Love and Relationships: A Family Legacy (Part I)

By Nicole Howell, Ph.D.

They say our most important relationship is with our parents, usually one parent is most primary for each of us, though both are essential. And it is here we learn the model for relating to others for the rest of our lives. We also develop our self-concept through the reflection of ourselves that we see in our parent’s eyes. We feel “I Can Do It!” or we feel “I Don’t Think I Can.” We are selfconscious and fearful, or we’re free to be who we are without over concern about another’s reaction. And all of this plays a key role in our romantic relationships. Some of us never had a relationship with a parent where we really felt we were loved and admired just as we were. That kind of love that says you are the Sun, the Moon and the Stars all by yourself, and you never have to be anything more.

That’s the kind of love that gives confidence later, and allows you to experience relationships free of anxiety and worry that you will not be enough. Some of us never had a model of good communication between a man and a woman when we were growing up. We don’t know what relationships are supposed to be like, or how conflict really is resolved between people who love each other. An argument means “the relationship is over”. If you happen to be one of those people, then relationships may be harder for you and you may experience more worry and tension, and tend to feel everything that goes wrong is because of you. You may think you are too needy if your needs are not getting met, but that may not be the case at all. You may simply be with someone who does not know how to attend to another person’s needs.

For you, relationships take more courage because you are treading on unfamiliar waters. But if you can begin to understand where the uncertainty comes from, it will be easier to get on your own team. Instead of asking, “Will the person think I’m what he (or she) wants?”, “Am I smart enough for them, do I say the right things?”, “Do I fit into their lives? Am I sexy enough for them? Do I make enough money? Was it my fault they didn’t call back?”, “WHAT DID I DO?” Instead of taking that position, why not try a new response? First begin by thinking about what YOU want in a partner, the qualities YOU like in a person, the things YOU NEED and DESIRE in a mate. Firm them up in your mind.

Imagine the person is right there, what would they be like, how would they be treating you, what would they be saying? Then, when you experience a person in a dating situation, ask yourself if they meet your requirements, if they seem to be someone who could give you what you need in a relationship? When you turn the tables around like this, you will feel better about dating, and better if it happens that things don’t work out later. You will feel better about yourself. Because the bottom line is each of us is unique, and each of us deserves to have a life partner who knows how to communicate his or her needs and feelings, who respects our differences, who cheers us on, and who knows where our buttons are but tries not to push them.

That is part of the beauty of marriage or having a committed, intimate relationship. It does not mean our partners won’t disappoint us at times, of course they will. It means that when they do, they will stick with us and work it out. Each of us should have that special love partner in our lives. Someone we grow with and who allows us without hesitation to stretch our wings. We may not have been around it when we were young, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find it later. And if there are things from the past that you think are holding you back, you can always talk to a professional about it. But whether you do or not, you are a one of a kind individual with strengths and weaknesses all your own and deserve to be loved by someone just as you are. Nicole Howell, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist in Private Practice in Encino, CA. She is also available for lectures and consultation. You may reach her at (818) 274-1732 or therapy1st@

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