by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMarch 29, 2021 healthy relationships, parenting, Parenting and Families0 comments
Nothing can fill a parent with trepidation quite like watching their teenager enter the world of dating.
While you may feel some “mama bear” instincts to shut it down, your teen needs you to be there for them. And they’re probably craving to know (without telling you): what does a healthy relationship actually look like?
Instill these five teachable habits to help your teen build healthy relationships.
Relationships rest on emotions, words, and actions. Teach your teen that emotions can’t be controlled, but words and actions can – and they form the basis of a communication.
Actions communicate broad messages like “I want to be here” or “I like you”. But words are the real powerhouse of healthy communication.
Especially when swept away in the beginning, your teen may feel like they can read their partner’s mind. But at some point, this illusion will end. Hurt feelings often result.
Save your teen trouble by teaching them to air out issues before they happen. Remind them to speak gently when opening a conversation. It helps all parties feel like they can say what’s really on their mind.
If your teen and their girlfriend/boyfriend know where they stand on relationship status, sex, and expectations, to name some heavy-hitters, they can navigate from a thoughtful place.
Clear boundaries set a relationship free. They remove the guesswork. Teach your teen the nuts and bolts of boundary setting in a relationship.
Your sounding board can help them get in touch with their inner voice. Inquire in a helpful way. “Do you want him to text you that much?” “Do you feel ready to take your relationship with her to that level of commitment?” Encourage them to answer from their gut instinct.
Then let them know they can request a boundary directly, i.e. “I only want text a few times a day”. Make it clear that if the person involved with doesn’t respect that boundary, it’s a red flag.
Help your teen understand what constitutes physical and emotional safety in a relationship. Encourage them to take time away from the partner to reflect on how things are going. Remind them that any relationship worth keeping will be there when they return.
Highlight the difference between safe and unsafe. Safe should feel comfortable, open, trusting, unpressured, and generally easy. Unsafe situations will evoke feelings of pressure, hiding, secrets, shame, and general ickiness.
Vulnerability and Intimacy
Your teen may feel nervous about getting to know somebody they like. It can be scary to put yourself out there! Give them foundational talk skills to help get over that knot in the throat.
A powerful but underrated conversation skill is asking open-ended questions. Coach your teen to say “How do you feel about your biology class?” instead of “Do you like biology?” Questions like this can really get the conversation flowing. Your teen’s crush will feel their care and interest, and your teen will feel empowered to listen and share.
Enjoy the Fun
Provide gentle but realistic perspective for teenage relationships. The person they date in middle school and high school, in all likelihood, will not be who they marry. It might not even last a few weeks or months. And that’s okay.
Emphasize that relationships are about learning at this point – and fun! If they’re not having fun, encourage your teen to set a boundary to change or end the relationship. Support their discovery of what’s fun or not fun for them.
These building blocks will help them down the road. In the meantime, they’re building happy memories and growth-oriented relationships that uplift them in an often tumultuous season of life.
For more relationship support for you and your teen, consult the following resources:Learn More
Every romantic relationship needs a strong friendship at its center. Friendship is essential to long-lasting, passionate connection. It is like the coals of a bonfire that maintain the heat through the night and remain even after all the wood has burned up. Even in the morning with a little stoking and more wood, the coals quickly blaze again into a warm fire. Friendship is the foundation of long-lasting romance.
The friendship we share with our partner is not second rate to the romance and passion of love. Without a strong friendship, there is no foundation for romance. If you tell me that romance and intimacy is dead in your relationship the first thing to start working on is your friendship! When friendship with your partner dies out, the whole relationship loses its foundation and its spark.
The great philosopher Aristotle once said in his writing, “A friend is a second self.” This is one of my favorite phrases to think about when considering friendship, especially in the context of romantic relationships. True friendship brings forth the desire to know your partner as intimately as you know yourself. Of course, you will never be able to know your partner completely, but you can get pretty close! Desiring to grow in intimacy with your partner in such a deep way creates a continued journey to know our partners and be known by our partners. If you don’t know what your partners hopes, desires, and aspirations are, then how can you support them in those? If you don’t know what their stressors, sensitivities, and hurts are, then how can you be present to their pain and difficulty? Friendship is the foundation of love that lasts.
