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8 Keys to Finding a Relationship That's Right for You

7. Are your patterns with them sustainable long-term?

Key points

  • People are often not rational in making their decisions about romantic partners.
  • Research on judgment and decision-making overlaps with and has direct relevance to romantic relationships and attachment styles.
  • Given that you cannot really determine a “right or wrong” answer, all you have left is to know that you had a good decision-making process.

Most adults have had the agonizing experience of trying to figure out if they want to stay in a relationship or let it go and move on. Maybe you aren’t sure if you are really that attracted to the person, or worry that you might not fall in love as deeply as you want, or fear that the person could turn into an ogre once you commit…and then you’ll be stuck forever! At best, you have probably been the friend lending a caring ear. At worst, you may be under such emotional distress that you can’t think straight. Any way you cut it, however, few people I have met (in the therapy room or on the street) approach solving this problem in a systematic way.

As for whether you made the right choice or not? You can almost never know the answer to this in real time. You could make a poor decision, going strictly on your emotions and ignoring all the red flags, but get lucky with a partner who is willing and able to grow with you. Alternately, you could make a decision to go with that “perfect” person you have been dating, only to have it end in disaster.

Having a Good Decision-Making Process

So, given that you cannot really determine a “right or wrong” answer, all you have left is to know that you had a good process in place to make your decision.

The first thing you will need to do is to get your automatic, personality-based biases and emotional processes off of the table.

These biases and emotion-based strategies can be understood in terms of attachment theory and how you control (or not) your feelings and thoughts in close relationships.

People with secure attachment styles generally are emotionally balanced and not overly swayed by emotions. So, they should be able to keep their heads clear and trust both their guts and their rational thought processes. By extension, they are both honest and authentic in their dealings with others (Shaver & Mikulincer, 2012). Even so, securely attached individuals still have a propensity toward being slightly more avoidant or anxious. So, even if you are secure, you will want to understand these patterns.

People with dismissing attachment styles are often unconscious of their underlying emotions. If they start to feel like a relationship might be leading toward commitment, they may manifest their emotional discomfort through “picking on” a romantic partner in their minds to justify breaking off a relationship. They are likely to roll with these critical ideas and ignore positive information. In other words, they may not have great concern for the welfare of others while simultaneously wanting to protect their own resources and senses of individuality and autonomy.

I have had many dismissing clients describe their dating partners in very positive terms (very attractive, smart, professional, loving) while telling me how turned off they feel and that they just have to leave. They are likely to make quick decisions in more absolute terms (“I just don’t think you are the one for me, so we should just end it now.”). And, if you are this person’s friend, you should know that both highly avoidant and anxious people have difficulty accepting and implementing advice given to them by people who are close to them (Samiento, 2021).

People with higher levels of attachment anxiety and preoccupied attachment styles tend to use more “buck passing” (the other person should decide), “procrastination” (I can’t do that to him now), and “hypervigilence” (I’ll pay close attention and see what she does”) strategies. They also tend to mix their prosocial attitudes with “personal distress, self-focused fears and worries, and sometimes envious or hostile outlooks on others” (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2012). Because of this mix of motives, they may feel less confident in their decision-making relative to those with dismissing or secure styles (Deniz, 2011).

People with fearful attachment styles may use even more emotionally based reasoning and could turn on a dime from being sure that “He is the one!” to suddenly deciding to end a relationship and cut off contact because the closeness and worry about losing someone just causes too much pain. These folks are likely to have long histories of broken relationships and may not even be sure if they were the victims of rejection or the ones who slammed the door shut and walked away.

Fortunately, Shaver and Mikulincer (2012) show how attachment styles can be used to differentiate authentic from inauthentic moral choices. Joel, MacDonald, and Plaks (2013) also have been able to show how research on judgment and decision-making overlaps with and has direct relevance to romantic relationships and attachment styles.

8 Decision-Making Recommendations

  1. Try to “bracket” your emotions and gut feelings and put them aside for the moment while you use rational logic. When you come to the end of the process, you can put your emotions back into the model.
  2. Know whether you are risk-averse or loss-averse (Tversky & Kahneman, 1981). People with more avoidance are likely to be risk-averse in not wanting to take a chance on being stuck with the wrong person. People with higher levels of attachment anxiety are likely to be loss-averse and worry about losing a potential love interest. Know what your automatic pull is and be willing to override it.
  3. Do a cost–benefit analysis: Write down the pros and cons of being with your person, including your anticipated emotions (remember that you may be biased by your attachment style here).
  4. Determine if your person is honest and authentic so that you know whether the information you are getting from them is accurate.
  5. Look at whether your values and interests are compatible. Romance alone cannot hold a relationship together (even in a healthy marriage), and it will be important to know whether this person can also be your friend.
  6. Take a moral perspective looking at potential good that could come out of your choice, potential harm to others (like the children who could be harmed by an affair), and preserving others’ right to make their own choices.
  7. Determine if the pattern and course of your relationship are sustainable over the long haul.
  8. Now, write down your “logical” decision….Then put your emotions back in the mix and see if you can emotionally stand with it. If you cannot, then you may want to get some external support from friends, self-help groups, or therapy. And, if you decide to end it anyway, that’s OK. At least you will know that you had a rational choice but decided to let your emotions decide for you anyway.

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Sarmiento, I. G. (2021). Attachment theory and romantic relationship decision-making: Perceptions and implementation of partner advice [ProQuest Information & Learning]. In Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering (Vol. 82, Issue 4–B).

Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1981). The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice. Science, 211(4481), 453- 458.

Deniz, M. E. (2011). An Investigation of Decision Making Styles and the Five-Factor Personality Traits with Respect to Attachment Styles. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 11(1), 105–113.

Shaver, P. R., & Mikulincer, M. (2012). An attachment perspective on morality: Strengthening authentic forms of moral decision making. In M. Mikulincer & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), The social psychology of morality: Exploring the causes of good and evil. (pp. 257–274). American Psychological Association.

Joel, S., MacDonald, G., & Plaks, J. E. (2013). Romantic Relationships Conceptualized as a Judgment and Decision-Making Domain. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(6), 461–465.