When it comes to talking about dating and relationships, most of us tend to freak out a little. There are so many new rules and regulations, we all have different needs and wants. So how in the world do we ensure long lasting and healthy connections? Talking from a heterosexual perspective, I know from many years of professional experience that what works for women in relationships is different from what works for men. It is in this unique individuality where I believe a lot of relationship hurdles come from. I know guys, women can be a little confusing, and it sometimes feels like we are two very different species. However, I want to show you how to embrace these differences so both men and women in a relationship end up happy, content, and a little bit less confused.
Dating can be daunting, for any type of relationship, society has changed so much and so have our expectations. In some ways, relationships are harder to navigate and harder to maintain than ever before. Many of my clients have described that dating and maintaining a relationship in the modern world make them feel like they’re going crazy. They’re not! Society has skewed our expectations, and the dynamics and form relationships have taken has changed quite drastically over the years. What we need is a new navigation system and a deeper understanding of how the world works now.
Why Are Relationships So Hard These Days?
As a society we have somehow convinced ourselves that our partners need to fulfill an enormous list of expectations which are at its core contradictory. We want the fairy tale love story and the freedom to do what we want. We expect our relationships to be filled with love, passion and intimacy, but run at the first sign of a disagreement.
Esther Perel a world-famous relationship expert explains this contradiction so aptly. “We want our chosen one to offer stability, safety, predictability, and dependability… and we want that very same person to supply awe, mystery, adventure, and risk.” Basically, we want our partners to fulfill our every need and desire. If you ask me this is asking a lot of another person who is only human.
The truth is relationships are not easy, they’re hard work. They require sacrifice, communication, and compromise. So the first piece of relationship advice I can give to women everywhere is to redefine your understanding of love, commitment, and self-fulfillment.
Why Modern Relationships Fail
When it comes to understanding how relationships have changed over the years we need to look into our past. Many years ago we got married early on in life, we never got divorced and our main purpose in life was to have a family. Things are not the same.
While I believe there are many qualities from the past we should continue to embody, we have changed and for good reason. What we need to do is find the balance between past and modern relationships.
Today relationships are tricky and made complicated by all these new unspoken rules created by technology. Intimacy is now about texting and face-time, what your loved one posts or doesn’t post on social media. Added to this is a shift from monogamy to casual relationships, open relationships and polyamory. Even though we are more open-minded and “connected” than ever before, more and more people complain about feeling lonely, disconnected and detached. Why is that?
The younger generation of today has been brought up in a society where instant gratification is the norm, they need excitement and get bored quite quickly. However, there is a contradiction at play, because the more people I speak to, the clearer it becomes that people still want to have deep meaningful relationships. We still want “the one”, a person who is perfectly aligned with our personality. We want the thrill and we want to feel safe and protected, yet people are afraid to commit. I find relationships fail because people want it all, but they are not prepared to work for it or make the necessary sacrifices. So what now?
Casual Relationships | What’s That All About?
Casual relationships sometimes get a bad rap, and I don’t necessarily think they are a bad thing. Despite the fact that many people still romanticize about our previous generation’s commitment to each other and complain that modern relationships lack substance and dedication, we are lucky to live in a society that offers all of us more choice (in some areas of the world).
“Casual dating or a casual relationship is a physical and emotional relationship between two or more people who may have casual sex or a near-sexual relationship without necessarily demanding or expecting the extra commitments of a more formal romantic relationship.”– Wikipedia
Previously, many men and women were pressured to start a family and leave behind their hopes and aspirations. Some people were “forced” to stay in unhappy relationships and were discouraged from divorce. We now have the choice and freedom to be with someone we care about while simultaneously pursuing our dreams and goals. Casual dating offers us the space to figure out who and what we like without any pressure. In some cases, you could argue that casual dating allows us to figure out who we are first before we make any long-term commitment.
Casual relationships can also be less messy. It offers everyone involved the opportunity to discontinue the relationship for whatever reason without any serious consequences (divorce, leaving children behind, etc). They offer moments of intimacy and sex, with no strings attached. Let me stress this does not mean they are meaningless, often they can be a place of mutual respect and understanding while being quite a lot of fun!
Some of the problems with casual relationships
First and foremost casual relationships will only work if everyone is on the same page and there is mutual self-respect. One of the issues we face when dating casually is that one person may develop stronger feelings than another. What I have also found is that some people will put up with rude and disrespectful behavior and then say, “well it’s casual so I can’t expect more”. Due to the nature of casual dating, we tend to think that our feelings don’t matter. This shouldn’t be the case.
