Our relationship beliefs
- Beliefs affect the way we interpret our experiences.
- We all have beliefs about relationships.
- Some of these beliefs are general, some are specific, some might be gendered.
- There are specific relationship beliefs which may be more helpful in relationships.
Why are beliefs so important?
Beliefs are at the heart of our inner world. They affect the way we interpret our experiences, which then shapes our responses.
We accumulate these beliefs from our direct life experiences as well as from the social, cultural and media environment around us.
In the Field Model, our beliefs are like ghosts, barely-visible actors standing on the field, pushing you one way or another.
The problem we have is that our beliefs may or may not be true, and may or may not be helpful. So we want to try and be aware of them, and challenge them if necessary.
What are some examples of relationship beliefs?
We have beliefs at all different scales.
We have helpful and unhelpful beliefs that are about the way relationships work in general. For example:
- In a healthy relationship, you should tell each other what you want (helpful)
- In a healthy relationship, you should both automatically know what each other wants (unhelpful)
- We’re all entitled to some privacy in a relationship (helpful)
- Your partner is entitled to know everything about you (unhelpful)
- If my partner makes me feel bad, then I should manage my emotions (helpful)
- If my partner makes me feel bad, then I should punish them (unhelpful)
And we have specific beliefs about specific people, including ourselves:
- Veronica only likes me as a tae kwon do buddy
- Henry wants me
- Bailey really likes unhealthy food
- Demelza hates creamy bacon flavour popcorn
- Oscar doesn’t realise what he’s doing is making Veronica uncomfortable
- Alex is afraid of spiders
- I’m cute
In relationships in particular, we can have explicitly gendered beliefs (meaning beliefs about males and females, and the supposed innate qualities of men and women) which can tend to be unreliable:
- Girls are highly emotional
- Guys are unemotional
- Girls aren’t aggressive
- Guys are aggressive
- Guys and girls want different things
- It’s okay for guys to be gross
- It’s not okay for girls to be gross
- Guys can’t show vulnerability
- Girls can’t show strength
Relationship beliefs are unhelpful when they:
- are not true, or too broad (I’m always right)
- are gendered stereotypes (Guys can’t show vulnerability)
- present a double standard (It’s okay for guys to be gross but it’s not okay for girls)
- are overly restrictive (If you don’t text me all the time you don’t love me)
- normalise harmful behaviour (I’m entitled to know everything about my partner).
So what relationship beliefs are helpful?
What are some examples of healthy relationship beliefs?
For starters, the Field Model describes a range of helpful beliefs. For example:
- We are all individuals with our own rich inner worlds.
- We can’t just take what we want from another person.
- We can think of relationships as a series of shared decisions.
- We need to stop, ask and listen to understand both ourselves and others.
- Two people need to agree yes to go the Action Zone.
- Only one person needs to decide no for both to go to the End Zone.
- Every zone has its own set of rules that we need to follow to maintain respect for the other person.
- We need to be careful about making assumptions.
- If we are told no, we need to manage our emotions.
- Moving the line on someone is at least disrespectful, or at worst abusive.
For a more general guide to helpful beliefs, we can refer to a tool called the Relationship Beliefs Inventory, which is a survey used in relationship research. The RBI suggests the following beliefs are helpful:
- None of us are mindreaders (so we need to tell each other what we want, and listen to each other)
- Guys and girls want basically the same things from a relationship (where we want different things, the differences are more to do with us as individuals than our genders)
- Disagreements are normal, can even be helpful, and breaches can be repaired (so long as we argue and resolve our conflicts in a way that is respectful to both people)
- Relationships can be made better (while we all have our own personalities and styles, we can also change aspects of our behaviour if we’re willing)
- Sex isn’t always perfect (in fact it can be a bit awkward and all over the place)
So, we’ve talked about what beliefs are, where they come from and how they affect us—but if we find we have unhelpful beliefs, how do we change them?