How many of you are brave enough to go to a sit down restaurant by yourself and have dinner? Or how many of you would head out to the movie theater alone? Not many of us, right? We’re relational beings, geared to live in community with one another. Children desire best friends, and teens move through their youth seeking out peers with whom they can relate.
I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships and attachment lately. We’ve all heard of the “hook up” culture, and are aware of the ways teens are able to dive in and out of friendships and physical intimacy. It’s stunning sometimes to realize how quickly a “dating” relationship can begin, isn’t it?
During our program we talk to teens about what makes a healthy relationship. We talk about friendship, but also about dating. During our discussion, we bring up something called the Relationship Attachement Model, or RAM for short. (We don’t call it that with students, of course, but that’s what it is.) Scientists and psychologists have studied attachment theories and behaviors in people, and have basically come up with a description of what a healthy relationship looks like. If you click on the link, you’ll see a diagram that looks a lot like the graphic equalizer on your stereo. Allow me to explain.
Human beings generally build relationships (or become attached to someone) in a particular pattern. The RAM shows those five areas. The five levels of bonding are: knowing someone and being known, trusting someone and being trustworthy, relying on someone and being reliable, committing to someone, and finally, forming physical (sexual) bonds with that person. Each area builds on the other, based off the mental picture you gain of the other person during the time you spend together.
Each area can increase or decrease independently (i.e. you don’t have to know someone for long before you must rely on them for something – think about a job situation, for example), but they do affect one another. In any kind of relationship, however, the model works best when the first step, “knowing” is the highest level. All other steps (trust, rely, commit, touch) should work on a descending scale.
In other words, when talking with students we say, “You can’t trust someone more than you know them. You can’t rely on someone you don’t trust. You don’t want to commit to someone on whom you cannot rely. And you don’t let someone touch you who isn’t committed to you.”
Teens tend to jump from “know” to “touch” – and the knowing hasn’t happened for very long! And then they wonder why they experience various emotional or mental consequences of sexual activity. With this model, students can see that physical intimacy is really based on other factors – and for it to be good and appropriate, they need to be in balance, and in the context of real commitment.
For more information, feel free to see an article on the Relationship Attachment Model here.