Many people hold very definite normative views about relationships. Here are a number of these strongly held ideas:
- Gay and lesbian relationships are wrong,
- There are rules about when or whether or not sex may take place (e.g. not before marriage)
- Intimate relationships must be based on monogamy, or on a particular form or style of loving
- Sex without intimacy is wrong
- You should only have sex when there is a particular level of friendship or acquaintance, or when an intimate relationship has existed for a certain minimum period of time, or when there is a form of commitment (a common “progressive” rule that "modern" parents try to impose on adolescents)
Rules about whom to date or marry
It is easy to add to this list many other ideas that have to do with prejudice or stereotyping: Don't marry, stay with or date a person because they are:
- not the same "race", or of our ethnic group, or part of our community
- not of the same class background (often using some language that fudges what is meant)
- living on benefits
- having a criminal record
- using drugs
- from Eastern Europe (or anywhere else really)
- parent to a child
- too old / too young
The list is endless.
I don’t think that there is sound psychological backing for any of these purported rules. There may be moral, ethical, religious and legal systems that can be used to provide a supposed justification for (some of) these ideas, but to predict that the breaking of these rules will lead to likely or certain negative psychological consequences is in my opinion not tenable, and not based on any research or empirical verification.
The central need for intimate relationships
I focus on one basic idea that applies to most people - people need intimate relationships. I do not disrespect, criticise, or attack any people who for themselves want to base intimate relationships on a stricter set of ideas or qualifications (such as monogamy, marriage, procreation, heterosexuality, commitment).
I think that psychologically there is good evidence that all that people need is one or more intimate relationships. These relationships can be very diverse, they can work with almost anybody, and any other features are extras, not essentials. If people want to impose their personal values on others (e.g. saying that other people can’t have sex outside marriage, that homosexuality should be forbidden or criminalised, that people should date or relate within their own circle, etc. etc.), then I am inclined to protest and disagree, and tell them to stick to restricting their own lives, rather than making up spurious rules for others.
Power and the persecution of freedom
I don't forget that rule-makers often have power, and use that power to impose their rules. If people are victimised or persecuted for living a life that works for them and is otherwise ethical, they deserve support in dealing with the persecution. A psychotherapist should never side with the forces of an imposed arbitrary morality, if freedom may be better and fully workable for an autonomous, adult human being.