who is on our level in terms of their values and the qualities they prize.

There are key areas which give insight into someone’s character and value system.  This is not about probing or being intrusive or manipulative, but it is important in finding out information at an early stage rather than months or years down the line when it can be a shock, or you are experiencing behaviour from your partner that there would have been warning signs for if you had asked key questions earlier.  Obtaining this insight is not actually about asking fixed questions, but rather covering a range of areas during your discussions which are revelatory in terms of the insight they provide into personality and beliefs.  Unsurprisingly, most of these are relational.  These are the areas to explore:

Relationship with family

The relationships a partner holds within a family can reveal much. A key area to explore with men is the relationship they have with their mother – be wary of attitudes of contempt or disinterest as there is actually a great deal of research which supports the idea that, ‘as he treats his mother so he will come to treat you.’  Look out for respect, genuine warmth and compassion.  The same can be true of how women talk about their fathers and the experience they had of this relationship.  How does your partner view their siblings, their children?  Do they value these bonds and invest time in them?  Be curious about a reluctance to discuss family.  Of course, not everyone is fortunate enough to come from a happy family background, but in terms of emotional health, the person needs to have worked through difficulties this has generated in order to be emotionally available for you. 

Friendships

Friendships give key insights into a person’s set of values.  Does your partner have long-standing friendships?  This indicates that they value longevity in relationships.  Or do they have a more disposable attitude towards friendships or see friends for what they can provide?  If this is the case you can predict what will happen to your relationship at the first sign of trouble!  Does your partner value quality over quantity or do they need lots of stimulation to massage their ego?  Pay attention to how they talk about their friends.

Vision of the future

A key area to tap into is how your partner views the future unfolding.  This is the key to aligning relationship goals.  If for one person having a family is central to their future but their partner is undecided, this is likely to cause heartache down the line.  Where does your partner see themselves living long-term?  What sort of lifestyle are they hoping for?  No matter how much chemistry is present at the beginning of a relationship, if one person loves spontaneity and the glitz of the city and the other loves routine and the quiet life, this is going to surface in the relationship over time.

Relationship history

This is obviously a key area, but it needs to be explored without being intrusive.   Has your partner had long-term relationships before (assuming they are older)?  Is there a pattern in how relationships have ended?  How do they talk about their ex?  Be especially wary of bitter recounts of previous relationships or blamers who take no responsibility for the end of the relationship.  It goes without saying that if someone is derogatory about their ex-partners, this should ring warning bells – most people have been hurt in a relationship before but are able to discuss this using a healthy dialogue.

How they feel about their career role

Career is often overlooked but reveals much about a person’s traits and characteristics.  How does your partner feel about their career?  Do they have an attitude of respect and care towards their staff?  If they have a boss, be wary of someone who is disparaging about them.  Has your partner taken responsibility for their career, moving on when the time is right or displaying loyalty if the position is valued?  How do they talk about their colleagues?  Do they ensure that work is balanced with time for other important areas of their life?  This is also an area where you can assess how ambitious someone is and how that might be a positive or negative contribution to the relationship.  Career often aligns with attitude towards lifestyle as well, so if someone has a passion for, and continually seeks to develop themselves in their work this generally correlates with a passion for living and curiosity about life too.

When exploring these topics it is important not to quiz, show judgement or interrogate – all of these things will put someone on the defensive and may lead to secrecy or modification of what’s being discussed.   Allow people to tell their story, and try not to become judgemental if you don’t like what you’re hearing – everyone wants to be accepted for who they are.  However, you also need to know who they are so be alert for what is not right for you so that you don't lose time in the wrong relationship.