By David Joel Miller
The most important issues in our lives are our relationships.
Unhappy relationships bring more people to counseling and therapy than any other issue. Relationship issues sent more people to psychiatric hospitals than all the other causes of emotional turmoil. That need for connection to other humans underlies all human activity. If having a good relationship is so important to a happy life, why is it such a difficult thing for us to do?
When we say relationship issues most people think first and sometimes only, about romantic, sexual relationships. Type a question about relationships into most any search engine and you will be taken forthwith to a dating site. As important as this relationship is to most of us, it is not the only or the most important relationship we might have. Many people rely on the romantic relationship and fail to develop another more important relationship – their connection with themselves.
Humans, like most vertebrates, begin life with our primary relationship being our relationship with our parents. Sometimes this is one parent sometimes two; sometimes the primary caregiver is a non-biological person. That first relationship sets the pattern for the rest of our relationships. We store a blueprint away in our brain and often we keep reproducing that first primary relationship in every human connection we have afterward. Just because that relationship is good or bad does not control the quality of all relationships afterward. We can learn new patterns of relating to others.
Our early years are spent developing relationships beyond that one close caregiver we are so dependant on. Children who have unreliable or impaired caregivers find it difficult to develop functional relationships with others in their lives. Their blueprints for life have smudges and missing lines where things they should have learned about relationships were left out. Sometimes the lines were drawn incorrectly such as when the primary caregiver abuses or neglects the child. In those situations, we may begin to think that things are normal and acceptable even when they are severely dysfunctional.
Even when the primary caregiver does a good job of meeting a child’s needs the person may get some of the lessons wrong. As a therapist I spend a lot of time helping people correct these blueprints, sort out the things they learned that are not so and we look for missing parts of that life blueprint, the lessons not learned.
Beyond the first lessons with that original caregiver, most of us learn by relating to others. The first five or so years are spent with close family, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relations. Eventually, there will be relationships with non-relatives, friends, and neighbors. Some of these relationships will be helpful, some will not.
During our school years we might learn some lessons from teachers and other unrelated adults, most often we learn from peers. Those other kids our own age that were struggling to grow up and find their way in life taught us lessons even when they didn’t know the answers. Many of our likes and dislikes our habits and needs were formed at this stage. We rarely look back to examine the changes to the life blueprint during those years. Not until part of our structure collapses in divorce, addiction or a relationship failure do we have a reason to check our life blueprint.
The relationship most of us neglect is that one relationship which we should pay the most attention to – our relationship with ourselves. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you will be there. Do you like yourself? Would you want you for a best friend? Make friends with yourself. Spend time getting to know you. Learn to treat yourself the way you would want others to treat you. Become your own best friend.
So often when we are sad, depressed or anxious we crave a good fulfilling relationship. Often we reach out for another human, thinking that if we just found that one person that could love us enough, then we would be healed. That seems to only work in fiction. Two sick people do not make for a healthy relationship. To have a healthy happy relationship you need two healthy people. So before you go looking for a partner to fill in the missing pieces of your soul consider first getting to know yourself and become your own best friend.
Having children for the sake of making you happy all too often results in a short-term pleasure and long-term unhappiness. Sex and drugs are not a substitute for a happy inside. There are too many people who grew up in homes where their parent’s never learned to be happy and where they inherited the family blueprint for dysfunctional living, that constant search for something outside of yourself that will make you happy.
Before you begin your search for that one special person to fill your life, please work on the relationship with that one special person you already know – you.
For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog, there is also a Facebook authors page, in its infancy, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. Thanks to all who read this blog.
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