Do you ever feel like you and your partner have different love styles?
“Sometimes I feel like David is a PC and I am a Mac. We have incompatible operating systems," Melissa said in one of their marriage counseling sessions with us. She was right. Although she and David have been married for eleven years, they do have very different styles of relating. Understanding your relationship love style and your partner’s can go a long way to resolving chronic conflicts, and from preventing them in the first place.
According to Kenneth Garrett, Ph.D. and William Rose, Ph.D., who were guests on our radio program LOVE LIFE, there are three basic styles of relationships. In their book Relationship Styles and Patterns, they discuss three major personality types and how these qualities show up in relationships. Understanding your personal love style and that of your partner, which may be very different from yours, can go a long way in bringing harmony to your home.
The three personality types they identify are: Isolators, Accommodators, and Directors. These represent different styles of relating, and can really help you understand your relationship style.
Each style has both strengths and weaknesses. No one style is better than another. But if their unique operating systems are not understood, the differences can lead to chronic conflicts. What makes these arguments problematic is that they are not so much about the issues couples are fighting about, but rather underlying stylistic differences. Understanding your relationship style can really help you, because they each reflect different styles of responding to stress and different underlying needs. Let’s take a look at these various styles and see if you can identify yourself and your partner.
ISOLATORS: Isolators may be very social individuals but when it comes to close and intimate relationships they may experience major barriers in establishing or in maintaining long-term primary relationships. When isolators experience conflict, or even anticipate it, their first reaction is to withdraw into themselves. It just feels safer or more natural to them to retreat. This can lead to isolation, even in the context of a relationship. Thus Isolators can feel lonely and depressed, even when they are not alone. Isolators need to begin to heal an underlying mistrust they have of intimacy, love and commitment. They also need to learn to understand their own needs for emotional safety, and how they can remain present and connected in an interaction even when there is conflict involved. If you or your partner is an “isolator," understanding your relationship style will really help you predict how you will each react under stress.
ACCOMMODATORS: Accommodators prefer the company of others and dislike the feeling of isolation. They get along well with others, but when they are single, they easily become depressed, confused, overwhelmed, and often marry or become deeply involved before they are ready. They are very supportive of their partners, cooperative, and “easy going," but they can become needy and clingy, or too passive about asserting their own needs. Accommodators can easily fall into co-dependent relationships, (where your own needs are continually compromised in favor or the other person’s) which will ultimately lead to anger and hostility if they are not careful to balance their fear of isolation with a strong sense of self.
If you or your partner is an accommodator, you want to understand this relationship style and avoid the common mistakes accommodators tend to make.
DIRECTORS: Directors do not like feeling vulnerable or dependent. They like the feeling of power and control. A Director will do anything not to feel helpless, including attempting to dominate their partners and situations. Directors can make great leaders if they temper their style with humility and awareness of other people’s feelings. They are risk takers and get things done, but when it comes to personal relationships they need to recognize their need for control. If they want to have meaningful and intimate relationships, they need to take an honest look in the mirror and work to create balance and fairness, and recognize their partner’s deeper needs. Understanding your relationship style is like having your own owner’s manual to your heart.
Of course, many of us have some or a little of all three tendencies. Rarely is someone all one type, and you may find yourself acting out of one style in certain situations, and the opposite style in another circumstance. But it helps to understand that in any given moment, you may be operating very distinctly from one of these styles.
Once you understand your relationship style and learn to recognize this in your partner, you can choose to be more flexible, instead of habitual, in your responses. When people are strongly displaying one tendency exclusively, it can create a sense of ongoing difficulty in a relationship.
Some people are so entrenched in their pattern that they re-create the same love style dynamics over and over, even if they change partners. For example, often Accommodators find themselves in relationships with Directors. This can result in an accommodator staying in an unhappy relationship with a “top dog," for fear of being alone. Accommodators will do more than they really want to for their partner, and Directors will take advantage of their compliance. Accommodators need to ask themselves if their “partner pleasing" patterns have become self-destructive.
Directors don’t like to be told what to do, and when two directors live together it can lead to dominance and power struggles. But if both partners recognize this pattern, it can become a very dynamic relationship where both partners are constantly challenged to give more and to grow.
Isolators with either partner may withdraw when feeling stressed, and may “under-participate" in the relationship, which greatly frustrates their accommodator partner, who needs more connection. Once an Isolator recognizes this pattern, they can find a balance between honoring their own need to withdraw, with the willingness to communicate this need to their partner. This simple communication goes a long way to maintaining the connection with their partner.
Directors in relationships with Isolators may feel threatened when their partner retreats. The Director may attempt to control even more, causing more conflict and misunderstandings.
You can dramatically improve your relationship by understanding your own relationship style and that of your partner. Then you can begin to understand each other’s operating programs. Ultimately the solution comes not from focusing on the difficulties that emerge from diversity, but from celebrating your differences and respecting each other’s unique style and needs.