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How to Operate the Thermostat in Your Relationship

By Michael Ruben LICSW

As a Couples Therapist, I've found that each person has their own preference for closeness and distance. In effect, each person has a comfort range of physical and emotional closeness. When our emotional thermometers differ, tension and communication issues increase. If it gets too warm for a partner who fears being smothered or controlled, they might seek distance, and take more space. If the other partner feels too distant, it may provoke abandonment feelings. Depending on their needs, each partner will behave in ways to either heat up or cool down the relationship.  Conflicts and arguments often serve this function.


Where do these preferences come from? Partly, they are innate; just as one person enjoys skiing on the coldest days of the year, and the other enjoys lounging in the Caribbean on a very hot day.  Our brains also filter sensory information differently. Largely, though, the root is in childhood issues: family-of-origin-patterns of intimacy, early childhood experiences and resulting attachment styles. 


In therapy, you can better understand how your inner thermostat affects the dynamics of your relationship, and how to adjust the temperature so that both you and your partner are comfortable and happy. 


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