The First Principle of Relationships

The first (and overriding) principle of relationships is this:

Every relationship involves a mutual fulfilling of needs

If you fulfill someone else’s needs, they want to maintain and deepen your relationship. If you don’t, they’ll avoid you or minimise their contact with you.

Think about it – do you like spending time with people who take without giving much in return? To put it another way, if you make someone feel good because they perceive the ‘pleasure’ they get from you as greater than the ‘cost’ and effort involved, and those feelings are mutual, then the relationship flourishes.

The pleasure or rewards can be physical (e.g. practical help and support etc.) or emotional (attention, affection, companionship, moral support, appreciation and so on).

We consciously or unconsciously balance the rewards against the effort we have to make to maintain the relationship – time, energy, inconvenience, etc. There may also be a cost in terms of lost opportunities to do other things with our time.

If you think this sounds cold and calculating, think about your own situation. Are there people you would rather avoid because they don’t give you what you need? Or whom you tolerate because the advantages of maintaining the relationship compensate for the inconveniences?

We wonder why people with ‘difficult’ partners put up with it. The answer is – the risks in leaving are perceived to be greater than the pain of staying put. They’re unhappy, but either too scared or not unhappy enough to do anything about it.


Your prime relationship is your relationship with yourself. This is the platform from which all your other relationships arise. You cannot expect anyone else to love or like you much if you don’t love or like yourself.

Like attracts like

In relationships, like attracts like. People with low self-esteem usually seek out and attract others who are similarly afflicted; people with higher self-esteem scare them or are simply not attracted to them.

This is why some women attract selfish, inconsiderate, even cruel partners who are genuinely incapable of giving them what they want – but they don’t believe deep down that they can attract anyone better. Psychotherapists’ appointment diaries are full of such people.

People with low self-esteem often regard any relationship as better than none. They believe they have no choice.

Without self-love, it’s common to find a substitute – food, sex, money, drugs, sympathy, work, etc. All self-love substitutes are highly addictive; and like any addiction, as time passes you need increasing amounts to achieve the same level gratification. Ultimately, the only way to cure your addiction is to cultivate the real thing, but you can’t get it from other people – it can only come from inside.

Your attitude to yourself is like a pair of coloured spectacles through which you view everyone (and everything) else.

It lies at the root of your health, happiness and success.


©David Lawrence Preston, 1.8.2016

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