Let me explain, I had a friend who started “casually dating” this guy, she later developed stronger feelings for this person and when she communicated this to the other person he just stopped talking to her. He didn’t text back and completely ghosted her.
Being in a casual relationship does not mean we are not allowed to get angry or upset with someone. When we enter into a casual relationship all the normal social etiquettes still apply. Ghosting someone is rude. Everyone deserves to be respected and respect themselves in return. If we want to enter into these types of relationships communication is key. We need to ensure that boundaries are put in place and emotions are freely discussed. It is completely normal to develop feelings for someone and for those feelings to not be reciprocated. What should have happened in this scenario is a conversation.
No relationship is perfect, and whether you are in a committed relationship, casual, open or polyamorous relationship you will most likely experience some challenge and difficulty. I think what is important to highlight is the expectations we have of ourselves and of the person/people you are being vulnerable and intimate with, and when it is time to say “no more”.
What To Expect In A Relationship?
I think it goes without saying that there should be certain expectations when entering any type of relationship. After all, we are people, we have feelings, needs wants and desires. We are not robotic sex machines with no care in the world. All relationships require maintenance and effort, there is no such thing as a free for all.
Below are 3 of the most important relationship rules to keep in mind when dating or hooking up:
Mutual respect is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. Respect is about valuing another person for who they are, recognizing that each one of us has different experiences, beliefs, and values and that’s okay. It is acknowledging that people deserve to be treated well by listening, exercising good manners and proper conduct.
Self-respect, on the other hand, is being honest with yourself and others. Knowing what makes you feel good and what doesn’t. Learning to say no, accepting responsibility for your actions and caring for yourself enough to do what moves you.
Remember to treat yourself the same way you would want others to treat you.
Communication is one of the most important aspects of all relationships. Communication allows you to explain what you are experiencing in the relationship and if your needs are being met or not. It is particularly important to make sure your messages are received and understood so as to avoid misunderstanding, resentment, and confusion.
Boundary setting is a topic I always bring up when talking to people who are involved in any type of relationship (couples, friendships, and family). Setting healthy boundaries can be difficult, however, they are essential in making sure all people involved feel comfortable and respected in a relationship.
When we establish and maintain clear and strong boundaries we communicate our thoughts and feelings clearly and we stop making assumptions or guess how the other person is feeling. We follow through on what we say and take responsibility for our actions. Setting boundaries reduces the chance of sending mixed messages and helps to avoid any unnecessary heartache and tragedy.
What are healthy boundaries?
- Clear, open and honest communication.
- Respecting differences.
- Asking honestly for what you want and need.
- Knowing your emotional, physical and spiritual limits and communicating them to others.
- Accepting when a relationship has ended.
- Being responsible for your own happiness.
Signs Of A Healthy Relationship
I think it is self-evident that ALL healthy relationships are expected to have mutual respect, communication, and boundaries. However, relationships are complicated and there are a few other things you should expect as well, especially when the relationship in question is a little more serious.
9 qualities of a healthy relationship
Separate but together
A healthy relationship is two individual people coming together to share their lives, not to mesh into one life. The relationship itself provides an opportunity for each person to grow individually, to pursue their own interests and friendships. Support each other in your differences and work things out instead. When each person is self-fulfilled it keeps the relationship fresh and exciting and you end up growing as a couple.
You do not need to spend every waking moment together or feel the need to be in each other’s company all the time. When “you and I” become “us” all the time, there is a chance you may be codependent.
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness”
“Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone”
“Stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
– Kahlil Gibran
While it is important to have your own individual identity, it is just as important to share common values. Do you ultimately want the same thing? Do you both agree on certain beliefs, traditions, and bigger goals?
Have you discussed your interest in marriage and children? Do you both want to pursue your careers or travel the world? Usually, these beliefs are very important to an individual and may be hard to change, so when partners disagree on the “bigger” life question more often than not the relationship doesn’t last.
Relationships are fluid and cyclical, there will always be ups and downs, disagreement or conflict. The trick to maintaining a strong and healthy relationship is to argue productively and fairly.
Conflict is not a competition or a means to belittle someone. The aim is to try and understand where your partner is coming from, what their needs are and exploring ways to compromise, apologize or let things go if appropriate. The desire for the relationship to work should outweigh personal gratification.
Accountability gets its own discussion and it boils down to self-awareness and trust. Acknowledging your part in an issue or misunderstanding is the foundation of accountability in a relationship. Taking responsibility for something you did is a powerful skill and will set your relationship apart from many others. It stops the blame game and encourages an environment of learning and reflection. People who take responsibility for their own behavior are known to have better and more long-lasting relationships.
