The Quest for a Mate’s Approval

One of the great benefits of a committed relationship is the security of being loved, accepted and cherished by our mate. The knowledge that our bond is safe, secure and love-based keeps us contented and emotionally balanced.  Yet, to maintain this state requires mutual, ongoing personal validations in matters big and small. Conflicts of opinions or wishes may destabilize our personal esteem and security.

When pairs do not agree and a mate insists on the spouse’s capitulating to his/her needs, ideas or beliefs, the safety within the relationship may be temporarily weakened and fear arises for both partners about the loss of their unity. The fights and arguments between mates are rarely about the content of the topic but are mostly about the need to be affirmed and valued by each other. Being of one mind secures their sense of oneness and bolsters their individual worthiness.

A common complaint of feuding pairs is that they are misunderstood, disrespected, ignored, overruled and thus, they feel unloved. When their fears intensify they are less able to think clearly, feel loving or get reassured about their mate’s unwavering love.

In “A Guide to Rational Living” Albert Ellis and Robert Harper state, “Constantly striving for approval means living mainly for what others want you to do rather than for your own goals.” They recommend, “Above all, don’t confuse getting love with having personal worth. If you rate yourself as having intrinsic worth or value as a human, you’d better claim to have it by virtue of your mere existence, your aliveness- and not because of anything you do to “earn” it… You are “good” or “deserving” because you think you are and not because anyone awards you this kind of an ‘inherent value’.”

In “Marriage Problems: Why Couples Fight” Dr. Steven Stosny states, “Couples don’t fight about what they think they fight about. It is not the surveys’ big five issues: money, sex, raising the kids, in-laws, or housework. Lovers fight when they believe their partners do not care about how they feel. They fight about the pain of disconnection.”

The above conclusion bears well during couple therapy sessions. Helping mates in first validating one another’s ideas and emotions assists them in feeling understood and respected. This validation also enables them to listen better and easily reach a compromise that is mutually pleasing. Their common sighs of relief are evidence of the ease they gain in feeling heard, respected, loved and honored about their needs and emotions and the re-established connection in their union.

For effective discourse:

  • Understand that your partner needs your respectful attention and existential approval prior to feeling secure about expressing his/her needs.
  • Accept that sustaining your positive self-regard is primarily your responsibility.
  • Validate your mate’s needs and wishes to enable him/her to feel safe in conversing openly with you.
  • Earn you partner’s approval through attentive listening, loving support and subsequent helpful actions.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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