Drs. John & Julie Gottman are world renowned relationship experts. They have dedicated their lives to learning what separates the “relationship masters” from the “relationship disasters.” The Gottman’s call their blueprint for healthy relationships The Sound Relationship House. Each level of the Sound Relationship House contains an essential ingredient for making love last, and at the very foundation of the Sound Relationship House is friendship. The Gottman’s refer to Love Maps as the center of friendship, and the foundation of love that lasts. Love Maps refer to the amount of mental space you have in your brain for your partner. A Love map is your knowledge of your partner’s inner world. Research conducted by the Gottman’s has revealed that the amount of mental room a partner has for their relationship and for the world of their partner predicts how stable the relationship will be.
Masters of relationships develop a map of their partner’s history, likes, dislikes, concerns, preferences and the current world of their partner. The Masters of relationships create Love Maps of their partner’s world by asking open-ended questions. An open-ended question is a question that can’t be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.” An example of an open-ended question is, “How was your day today?” This question leaves room for your partner to respond in the way they would like and lets them really tell you about their day. It shows that you are really interested in their life and their experience. In comparison, “Did you have a good day today?” is a closed ended question, and while it shows you are interested and care about their day, it limits the response of your partner to being “yes” or “no.”
Just like the operating system on your phone, the Love Maps of your relationship need to be routinely updated. We are always changing and evolving. Our perspectives, stressors, hopes and dreams can change with time, so it is important to take time to update the Love Maps in your relationship. This exercise below is a simple way to update your love maps and to develop the skill of asking open-ended questions about your partners answers. Enhancing your love maps is really about building friendship on an intimate level. True friendship is the bedrock of love that lasts. Try this activity to test & build Love Maps with your partner!
THE LOVE MAPS QUESTIONS GAME
Now that you understand the importance of building Love Maps, play a fun, light-hearted game with your partner. The more you play, the more you’ll learn about the Love Maps concept and how to apply it to your relationship.
Step 1: Both you and your partner take a piece of paper, and with a pen, write down twenty numbers between 1 and 60.
Step 2: Below is a list of numbered questions. Beginning with the top of your column, match the numbers you chose with the corresponding question. Each of you should ask your partner this question. If your partner answers correctly (you be the judge), he or she receives a point. If your partner responds incorrectly, neither of you receives any points. The same rules apply when you answer. The winner is the person with the higher score after you’ve both answer all twenty questions.
- Name two of my closest friends (2 points)
- What is my favorite musical group, composer, or instrument? (2 points)
- What was I wearing when we first met? (2 points)
- Name one of my hobbies. (3 points)
- Where was I born? (1 point)
- What stresses am I facing right now? (4 points)
- Describe in detail what I did today, or yesterday. (4 points)
- When is my birthday? (1 point)
- What is the date of our anniversary? (1 point)
- Who is my favorite relative? (2 points)
- What is my fondest unrealized dream? (5 points)
- What is my favorite website? (2 points)
- What is one of my greatest fears or disaster scenarios? (3 points)
- What is my favorite time of day for lovemaking? (3 points)
- What makes me feel most competent? (4 points)
- What turns me on sexually? (3 points)
- What is my favorite meal? (2 points)
- What is my favorite way to spend an evening? (2 points)
- What is my favorite color? (1 point)
- What personal improvements do I want to make in my life? (4 points)
- What kind of present would I like best? (2 points)
- What was one of my best childhood experiences? (2 points)
- What was my favorite vacation? (2 points)
- What is one of my favorite ways to relax? (4 points)
- Who is my greatest source of support (other than you)? (3 points)
- What is my favorite sport? (2 points)
- What do I most like to do with time off? (2 points)
- What is one of my favorite weekend activities? (2 points)
- What is my dream getaway place? (3 points)
- What is my favorite movie? (2 points)
- What are some of the important events coming up in my life? How do I feel about them? (4 points)
- What are some of my favorite ways to work out? (2 points)
- Who was my best friend in childhood? (3 points)
- What is one of my favorite magazines? (2 points)
- Name one of my major rivals or “enemies.” (3 points)
- What would I consider my dream job? (4 points)
- What do I fear the most? (4 points)
- Who is my least favorite relative? (3 points)
- What is my favorite holiday? (2 points points)
- What kinds of books do I most like to read? (3 points)
- What is my favorite TV show? (2 points)
- Which side of the bed do I prefer? (2 points)
- What am I most sad about? (4 points)
- Name one of my concerns or worries. (4 points)
- What medical problems do I worry about? (2 points)
- What was my most embarrassing moment? (3 points)
- What was my worst childhood experience? (3 points)
- Name two people I most admire. (4 points)
- Name my favorite ice cream flavor. (2 points)
- Of all the people we both know, who do I like the least? (3 points)
- What is one of my favorite desserts? (2 points)
- What is my social security number?
