• Question: What is the most important relationship a person will form in their life?

    Asked by rosie to Ben, Sam, Kirsty, Maggi, Rose on 19 Jun 2017.
    • Photo: Rose Turner

      Rose Turner answered on 19 Jun 2017:

      Hi Rosie! That’s a really interesting question. There’s lots of evidence that tells us that the relationships we form with our caregivers (which could be a parent or another carer) are very important and can affect our development, as well as the relationships we form in adult life. If you are interested in this area, you could have a look at Attachment Theory, which explains the different ways that children become attached to their caregivers. There’s also body of research that relates childhood attachment styles to adult romantic relationships, which is really interesting. Relationships with siblings can be very important too, as they provide a blueprint for how we interact with others, helping us to learn about friendships, how to play/work with others, deal with conflict, and other important skills.
      Romantic relationship can be very important too, as they can support emotional security, stability and wellbeing, all of which can influence other aspects of our lives. Sometimes romantic relationships, or close friendships, take over as the key relationship(s) in a person’s life, especially when parents are no longer around. When long-term romantic relationships go wrong, like a marriage breaking down, this can affect people mentally, physically and financially. People can also lose the social networks they once had because they are avoiding seeing their ex-partner. Friendships can be a very positive buffer against the feelings of isolation that can arise when a romantic relationship isn’t working, or when experiencing problems in the family.
      All in all, it’s thought that early childhood attachments are certainly very important, though these can be different for different people. That’s partly because our main experience of relationships when we are very young is just with our caregivers, then later on our experience includes relationships with schoolfriends, and work colleagues, and the man from the supermarket or the woman at the sports centre and so on! As time goes on, our social networks get bigger, and our lives become more complicated, you might find that your most important relationships change. It could be with a friend, perhaps because you have shared a similar experience, whereas for someone else it might be their partner and for someone else it could be their sibling. I think for me my Mum was very important (and still is!), though when I was little she worked a lot and I was looked after a lot of the time by my Gran, with whom I felt very secure. So at that stage in my life, she might have been my most important caregiver! But this has changed over the years 🙂

    • Photo: Kirsty Miller

      Kirsty Miller answered on 19 Jun 2017:

      Hi Rosie, That’s a great question! I think most people would argue it’s with a parent…. Babies need to be looked after from when they are born (both physically and psychologically), and there is a lot of research about all the negative consequences of someone being neglected from birth. Looking at it the other way, if people receive a lot of love and support as babies, then they tend to feel more secure, and often become more successful adults.
      Of course there are other important relationships too as you go through life – some people have lifelong friends who they are very attached to, teachers who make a big impact on you, and of course partners who can change your life! I think it really depends what you needed and what the person provides you with in terms of who has the biggest impact, but definitely for most people, the parents will be the most important.

    • Photo: Sam Carr

      Sam Carr answered on 19 Jun 2017:

      This is a really interesting and philosophically challenging question! I think there’s a “scientific” answer to the question – but I also think that, in truth, the answer is subjective and people may have very different ideas of which relationship has been the most important in their life.

      Of course, our parents are critical. As Rose suggested, theories like attachment theory would suggest that we really do become who we are in the early years “through” our relationships with our parents.

      But then, it’s also important to keep in mind that when we BECOME parents ourselves our own children become one of the most important important relationships – many people say their relationships with their children are the most important.

      In essence, I think the answer to this question depends significantly upon asking other questions – such as – what do you mean by the “most important” relationship? In what sense? What does “most important” mean?