Effective relationships are one of the five things Maslow says we humans need. This includes connections we are born into (family and relatives) and those developed through careers, schools, age groups, or “tribes.” Finally, we turn our attention to another type of connection often called love or romantic relationships.
I am referring to the connections that can lead to marriage, mating or significant other. These may begin as an attraction which leading to interest then possibly infatuation, passion, and intimacy. Of course, such developments are often driven by hormones, pheromones, and instinct but if they are to last must also include respect, companionship, and commitment.
When such a relationship is positive and supportive the individuals are happier, more optimistic, more creative, and more productive. When strain, mistrust, or anger dominate the mated connection, then people are disoriented, disorganized, unhappy and unproductive. So, having healthy primary relationships is good for everyone and our society as a whole.
So, what do we know about the creation and development of healthy mating relationships? Back in the 1960s, I ran across a “theory” that explains part of how relationships from friendships to lasting intimate relationships develop. The approach is not limited to a particular sexual orientation. It is probably less useful for non-western culture folk, but I couldn’t say for sure.
The process is known to me by three letters, each standing for a word which is one stage in the development: ICA. The letters stand for Inclusion, Control, and Affection (or Affiliation).
When we first sense a more than passing connection developing the first question we ask ourselves is something like: Am I included here? Do I have enough in common with the other? Can I include this other person in my life? Do I matter to the other? Do I want to be in a long-term relationship with this person?
If we feel a somewhat comfortable level of inclusion, we then move to the second stage: Control. The questions here have to do with giving up some control over our lives, time, space, etc. There is also the issue of how much control will I have over my partner? Who controls what parts of the relationship? What am I willing to give up to make this work? What assurances do I need from the other?
Then finally there is a level of Affection. Once the initial passion and newness of the relationship have passed is there enough respect, affection, and affirmation to create a commitment at least for now? This is the stage where we find out about each other’s values, hopes, dreams, and desires, as well as some of the quirks, fears, frustrations, and imperfections.
Of course, as a friendship or mating dance grows we need to revisit earlier stages. If you discover the other is a “control freak” who has to know your whereabouts every moment you have to decide if you want to be in this relationship any longer. Or if you discover the other has pizza boxes under the bed older than your socks—can you live with that?
Relationship with that special person usually includes sex. Some want to say sex is one basic needs. While reproduction is essential to the spies (and that is one of the functions of sex) but for individuals—sexual intimacy is more about finding a place of belonging.
All of us being free agents who may grow and change, the person we choose as a “life mate” at age 18 may not be the same one at age 60. Even if we stay married to the same person for 30 or more years—we are all different. We have grown older, learned things, modified values, made mistakes, experienced successes/failures, and hopefully matured. With all those changes we are different people.
Relationships are hard. We need to cultivate them. Care, compassion, dignity, openness and a willingness to forgive ourselves and our mates will go a long way to providing a sense of belonging.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. If anyone knows the originator of the ICA theory (later called ICO) I would appreciate knowing so I can give credit. My search came up only with some fantasy game.
Next time we will look at the fourth of Maslow’s five needs: Achievement or Ego-Strength.