Each person is different, and each relationship is based in negotiations and compromises between partners. Some relationships begin as unhealthy alliances between two heavily damaged people and gradually evolve into healthy romantic partnerships. Hence, there is no checklist of qualities that all people must have before they begin to date. However, developmental psychology shows that successful resolution of earlier developmental stages is crucial to long-term dating success. According to developmental theorist Erik Erikson, the quest for intimacy is the sixth of eight stages that span the lifetime. If you do not successfully resolve the earlier stages, you will have trouble in your romantic relationships.
The first stage of development, trust versus mistrust, occurs during infancy. Successful resolution of this phase results in hope, but failure to resolve this stage leads to fear. Anxiety and mistrust make it tough to develop meaningful long-term relationships. The second stage, completed by age three, is autonomy versus shame and doubt. Successfully completing this stage results in self-directed will and a sense of independence, while failure to resolve this crisis damages self-esteem and creates over-reliance on others. During the preschool years, children go through the third stage, initiative versus guilt. When successful, this stage yields a sense of purpose. Unresolved, the crisis inhibits creativity and makes it difficult to form lasting bonds. The fourth stage, industry versus inferiority, lasts through elementary school. Successful resolution creates a feeling of competence, while failure to resolve this stage results in self-doubt and a feeling of inadequacy.
Identity vs. Role Confusion
The fifth stage of development lays the groundwork for meaningful romantic relationships. Adolescence brings a struggle between identity and role confusion. During this stage, teens try out different peer groups and ways of interacting with society. Healthy exploration is vital for each teen to figure out what truly fits. As part of this search for an identity, most teens explore 'practice relationships.' In an article for "Psychology Today," Dr. Carl Pickhardt notes that these relationships are typically self-centered and focused on learning what sort of partner is ideal. If this crisis is resolved successfully, the adolescent learns fidelity to a cohesive identity. Role confusion occurs when the teen is unable to settle on a single identity, continuing the pattern of trying out different roles long into adulthood.
Intimacy vs. Isolation
Intimacy versus isolation is the central crisis for young adults. If the earlier developmental stages were successfully resolved, the young adult has a healthy sense of who he is and how he fits into the world. He is ready for true intimacy, merging his identity with that of someone else without losing himself in the process. According to psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne in an article for "Psychology Today," true intimacy requires commitment, communication and closeness. Individuals who struggled in earlier stages of development often rely on pseudo-intimacy, in which they go through the motions without developing truly tight-knit bonds. If you struggle to develop real intimacy, take a look at your childhood. You might need to revisit old wounds, on your own or with the help of a therapist, to finish resolving earlier stages and develop the skills needed for successful dating.
If you are dating later in life, your search for intimacy occurs in tandem with another developmental stage. Middle age is hallmarked by the struggle between generativity and stagnation, while older adults focus on integrity versus despair. Making sense of your life and your contributions remains a central goal during later-life dating, and relationships must integrate both aspects of this goal. Abraham Maslow developed a needs hierarchy based on the theory that humans are driven by unconscious desires. Social relationships sit at the third tier, more important than other emotional needs, but less important than biological needs and the need for safety. If you are in a position that threatens your constant supply of food, restful sleep, or other biological needs, or if you do not feel safe and secure in your daily life, you will not be able to focus on dating relationships. In this case, it is best to get your basic needs in order before turning your attention to dating.
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