**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. Any uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer
Not that I’m overjoyed about it, but I wouldn’t have a job were it not for people struggling to experience and maintain healthy relationships, both with themselves and with others. Every person I have encountered in my role as therapist has experienced some sort of relational turmoil, either in the present or in the past, or both. Could it therefore also be suggested that many or most of our mental health difficulties involve some sort of relational difficulty?
My own experiences learning about relationships, as well as learning about how others have experienced relationships (and mental health issues) has informed me that relationships require at least two main ingredients to survive and be healthy… These are 1) loving communication, and 2) fulfilling connection. But do we know how to do it? Does it just come naturally?
In my view, these ingredients are absolutely essential and need to be readily available for our human nourishment… literally to thrive or not to thrive. However, I am not convinced at all that it is common knowledge to grasp what these words mean or how to pull it off. Why would therapists be so busy trying to assist people in turmoil about their relational issues if it came so naturally?
It seems common that people enter relationships prematurely and are somehow lead to believe they are fully equipped to manage these essentials without any additional learning, understanding, self-development or self-reflection. I know I was! However despite our confidence (overconfidence?) in ourselves and our industrialized information culture, the reality seems to be that relationships continually fail, or alternatively remain consistently empty, unsatisfying, hollow or fake… sometimes for many years, sometimes for a lifetime!
How could this be?
A common theme for many of us humans seems to include focusing our energies first and foremost on acquiring the material essentials for ensuring basic survival/security. This of course involves getting job skills and figuring out how to earn a living (making money). The assumption here seems to be that “everything falls peacefully into place once we have achieved our material security”. But does it? Do we have our priorities in the right place?
Of course it is important to develop and attain jobs and money-making skills in the world we live in, but these achievements alone don’t seem to make up for a lack of understanding and applying the two main ingredients listed in this article. A failure to invest time and energy into learning how to create and maintain healthy relationships in fact appears to reveal the emptiness, lifelessness, and meaninglessness of money and material things.
In other words, wherever there is relationship neglect (both within the self and with others) there is approaching on the horizon… suffering, dysfunction, disorder, and loss of relational life… if not swiftly, then slowly but surely. Anyone wish to place any bets?
**Being the author of this article, I predict at this point that many readers will reject the last line of reasoning and instead of finishing the article, redirect their attention to their couch, the TV, social media, a snack, or their bank balance. I don’t mind… LOL!
Simply being a follower of societal norms and living a “standard lifestyle” can make it hard to notice the difference between “what we believe is happening” in our relationships and the reality of “what is actually happening”. Many of us seem to assume that our relationship needs are being met when in fact they may not be. There is an assumption that “we are ok” because of the way things appear to be, or because of the things we have collected.
For instance, we may believe that having certain things (a house, a car, a TV, a cellphone, food, clothing) means that we also by default will experience loving communication and fulfilling connection in our relationships. This sort of self-deceit can be harmful and also eventually costly as the body starts reacting with symptoms of various kinds (e.g., irritability, impulsivity, depression, anxiety, tensions, body pain, etc.). And of course the next step is usually to try and reduce or eliminate the symptoms, although not very often taking into account our levels of skill and availability for loving communication and fulfilling connection.
Rather than being honest with ourselves… that there is little understanding or ability to practice loving communication and create fulfilling connections, people instead will focus their attention on distraction activities or short-term thrills (instant symptom relief). Unfortunately this only works to keep us temporarily satisfied and unconscious of the reality that we don’t know what we’re doing in our relationships.
Another approach to consistent relationship dissatisfaction is to numb the symptoms (possibly through medications or substances) or falsely assign blame to parts of ourselves, others, or something else irrelevant to the problem. This again inevitably results in feeling and functioning worse, and in the long run may contribute to loss of interest in life, ongoing conflict, or otherwise produce more and more distress and fruitless efforts at making things feel better… a vicious circle.
The better approach is to be absolutely honest with ourselves about what we think we know about relationships and then seek out the right guidance as needed to ensure “loving communication” and “fulfilling connection” are in fact happening, or even possible. Being human, it is important to insist that we are nourished, and more importantly that this nourishment takes its proper form. It is our birthright to thrive.
photo credit: Giuseppe Milo (www.pixael.com) Chatting – Bergen, Norway – Black and white street photography via photopin (license)