Are You Relationship Ready?
Updated: Feb 2
'We are all born for love. It is the principle of existence, and its only end'
- Benjamin Disraeli
In my practice, I often come across people who crave meaningful connection. They want to experience love and be loved - but find that hard.
This can be bewildering and frustrating for them, especially since we live in an age of endless possibility. But as we all know, swipe right does not always equate with meaningful connection - far from it. Some people are scared or seriously distrusting of intimacy, they may find it more reassuring to have relationships through fantasy or the computer screen or even pets. Some people have an overwhelming fear of abandonment or conversely of being smothered by the relationship which causes all sorts of trust issues, whilst others seek partners who they hope will validate them and make them feel good, but when they are 'seen' they feel exposed, so they push away. As we all know, it can be complicated and what is more, this is just the tip of the relationship iceberg - there are all sorts of relationship outcomes and ways of being.
To complicate matters, societal norms and expectations are now less rigid, meaning that even the idea of a relationship is not as straightforward as it used to be - for sure, it is not just about the binary, monogamous, hetero-normative model of 50 years ago; there is a whole spectrum of options available to us. Some people even argue that monogamy is on a continuum. No wonder being relationship(s) ready can feel like a Herculean task.
But let's consider that that connection is an essential part of the human condition. In the early 20th Century, the writer E. M Forster explored this in his novel Howards End:
'Only connect ... Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die'.
This was radical thinking at the time. The prevailing school of thought in the early 20th Century - when Forster wrote Howards End - argued that children needed just food and a moral education to survive. Even Freud was not yet exploring the significance of 'relationships', rather he was focused on the psyche's instinctive seeking of pleasure to satisfy biological and psychological needs.
What people at this time could not understand was that infants in orphanages were neither thriving nor surviving - despite having a bed and a bible. In fact between 30-70% were dying.
Psychologists in the 1940s and 50s began to work out that infants need connection before they will even feed.
Admittedly, connection is not always straight-forward. And as the 21st Century has proved, sometimes it feels safer to be connected to a phone or hook-up site rather than a real person/people. So why is this?
Psychotherapist and author Esther Perel has this explanation:
'We all come to relationships with an emotional dowry of our fears, anticipations and expectations. We have suffered wounds, we have developed strengths. Consider this with proper calmness, suspending for a moment our judgement and prejudice. By doing this, we can begin to understand the very real challenges we face - and perhaps - if we are lucky, we can begin to navigate them a little better.' (Esther Perel - Mating in Captivity).
The good news is that we always have neuro-plasticity. Our wounds, traumas and misattunements do not need to be our 'forever' narrative. We have the ability to create our own story and move beyond our old narratives, cultural expectations and relational, developmental and social histories.
And if that all sounds like hard work, let us not forget, psychotherapy and counselling is all about connection. I know that might sound a little scary, but if there is one thing to hold on to is that it offers the potential for hope! When we begin this process, we begin to discover what makes us tick, and when we do that, we find out what we really deserve. (And here’s the spoiler - it’s love).