Sonya Thomas lcsw

The Five A’s

David Richo, in his wonderful book entitled How to be an Adult in Relationships lays out 5 aspects of love that he contends are necessary for optimal development and well-being.  The five A’s as he calls them are:

  • Attention: Engaged focus, attunement and festivity aimed at our thoughts, feelings, needs and wishes.
  • Acceptance: Being received respectfully with all of our feelings, personal traits and desires.
  • Appreciation: Being admired, prized and respected for our unique gifts.
  • Affection: Closeness both on the emotional and physical level in a way that encompasses kindness, consideration, playfulness and thoughtfulness.
  • Allowing: The full range of emotions are accepted, as well as ones unique personhood has space to exist.

Richo goes on to say the following:

“Love is experienced differently by all of us, but for most of us, the five aspects (5 A’s) of love stand out.  We feel loved when we receive attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing. The 5 A’s meet us in different guises throughout life’s journey.  In childhood, we needed the 5 A’s to develop self esteem and a healthy ego.  They are the building blocks of identity and forming a coherent human personality.  What we needed in childhood for the building of a self is also precisely what we need for happiness in our adult love relationships.

If our childhood was painful, it is unlikely our earliest caregivers received the 5 A’s in ways that were adequate to prepare them to shower us with the attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing that we needed.  We therefore bring to adulthood a deficit, which we then look to our intimate partner to remedy or fill.  The kicker is that our partner inevitably also has deficits that they bring as well.  It is for this reason that Richo tells us that “in healthy intimate relationships we do not seek more than 25 percent of our nurturance from a partner; we learn to find the rest within ourselves  . . . and by recruiting supportive others who can give age appropriate responses to our needs.”

Richo is clear that in order to be a spiritually and psychologically mature adult, we must master the ability to provide the 5 A’s for ourself.  It is simply too much responsibility to expect a wounded partner to do so for us 100% of the time.  Can they do it some?  Of course.  I would be very concerned about a person who is so wounded that they are critically impaired when it comes to providing the 5 A’s .  He says that “some of us were so damaged in the past that we may never be able to relate in an adult way.”  Although I agree that there are some people who are simply too wounded to form a healthy relationship at a given point in time, I also believe that with commitment, intentionality and effort, most of us can co-create healthy relationships with both self and others.

So, what does it look like to meet 75% of our own needs?  It means engaging in self care activities such as :

  • exercise/yoga
  • practicing mindful self compassion
  • going to therapy
  • connecting spiritually in whatever way is meaningful to you
  • reading self help books
  • listening to personal growth podcasts
  • decreasing stress by making sure the basics of life are taken care of, such as having healthy food on hand, making sure the bills are paid on time, keeping our physical environments serene, keeping up with the most basic of chores like making sure there are clean clothes and dishes available, etc.
  • taking time to treat oneself, such as getting a massage or a pedicure, going to a movie, concert or sports event, or taking a vacation.

It also means enlisting others to help us, such as:

  • trusted friends
  • family members (who are not currently wounding)
  • a therapist
  • a support group
  • a pet
  • a spiritual community
  • a civic/shared interest group

The formula is going to look different for everyone and it will shift over time.  The important thing is to create a formula that works for you.  We will continue exploring the wisdom of David Richo is future posts.  Until then, peace.