Whether your heart belongs to anyone this Valentine's Day may depend on what happened the first time you fell in love. This new finding, challenges the notion commonly held since Freud that the stability of the parent-child relationship sets the stage for attachment later in life. With romance, some of the problems you have in the romantic domain may have more to do with your first love than with your parents.
"First love" doesn't mean a childhood crush on a teacher or movie star, but the first real relationship of a romantic nature between two individuals, often experienced in adolescence or early adult years. Those who remember the experience positively are more likely to consider themselves securely attached to their current romantic partners and to perceive their romantic partners as securely attached to them.
Vivid memories of a first love are very detailed, self-defining, something you recall a lot, stories and anecdotes you dwell on or tell all the time.. In the case of first love, such memories often range from bittersweet but fond - perhaps recollections of a poignant puppy love tinged with regard or regret for a long-ago sweetheart - to deeply painful, soul-crushing experiences.
Whatever happened, it can set you up as thinking, 'This is what I am like as a relationship partner'.
People who recollect their first romantic experience as involving good feelings, for instance, citing memories of happiness, excitement, strength, inspiration, pride and enthusiasm, were more likely to be in stable relationships years later than those recalling hostility, upset, stress, guilt, fright or shame, Beer found.
"First love relationships often break up. So people say, 'What do you mean, good feelings? It was a breakup,' " But even though the relationship ended, which seems like it might be negative, the vivid memories surrounding the experience can be good or bad."
As an example of a good experience, consider a friend of mine who suffered greatly because her former boyfriend dated other women immediately after their relationship ended. But, prior to that, the experience had been a positive taste of what love could be, and the woman learned what made her happy in a relationship.
Alternatively, consider a stormier experience of another friend that left the respondent years later with the unshakeable suspicion that all men were untrustworthy.
"This is wrong, but I cannot help myself," she says. "One negative experience has been enough to change my entire outlook on men."
Four patterns of perception surrounding relationships can be identified:
Secure –– A secure, positive sense of both self and partner in a relationship.
Dismissive –– A positive sense of self, but not of partner.
Preoccupied –– A positive sense of partner, but not of self.
Fearful –– Negative recollections of both.
Those with memories of positive emotion and outcomes from their first relationship are more likely to have positive views of self and others in romantic relationships. Those with more negative emotions and outcome were more likely to show one of the other three patterns.