Relationships in the couple and self-preservation

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Louise Hay

Relationships in the couple and self-preservation

Did you know that the psychological costs of rejection increase as the bonds in the couple create closer rapprochement and greater interdependence.

Last update: 20 September, 2022

Taking the risk of becoming emotionally attached to another person leaves us vulnerable to the pain of possible rejection. Nonetheless, when we love, we usually find sufficient motivation to take this risk. Unwittingly, we place our trust in the other. In this sense, the psychological costs of rejection increase as the bonds in the couple create closer rapprochement and greater interdependence.

We think the emotional pain that comes with rejection can be very great. A suffering that becomes even more intense when there is an addiction in between; this is why many people want to defend their independence at all costs in a couple context. On the other hand, we need to build satisfying relationships that meet our connection / relationship needs.

The bonds in the couple: becoming vulnerable

In any relationship, we show aspects of ourselves that we don't like. Moments in which our doubts and insecurities take shape. Within a healthy relationship, displays of vulnerability, frailty, or imperfection tend to build trust.

In a certain sense, this way of "undressing" represents our projecting onto reality, without wearing masks. But this also increases the suffering that a possible rejection can cause.

If we believe our partner will support us, we expose ourselves to the risk of not receiving this support and the resulting pain. It is the existential dilemma of interdependence. The most basic behaviors used to establish satisfying and intimate bonds increase the risk of suffering from rejection.

Activation of the risk regulation system

We have a system that regulates the risk of pain caused by rejection. Feeling valued and supported by our partner leads us to seek a greater connection within our bonds in the couple.

If not, thinking that there is another likelihood of rejection will increase the need for protection. This system of regulation essentially acts on three levels or contingency rules:

  • Evaluation rules: they measure our partner's level of acceptance and level of engagement with us. They do this through addictive situations. When we feel dependent on the other, the latter can react by thinking about our needs or not.
  • Reporting rules: they show us how it makes us feel that our partner supports or repels us. They do this on the basis of feelings of gratification or offensive feelings, which come from support or rejection. That is, feelings of victory or defeat, associated with our level of self-esteem.
  • Addiction regulation rules: once assessed what previously indicated, they predispose us to prove ourselves more or less vulnerable and act on the bonds in the couple.

Addiction, dilemmas and interpersonal relationships

The bonds in the couple, as a romantic relationship, generate situations of addiction. The actions of one member of the couple often limit or amplify the other's abilities. Conflicts of interest arise and commitments and sacrifices are required.

Sally and Harry are looking for a movie to see together. Sally believes an action movie would be ideal for distracting herself from her work worries. The arthouse film Harry wants to see, on the other hand, would only add to her concerns. Sally is putting her psychological well-being in Harry's hands and runs the risk that Harry doesn't want to make this sacrifice for her, that it doesn't meet her needs.

-Sandra L. Murray-

This is a small example of how every day we entrust our psychological well-being in the hands of our partner. It is these small details that activate our risk regulation system in the face of pain caused by rejection.

These are the "worldly aspects" that offer us the yardstick on the value that the partner gives to our person. In addition, they will serve as a reference point for modulating the level of emotional dependence we will maintain in the future.

Ties in the couple: interdependence of partners

Addiction undermines the partner's relational skills and enslaves them to the other person's needs. In short, it is the element that activates the threat of rejection in a romantic relationship. Couple bonds depend on the perception, minor or major, that the partner doesn't care much about our needs.

When we feel little valued by our partner, the activation limit of the regulation system is very low: it is activated at the minimum signal. In this case, once activated, we prioritize self-preservation.

Conversely, when we feel valued by our partner, risk regulation will be activated at a higher level. If for some reason it activates, we will seek connection and new ways to get closer to our partner, rather than seeking self-preservation.

It applies to both

Both members of the couple activate this regulation system. Each couple, during the evolution of the relationship, makes decisions of self-preservation (decreasing dependence) or of promoting bonds in the couple (increasing dependence).

We all need this system that makes us feel rationally safe in a context where we are always vulnerable. Our romantic relationships and experiences of interdependence significantly affect the qualities we believe we possess.

Feeling rejected hurts, not only because it is frustrating for our desire to feel considered, but also because of its symbolic message. It tells us that our connection with our partner, or any other type of partner, has an uncertain future.

If, due to previous experiences, we prioritize self-preservation rather than closeness to our partner, we will do nothing but plant the seeds in the garden of our fears.

Of all the methods of prevention, being cautious in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.

-Bertrand Russell-

The bonds in the couple: anxiety and satisfaction

Several studies tell us that couple relationships are the ones potentially most satisfying for our needs as adults. The curious fact is that these bonds are the same ones that most activate the anxiety of a possible rejection.

Research by social psychologist Sandra L. Murray sheds light on the fact that to be happy, we need to put aside worries about rejection and risk substantial emotional dependence. Her conclusions can be consulted by reading the article Optimizing assurance: The risk regulation system in relationships, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Either way, remember that we are more likely to live a satisfying relationship when we prioritize the search for connection with our partner, rather than minimizing the chances of experiencing pain due to possible future rejection.

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