Sometimes my clients roll their eyes when I ask them about their childhood. Why would it be so relevant to current issues when it was so long ago?
Usually, we operate in relationships without thinking about why we are doing what we are doing, a little bit like when we brush our teeth. It is through our childhood experiences and from our parents that we learn how to receive and give love. Thus, a blueprint for how we behave in intimate relationships is set early in life.
In this way, our blueprints differ, but psychologists have found some common patterns in behaviours and have divided these into categories. The categories, termed love styles, can help us understand our and our partner’s love behaviours. Importantly, understanding ourselves in our romantic relationships can help us ultimately give and get the love we want, thus connecting securely.
According to Dr. Milan and Kay Yerkovich, there are five love styles: the pleaser, the victim, the controller, the vacillator, and the avoider. The love styles describe how we relate to our partners. You may notice that you may be a combination of some of the styles. Below is a description of the love styles, how they affect our relationships, and what we can do to improve ourselves, in order to improve our relationships:
Pleasers are amongst the easiest people to get along with. They are giving, committed, easy to love, put others above them, and avoid conflict on any level. They are often the people that say ‘yes’ to others, at school they were the easy-going, well-behaved kid.
Internally, pleasers struggle as they are desperate to feel important and needed. Their lack of self-worth, confidence and self-belief makes it almost impossible for them to set and maintain healthy boundaries with others.
Pleasers will not have received the comfort they needed from their distressed, angry or critical parents and they often are the ones who gave comfort to them. Pleasers sadly exist for the comfort of others. This can mean they don’t tend to develop their own opinions as they are too busy pleasing everyone else.
When a pleaser is upset with their partner, they will do almost anything to avoid confrontation. This may include giving in quickly, being passive aggressive, hiding how they feel by lying, or prioritising their partner’s needs over their own.
Pleasers may take things personally. They imagine they are the reason others get upset, so they can be quite anxious to fix things, by overcompensating. Pleasers can get burnt out. Because they cannot say ‘no’, they will be doing things for everybody.
What a pleaser needs to do to be happier in themselves and in relationships:
- Learn to be open and honest about their own feelings, wants and needs
- Learn how to maintain personal boundaries, practice saying no!
- Do what feels right instead of what is expected of them
Victims are also easy in many ways as they are compliant, easy-going, non-demanding, and quiet. They will be very much like pleasers, in that they dislike conflict, but their response is different in that they feel powerless, they don’t see a way out. Victims can become depressives or struggle with anxiety and feel very helpless.
Usually, a victim has grown up in a chaotic home, with anger or violence. Victims may retreat into an inner world and may become daydreamers.
Victims may struggle to take responsibility, they may blame their partners for their unhappiness or happiness. Victims are often seen as attractive at first by their partners because they are so easy, but they may be seen as weak later in the relationship. Victims are vulnerable to developing addictions or may disconnect in other ways as a coping strategy.
Victims often are in relationships with controllers who will be much like one of the victim’s parent.
What a victim needs to do to be happier in themselves and in relationships:
- Build self-esteem and stand up for themselves
- Become assertive
- Become self-compassionate
- Become independent
- Stop trying to diffuse anger in other people and ask them to deal with it themselves
Controllers at their best can be great leaders, decisive, independent, organised, and make others feel safe. At their worst, they are rigid, seek power over others, have low empathy, can be prone to anger when others are non-compliant, uncollaborative, and they can frighten othes around them. They are “my way” people.
Internally, they are fearful, vulnerable, and anxious. They may have grown up in homes where they were not given adequate attention or protection.
What a controller needs to do to be happier in themselves and in relationships:
- Build empathy
- Express vulnerability
- Learn how to trust others
- Learn how to control their anger
- Seek forgiveness and develop compassion
Vacillators can be open-minded, idealistic, a people’s person, highly attentive and exciting. At their worst, they can be untrustworthy, unpredictable, blaming, critical, and moody.
They will have grown up with unpredictable or inconsistent parents, which gives them a sense of being alone and feeling unworthy. Most importantly, they don’t have a sense of being known by their parents and so they have a deep sense of insecurity.
Vacillators look for a partner who offers consistency more than anything. When they get this, they will idealise the relationship and the partner because they have found the love they have been deprived of their whole lives. The beginning of a relationship with a vacillator can be intensely exciting because of the attention a vacillator will give.
But the vacillator, deep down believing themselves to be unworthy, will easily feel not loved enough, abandoned, rejected and insecure. They may possibly blame and attack their partner for their own feelings.
What a vacillator needs to do to be happier in themselves and in relationships:
- Build a sense of self-worth and take responsibility for one’s own needs
- Accept others for who they are
- Understand and seek self-fulfillment before looking for someone to fulfil them
Avoiders, as the most independent, self-reliant of people, are responsible, predictable, take a logical and problem-solving approach and can make great leaders. At their worst, they avoid emotional connection, have low empathy, struggle to express love verbally and tend to focus upon the superficial.
Avoiders may have grown up in homes where there is little comfort and affection. Expression of emotion is discouraged or seen as weak or needy.
What an avoider needs to do to be happier in themselves and in relationships:
- Learn to open up to their partners and freely express their emotions
- Deepen their connection with their partner by learning how to be an active listener
- Spend quality time with their partner
Secure connectors give and receive love with ease, respect, empathy and compassion. They are able to see people realistically and accept their flaws. They easily communicate their emotions and needs and are also able to see their partner’s needs. They have clear boundaries and can resolve difficulties empathically without blaming or shaming.
Our love style develops through no fault of our own, and we can struggle in relationships without knowing why. Once we know our love style, we can change this and become secure connectors and give and receive love in a healthy way.
Farah Naz is a UK trained Psychotherapist of more than 30 years, and is a Clinical Hypnotherapist, with a special interest in neuroscience. She has worked with thousands of people globally for a range of issues. Farah has trained national organisations, corporate companies, doctors, teachers and health workers on psychological-related issues. Currently, she has an online international practice and a private practice in the Algarve.
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