How do you start the perfect relationship? Or better yet, the perfect family? You know, toothpaste smile, nice clothes for your boy and girl, handsome guy by your side, or handsome lady of course. Everything beautiful and fun. You thought. Unfortunately, the perfect family or relationship only exists on Instagram... Behind all the toothpaste smiles there are usually a lot of caveties hidden and behind all the nice clothes a lot of hassle. But don't worry! A close relationship and if you are lucky a nice warm family, that is possible. But how?
It starts with expectations. If you expect to find The One and walk hand in hand towards the sunset then you may have a nice five minutes, but the rest of your life those five minutes will not be of much use to you. The One does not exist. After all, you are not The One yourself. And sunsets never last that long. It's going to rain. You're grumpy because you want to go to bed. You have to go home and at home it is cold because we no longer have the money to turn on the heating. If you expect life to be perfect, it can only be disappointing, with or without a relationship. But if you are realistic and understand that a relationship, just like being single, consists of beautiful and less beautiful moments and a lot of ordinary moments in between, then you are on the right track.
But what if you have a fear of commitment? If you find it far too scary to let someone really get close? If you have a small child in you who has not been heard and seen and comforted enough in the past? That has not heard enough: you have done that well! Or how lovely you are and how I enjoy your company! Then there is a hole in you that makes entering into new relationships more difficult. That little child would rather run away than run risks again. Then that it comes up short again. Or it clings desperately to the wrong people for fear of being abandoned again.
Many of our habits and ways of forming relationships come from our childhood, from how our parents treated us. You can easily find out what that means for you with the following exercise. Sit comfortably, relaxed, buttocks on your chair, arms in your lap, feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes and exhale slowly. Breathe in through your nose, and out slowly through your mouth. Go back to when you were 10, 9 or 8 years old. Maybe a little younger, maybe a little older, you can do both. Try to see in front of you what you looked like then, what you were wearing, how your hair was sitting. Look at that little girl or boy. What do you see? A happy child, happy, relaxed? Or more of a sad child, an angry or anxious child? Who does it go to for comfort, for a hug? Who is there for the child?
It may be that this evokes fond memories of your childhood. That's great. Treasure those and take them with you as a compass when dating. It may also be that it evokes less pleasant memories. That you become aware that it was unsafe as a child because your parents had a lot of fights, your mother was depressed and cried a lot as she sat on the couch, or your father could be aggressive towards you. We call these kinds of experiences childhood traumas, which affect your ability to attach yourself to a partner here and now. If you recognize that in yourself, it is always good to call a therapist and see if you can process these traumas with help.
It is also possible that it was safe at home, but that you were bullied by peers at school or in the neighborhood. That can also be a form of attachment trauma, where it can be more difficult for you to bind yourself to a peer. Again, it can help you to request a few sessions of trauma therapy, to learn through these experiences that you are safe here and now and can set boundaries where necessary.
Especially when we feel safe with ourselves and the people around us, it is easier to start a relationship and recognize what a healthy relationship is. In a good relationship, you feel closer to God (if you believe in Him), yourself, the people around you, and your partner. A bad relationship removes you from who you are and what you want, and from your friends or family. The good news is that attachment can heal. If you find a safe partner, it takes about three years for your attachment patterns to change from unsafe or anxious to safe. This way you can form a safe basis for your children, if you get them!
Want to know more? My book Dare to Date is about these and more patterns that can get in the way of dating, and about how to change them.