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What’s Your "Relational Business Card"?

Change the dynamics of your relationship by changing yourself.

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Our relational business card is our “go-to” first impression when we begin intimate relationships.
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We are all multifaceted individuals; we have sides that are jealous, confident, childish, hurt, loving, mysterious, artistic, and so on. In relational psychotherapy, we call these self-states.

As children, we grow up learning that certain self-states reward us with more attention, so we tend to perfect and bring the most popular self-states to the front. This becomes our “relational business card” which we use throughout our lives as our go-to first impression when we begin intimate relationships.

Just like in a business meeting, when we meet new people, we unconsciously extend our relational business card, and they share theirs. Only if we both agree on accepting each other’s relational business cards will the relationship continue. Therefore, we end up attracting people with complementary or matching relational business cards into our lives. So if your leading relational business card is “I’m super shy,” you’ll attract people with relational business cards that work well with “shy” like “teacher,” “leader,” or “parent.”

What's the problem with our relational business card?

Nothing. It serves us well or we wouldn’t keep using it. But often, the people around you might cast you again and again to that same business card, that one self-state, which leads to systematic homeostasis. This repeating pattern slowly limits your emotional, cognitive, and interactional behaviors. Eventually, your relational repertoire becomes stunted.

Which card should we use?

There is no one specific self-state that is preferable. Rather, it is an advantage to have access and flexibility to employ many different self-states, that is, to have several relational business cards in our psychological “wallet.”

In many ways, our relational business cards, are like our core beliefs – they become the glasses through which we see the world and the magnet that attracts the same type of people and dynamics to our lives. If you want to change the dynamics and people in your personal life, change your business card.

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Having several relational business cards in our psychological “wallet" can help you enrich your life.
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1. Reflect and recognize your leading business card. Choose an intimate relationship and write down the top five relational business cards (traits or characteristics) that you bring to this relationship.

a. Stay playful and don’t take yourself too seriously when you write these down, as sometimes these parts might make you defensive.

2. Share this article with your partner so you will have a common language. If you can’t define your relational business card, ask your partner to tell you their impression of your business cards.

3. Write on two cards the top two relational business cards that you most often bring to the relationship. Show them to your partner and just reflect.

a. Share with your partner: When did you develop these cards? Growing up, who had similar (or opposite) relational business cards? What do you gain and lose from them?

b. Ask your partner to share their lead relational business card with you. There is usually a complementary dynamic between cards: persecutor/victim, teacher/student, mom/son, shy/courageous, leader/follower, and so on.

4. Ask yourself which other self-states you would like to introduce into this relationship? There are plenty of other business cards inside of us, often inside our shadow (your repressed, exiled, or unwanted parts such as the erotic, the lover, the artist, the creator, the sensitive, and so on).

5. Dare to introduce new business cards to your relationship. By using new business cards, you are in fact showing your shadow which will actually help you feel more loved.

6. Expect many ruptures and blocks from your partner. That is because you are essentially disrupting the system’s homeostasis. Therefore your partner will sometimes misinterpret your behavior and unconsciously try to re-cast you in your historical business card. Yet the more you can bring new sides of yourself consistently, you will in effect force your partner to bring more sides of themselves. This short clip explains more about long-lasting systematic change.

Authenticity can be seen as the ability to bring many different self-states into your life. We all have the ability to bring these different business cards, which over time will not only change our existing dynamics but also attract new people into our lives. By bringing more business cards, you expand their relational repertoire which over time will make your relationship more fresh, vital, dynamic, and exciting.

Expand your relational business cards, and you'll expand your life.


Bromberg, P. M. (1996). Standing in the spaces: The multiplicity of self and the psychoanalytic relationship. Contemporary psychoanalysis, 32(4), 509-535.

Mitchell, S.A. (1995). Hope and Dread in Psychoanalysis. New York, NY: Basic Books.