- Name one of my novels. (2 points)
- What is my favorite restaurant? (2 points)
- What are two of my aspirations, hopes, wishes? (4 points)
- Do I have a secret ambition? What is it? (4 points)
- What foods do I hate? (2 points)
- What is my favorite animal? (2 points)
- What is my favorite song? (2 points)
- Which sports teams is my favorite? (2 points)
*Adapted from John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
PhD, G. J., & Silver, N. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert (Revised ed.). Harmony.
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
By John Paul Dombrowski – Therapist Intern
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghSeptember 8, 2020 borderline personality disorder, Bowen Systems theory, healthy relationships, narcissistic personality disorder, Personality disorders, Unhealthy relationships0 comments
People with Personality Disorders Do This In Relationships
Differentiation of Self: Learning to balance Self Needs with the Needs of Others
We can all agree that balance is a key component to healthy living. Sometimes it comes naturally, but more often than not, balance is really hard to maintain. One of the most difficult places to find balance is in our relationships. If we want to find balance, it is worth taking some time to think about the things we are trying to balance between. Being in relationships is like walking a tightrope. There are some people who have a pattern of relating where they have not developed coping strategies that help them work through strong emotions. These people, often personality disordered as defined by their rigidness and complex unhealthy ways of understanding themselves and others, cut off anyone who challenges or counters them. We are constantly balancing between our own individuality on one side, and our desire for a sense of togetherness on the other. Whereas emotionally healthy people welcome differences in others, personality disordered people have not moved beyond the immature way of viewing the world that understands not everyone is the same. Entering into relationships fulfills the human desire for a sense of belonging or togetherness. Once we are in a group or relationship, learning how to navigate around individual differences often proves to be quite difficult. It is easy to succumb to charged situations and react based on emotions rather than a thoughtful choice. ‘Differentiation of Self’ is the ability to interact with others while, at the same time, regulating your own emotions. Think of how narrow your world would become if your default was to run away from every person who you cared about who said or did something you didn’t like. This is however the reality that individuals with borderline personality disorder and sometimes narcissistic personality disorder create.
Think about a disagreement that is currently causing you frustration in one of your close relationships. You probably share commonalities with the person you disagree with, but at the same time your individual differences create tension. What do you do? If you are afraid of creating distance in the relationship you might just blindly agree with the person. You wouldn’t lose your closeness, but you would sacrifice some of your individuality. On the other hand, you could cut the person off emotionally, and distance yourself in the relationship. This would allow you to maintain your independence, but you would lose your closeness and possibly the relationship. Both of these responses are irrational and extreme, a product of all or nothing thinking that are often related to several personality disorders. Neither of these options are really healthy. Each is an escape in reaction to the emotional pressure of disagreement.
Differentiation of self is an idea that describes the ability to regulate your own emotional climate rather than getting drawn in or overwhelmed by the emotions of others. It also has to do with a person’s ability to interact with others without losing their sense of self. This is because a well differentiated person is able to hold the tension between their needs and the needs of others without becoming overwhelmed and acting purely on the strongest emotional push. Someone who is “well differentiated” is able to realize the difference between their own emotions, and the emotions of the people around them. Their choices are thoughtful, taking their emotions into account without being ruled by them. They are able to find peace even in difficult situations and respond thoughtfully in moments of pressure.
