If you’re going to be a human being, then relationships are going to be a part of your life. We are social creatures and when we find ourselves in a safe and loving relationship with another human, we have an opportunity to thrive. Close relationships – whether they’re romantic or not – come with many benefits (I hear they even have healing powers!). When we fall in love, though, we might not be remembering that relationships are also hard work!
That’s why, over the next few blog posts, I want to give you some ideas about enriching that loving relationship you’re in or that you want to be in. When it comes to understanding relationships and how they work, everything matters.
The big picture is basically this: People are beautifully complex. You, as a person, have biological systems and childhood memories and everyday experiences that make you who you are. It can be a lot to get your mind around, especially if your days are as busy as most peoples’ seem to be. It’s hard enough getting to know yourself. Then you meet someone?!? They’re just as complex as you and somehow you have to learn how to navigate and appreciate and live with these differences. You have to tell each other about who you are and you soon discover that everything communicates: everything you say and do and everything you leave out! But, if you’re persistent and committed and can trust the other person you start to develop a deep sense of understanding – an intimacy – with you partner. And Intimacy is Everything!
It’s a tall order!
The Everything That Matters
We could spend a lot of time discussing all of the things that seem to be important in making a person who they are. But, I’m going to try to keep it to just three.
And, we’ll start with the hardest one: the brain. If you’re going to understand anything about yourself, it’s important to understand why the brain matters. There are two big things that I think are important about the brain. First, your brain exists to keep you alive. We can do a lot of amazing things with our brain – iPhones, the Mona Lisa, and tiramisu all started as a thought in someone’s head. But, its first job is to keep us alive and that means that when we’re scared or unsafe or threatened in any way, your brain is going to act more on instinct than creative thought. This impacts how you exist in a relationship. There are times when the more animal-like parts of our brains take over. In those cases, it helps to try and help your partner feel safe.
The second thing about the brain is that it is astoundingly complex. For perspective, researchers say that there are more potential connections between the cells in your brain than there are stars in the entire universe. And, every day, those connections change based on the experiences that you have. If you meditate or get angry or stub your toe on the door, there are changes that happen in your brain because of it. In other words, who you are today won’t be who you are tomorrow.
After the brain, the second thing that makes an impact on who a person becomes is their childhood. It’s cliché for a therapist to talk about this, I know. But, the experiences that you have as a kid impact who you are as an adult. The relationship that you have with your parents or those that take care of you, for example, start to form a template for all of the relationships that you will ever have. It even impacts how you see yourself. I’m not trying to say it’s all about your mother, but I am saying that a person’s childhood experiences are powerful and formative.
That leads us to the third thing that impacts who we are: our ongoing experiences. Remember all those potential brain connections? Everyday, every single experience has an impact on those connections. With time and repetition, parts of our brains can change. The structure, the size, the way our brains function - all of it can be changed by experience. It colors how we see the world. When you understand that your experiences have had an impact on you, you can start to understand how people can be so different.
All of these things matter. Moving towards a healthy relationship involves first understanding that each of these things matter to who we are as individuals. And if they matter to us, they matter to everyone.
When we understand that, we can start to to truly appreciate another person.
In our next post, we'll talk about how we start to communicate all of this beautiful complexity to the people that we love!