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Relationships— Which Ones Work and Why by Dena Sperling

We often wonder why certain adult relationships work and others do not. Perhaps it is because each relationship is unique and demands its own set of rules and compromises to be successful.

For many, the commonly sought after “give and take” approach, also known as the “Exchange Theory Perspective” facilitates a harmonious relationship. Each individual in the relationship gives something (time, attention, money, assistance, etc.) to the other individual and the favor is returned in a timely fashion. This facilitates a healthy relationship as long as nothing occurs to preclude one person from being able to do what he/she would truly like to do for the other.

Losing one’s job, for example, knocks out all good intentions. How can someone satisfy another person’s needs when financial strain is hitting them from all angles? Quick changes are needed in order for this relationship to weather the financial storm.

Adapting to Changing Relationships

According to the “Family Systems Theory,” the relationship, as a whole, is greater than its parts. In other words, if one individual in the relationship is not able to carry out the responsibilities previously agreed upon (in this case, earn money until a new job is obtained), then together, both individuals have to agree upon and accept necessary changes. A healthy relationship allows for both individuals to adjust to circumstances that negatively and positively affect their lives.

Another perspective that helps us to understand this concept is the “Family Development Perspective.” Stated simply, life changes over time and people change with it. Preparing for inevitable change will keep the surprise factor at bay and enable people to better accommodate any changes that come their way.

So how does one prepare for these changes just waiting to spring upon us all? Developing and maintaining solid social and emotional resources is essential. The worst thing that can happen to a relationship is holding in pent up frustrations, anger, fear, confusion and mistrust. Having someone to discuss these emotions with first, before blurting them out in a relationship, can help to put a clearer perspective on a situation. Being able to understand one’s own needs, separate and shared responsibilities, and how to best express thoughts and feelings can only help the individual get what is desired out of the relationship and/or express what changes are needed.

Fostering Interdependent Relationships

Ideally, people should work toward an interdependent relationship. People in an interdependent relationship have an adequate sense of their own selves. They enjoy mutual influence in each other’s lives while providing emotional support for one another. Both get an equal sense of personal and social satisfaction from the relationship on an ongoing basis. As individuals, both give and take what is needed to face whatever life throws at them throughout the course of the relationship. It is only when this mutual satisfaction falters that the relationship falters as well.

Do you want your personal relationship to succeed? Being honest with yourself and your partner is the first step. What do you want from your relationship and what can you honestly and generously give? What can you expect to receive and will this satisfy you? Which rules and compromises have worked in your relationship and which ones need to be re-examined?

Do not hesitate to speak to someone in confidence about concerns you have regarding your relationship. Often a trusted friend or family member is a good place to start, but do remember that these individuals may have their own biases and loyalties. Someone who is not personally or emotionally involved, such as a counselor, also may be a good choice. Your confidentiality and personal perspective will be safeguarded enabling you to explore your options for a healthy relationship.

Dena Sperling is a licensed clinical social worker who offers short-term therapy for long-term happiness. She has an office located at 28 New Hempstead Rd. in New City and can be reached at 323-4600 or through her website, FamilyNeeds

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