Think of individuality and togetherness like two sides of a coin that are distinct, but at the same time inseparable. One side has to do with our concept of self. It is the aspects of our personal life and experience that make us unique and different from others. On the other side, we have a desire to share similarities with others, and to be a part of a group. This is the desire for togetherness, or a sense of belonging. When we are differentiated, we have the ability to enter into a relationship and not lose ourselves. We are able to identify our own emotions and thoughts when responding to tension in a relationship, and we do not react to the emotions of others, but rather intentionally respond. We do not give up ourselves to be with someone, but rather we learn how to truly be ourselves with someone. Learning to regulate our emotions in charged situations is the skill that allows us to hold the balance between our needs and the needs of others. It is a necessary to be able to experience tension in order to have difficult conversations. Healthy relationships rely on our ability to express ourselves in a way that is authentic to ourselves, and at the same time sensitive to others. Being well differentiated protects you from getting uncontrollably pulled in by your own emotions or the emotions of other people. Ultimately, it allows you to enter into relationships fully, in a healthy way, without having to sacrifice your sense of self or losing your own identity.
Differentiation of self develops in our family of origin as we learn how to view ourselves as individuals, but also learn to maintain intimate relationships. It was first described by Murray Bowen, one of the pioneers of family therapy and the founder of Family Systems Theory. He discovered that in a healthy family, members develop the ability to have a sense that “I am my own person, but I am also a part of my family.” Ideally, the family is the place that we learn this skill of balance and integration. In learning about the similarities that unite me to my family members, I am able to have a sense of belonging. In learning about my own uniqueness, interests, and beliefs, I learn that I am also my own person. The challenge of the family is to teach this balance to children and cultivate a balance between our head and our heart. When we don’t learn this balance, we learn instead to be emotionally reactive.
Emotional reactivity is the key distinguishing aspect between people who are well differentiated or poorly differentiated. Differentiation of self is an ideal that we aim for and being aware of how we react to others is the first step in becoming more differentiate. Learning to manage our thoughts and our feelings has a direct result on how we are able to authentically enter into and navigate relationship. If we are not able to differentiate our thoughts from our feelings, then we become vulnerable to being overcome by the pressure of other people, or our own impulses in the present moment.
What can we do about it? None of us are as differentiated as we could be. In fact, even Murray Bowen said that he would not consider himself perfectly differentiated! We can all chose to be dedicated to growing in differentiation. It will benefit us, our friends, our families and especially our close relationships. It is easy to get caught up in the past, or the future, but the only thing we can change is right now. Differentiation begins with thoughtfulness and consideration of the present moment. Why don’t you try to do a quick check in with your emotions? Take a few deep breaths. Just notice, what is it you’re feeling right now? Has there been any strong emotions welling up as you read this post? Just try to notice those feelings, the more aware we are of our feelings, the less likely they are to overwhelm us. By simply paying attention to the present moment we give ourselves the chance to be more differentiated. Next time you are in a frustrating situation with someone try to do the same thing, just notice your feelings. Pay attention to what your emotions are telling you and listen to them while taking a few deep breaths. Rather than reacting to the situation, try to respond thoughtfully after checking in with your emotions. If your knee jerk response is to ‘cut and run’ every time you experience an emotional reaction in a relationship, notice this too and try to adopt healthy self soothing techniques instead of running away from inevitable heightened emotions that come from having close relationships. The key to change is always and only in the present moment. By paying attention to the present moment we allow ourselves to truly enter into what is going on around us, without being swept off our feet. Relationships are difficult and require a lot of work. By paying attention to our emotions, we can learn to enter into relationships in a deeper, more meaningful way. Differentiation of self is what allows us to truly be ourselves in an authentic way, and at the same time meaningfully enter into relationships with others.
By: John Paul Dombrowski- Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh in Canonsburg.
Foose, K. (2018, February 07). Differentiation of self through the lens of mindfulness. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://ct.counseling.org/2018/02/differentiation-of-self-through-the-lens-of-mindfulness/
Baney, D., 5, J., 3, O., 28, E., & *, N. (2015, September 14). Differentiation of Self. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://drbaney.com/category/differentiation-of-self/
Eight Concepts. (2017, November 22). Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://thebowencenter.org/theory/eight-concepts/
Kerr, M. E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation: An approach based on Bowen theory. New York: W.W. Norton.
Nichols, M. P., & Davis, S. D. (2019). Family therapy: Concepts and methods. Hoboken: Pearson.Learn More