We’ve all hoped that we strike a good in-law deal, that our parents accept our fiancé/e, and that our life-long friends will be excited about our newest love interest. From the 16th century tale of Romeo and Juliet to the modern theme of the Spice Girls (“If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends”), it seems that there is a universal awareness that relationships require approval. But why is the approval of others so important to our romantic relationships?
Relationship research has shown that “perceived network support” (i.e.: believing that your family and friends approve of your boyfriend/ girlfriend/ husband/ wife/ partner) is associated with increased love, commitment, relationship quality, and stability over time. Simply stated: the social support we receive from others makes our relationships better and can actually change the trajectory of our romance. It’s easier to develop love when that love is approved of by those we respect and hold close. But let’s face it: not all are lucky enough to live in the ideal world where everyone loves everyone and lives happily ever after.
So what happens when your loved ones don’t approve of your “loved one?” Some follow the pressure from family and friends and decide to leave their partner; the negative feedback and consequences they perceive from others outweighs the pros of staying with their partner. But some choose to stay in their relationship, even in the face of resistance. Researchers at Mississippi State have shown that, of the individuals who choose to stay with their partner in the face of social disapproval, there are two types of “reactors:”
The independent desires to make independent and free decisions. When others don’t approve of his/her love interest, they are able to move forward in that relationship with confidence. Think Belle from Beauty and the Beast. These are individuals who are capable of ignoring disapproving messages from others and are less affected by others’ reactions to their romantic choices. They can maintain their feelings of love and commitment toward their partner regardless of other’s opinions. So, when others disapprove of their romantic partner, they are able to maintain their boundaries and stay differentiated.
The rebel does the opposite of what is urged by others. The more that others’ tell the rebel to be cautious of their relationships, the more the rebel commits to their partner. Think Romeo and Juliet. The Rebel is often more passionate, emotional, and reactive than the Independent. These individuals may actually be more influenced by the opinions of others than the Independent as well. While the Rebel’s reaction may not necessarily increase fondness for their partner, it may play an important role in shielding a relationship from deterioration in the face of social disapproval.
Do you identify with The Independent? Or are you more of a Rebel? While the energy and passion of the Rebel is romantic, The Independent is more capable of forming healthy, long-lasting relationships and developing mature love. If you find that you have Rebel tendencies, don’t worry – we’ve got some tips that can help you. If (or when) you find that those you love don’t approve of the one you love, it is important to remember the following:
- Your relationships should be a reflection of what you truly want and believe in. If you find that your motivation to be in a relationship is to prove a point or to prove someone wrong, it may be time to reconsider your choice.
- Your choices are yours, not your family’s or friend’s. If you find it difficult to differentiate between your own feelings/ choices and those of others, practice making and feeling confident in your own choices.
- Families and friends may bring to light certain aspects of your partner or relationship that you may not be aware of. You can respectfully take these into consideration without becoming reactive or impulsive in your decision.
As you increase your ability to make independent decisions and cope with disapproving others, you will better prepare yourself for successful relationships. Taking the RELATE assessment can also help you understand how to be more prepared in these complex situations and empower you to build healthy relationships
Written by Bonnie, Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy. Reviewed by Brian Willoughby, PhD.