Making Change

A psychologist provides guidelines to help individuals define their best pathways to change

Is Your Relationship Just Right?

It's hard to find happiness when you need more space, or have too much.

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As you may recall, Goldilocks looked for a place to rest after eating the bears’ porridge. One bed was too hard. A second was too soft. But the third was just right

When you seek a comfortable, supportive relationship, you could take some lessons from Goldilocks (and then hope that your happiness isn't eventually disrupted by a trio of angry bears).

If you think of a relationship as one that's able to comfortably support you and your partner, you’ll want to find one that offers emotional closeness that is just right. In other words, you don't want them emotional space between you and your partner to be ...

... Too Big.

Some relationships offer you so much room that you feel alone in them. Yes, you and your partner are together, but there is so much space between you that you feel like you are sitting alone. As a result you are likely to feel lonely and perhaps angry with your partner. You may begin to fantasize about meeting someone who'll sit closer to you, or even act on this desire.

Instead, you want a relationship that is emotionally close enough that you feel cared about and supported. When you feel upset about something, or emotionally spent from a tough day, thinking of your partner should put a smile on your face. Time with him or her should help make you more resilient to life's difficulties, and rejuvenate you.

If your relationship feels “too big,” it could be that you're not spending enough time together. Try talking with your partner about it. Explain how much you care about them and how you’d like to feel closer, and suggest ways that could bring that about. You might suggest doing activities together that you enjoy, such as hiking or going to a baseball game. If you decide on less interactive outings, such as going to the movies, you might want to make sure to go out to dinner afterward so that you can have dedicated time to share your thoughts.

Your relationship, however, might also feel “too big” because you sense that your partner doesn’t really care about you and your interests. Talk with him or her about this and how it makes you feel. Suggest how your partner could help alleviate your worries—you might ask that they try to really listen to you, without interrupting, and express concern for how you feel. You might also want them to be more curious about your interests and activities.

... Too Small.

Some partners want so much closeness that you can feel stifled, and unable to relax into, or express, who you are. You might even be concerned that asserting yourself will “break” the relationship (much like Goldilocks broke Baby Bear's small chair before heading upstairs for her nap).

You want a relationship that allows for some independence. It is crucial that partners have thoughts, interests, and experiences outside the relationship. Such outlets offer ways for each person to grow personally and bring something new (and hopefully thought-provoking) back to their relationship. In addition, each partner can feel supported and encouraged by the other as they face new challenges.

If your relationship feels “too small” for you, talk with your partner about your interests or the things you’d like to try to do on your own. Explain how it would be helpful for your partner to support and encourage you. If your partner feels threatened by you expanding your horizons, talk together about how you can help to ease their concerns.

 

To be in a relationship that has a healthy level of closeness, you will need to nurture it with your partner. In the end, like Goldilocks, you have to find a level of support that is just right for you. 

 

 

Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.

Dr. Becker-Phelps is also the author of Insecure in Love.

For email notification of new blog postings by Dr. Becker-Phelps, click here.

Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.

Personal change through compassionate self-awareness

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, New Jersey.

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