You should always feel appreciated, loved and cherished in a relationship. Love comes in many forms, whether its physical touch, words of praise, kindness or laughter and fun. It means supporting one another’s interests and goals, even if you don’t agree or like them. The important thing is to show your partner you care.
Relationships are built on trust and it can take time to earn, it doesn’t just happen. Trust requires you to be vulnerable and open and demands no judgment. It asks that we give each other the space and freedom to talk about our feelings, desires, and worries without feeling scared to do so. Trusting another person means we value them enough to not cause them harm and to believe they have our best interest at heart.
You recognize that neither of you is perfect, and you accept and value each other for who you are right now and not who you might become. This means accepting each other’s pasts and appreciating that everyone’s unique upbringing and experiences shaped who they are today.
Attraction, chemistry, banter, and sex are the fire in a relationship. However, bonding, friendship, and familiarity are equally important. In a healthy relationship, all people concerned feel connected and safe.
Expression of feelings
When you feel safe enough to express your feelings and speak your mind, without fearing a reaction you will truly feel accepted. A relationship will thrive when a couple can talk freely and honestly.
There is no such thing as a 50/50 relationship all the time. Sometimes your partner will have to work late while you manage the household. Other times you may need to be more emotionally supprotive while your spouse goes though a hard time. Sometimes you will make more money than your partner, this is life!
The most important thing is to be attentive, considerate and to take into account your relationship expectations and to be conscious that your trade-off is fair in the long run.
Differences between men and women
I want to make it abundantly clear that the points I discuss may be a bit of a generalization. I am basing my answers purely on my professional and personal experience. Certain men and women may be completely different from what I explain below, and certain factors such as your sexual orientation, the type of relationship you are in and your personality could vary from these examples.
What I hope to achieve here is a clearer understanding of the wants and needs of both men and women. So many relationships suffer due to misunderstanding and ineffective communication, and it is completely unnecessary. To make a relationship work, each partner should make small adjustments to their behaviors and communication methods without compromising their own true natures.
Differences between the sexes
- Thinking Patterns
Men are more non-communicative and may retreat or pull away because they prefer solving issues themselves internally. Women, however, prefer to talk it out and unpack their thoughts until they are satisfied a solution has been reached.
Men tend to be quite literal, while women are more artistic and descriptive with their thoughts. Men prefer to ponder and sort out challenges in their head before talking about it. Women process by talking through a problem.
Women naturally crave deeper interpersonal relationships, their curiosity about people and feelings and how others process and express emotions are important to them. Men are more logical and practical.
Women need to be understood while men would rather be recognized, appreciated and respected. Men don’t usually like being helped and feel it undermines their effort to solve an issue themselves. Men do not like to be put down. Women on the other hand value assistance and crave being needed and loved.
Women find their identity in their relationships, not necessarily a person. Men value achievements and find their sense of self in their work, hobbies, and interests. Men are usually givers and become sensitive to failures in these areas. Women enjoy receiving and appreciating their partners and may struggle with their sense of self when relationships are strained.
4. Intimacy And Sex
A women’s sexual drive is cyclical while a man is more constant. Women are usually stimulated by touch, actions, words and emotional connections while men are triggered by sight, smell, and touch.
Women prefer conversation and romance and are slower to excitement than men. Men, on the other hand, are quick to excitement, difficult to distract and more physical and body-centered than women.
I found this video on youtube, and while it may seem a little “sexist” I think it can offer some really good insight into what the opposite sex may want – but don’t ask for.
How can you make your relationship stronger?
If you want a stronger relationship you have to stop being afraid of connection and commitment. Feelings of loneliness and alienation happen when we lose connection to people, places and things. Connection requires us to become vulnerable and open to the experience. You cannot have a good and healthy relationship if you do not open up.
I know connecting with someone is scary and it makes you feel exposed, but it is in that rawness and fear we find meaning. You can’t have all the good without all the bad, life doesn’t work that way. Intimacy and love will only blossom when you deeply connect with another person, and that means baring it all. The good, the bad and the ugly.
This means you must embrace the disagreements and learn from them. Explore the differences between lust and love. Get excited about things and find something you are passionate about. Make sure you are self-fulfilled and don’t get caught in the trap of thinking your partner has to fulfill your every need, want and desire. A single person will never be able to do this for you.
Stronger relationships are forged when each person in the relationship is self-aware, truly open, trustworthy and has a developed sense of self. Ask yourself, do you have your own interests, passions, and hobbies? Have you created your own support group outside of the relationship and are you willing to get down and dirty for the people you love?
I have been practicing mindfulness for quite some time now and one of the biggest benefits it had is on my relationships. My relationship with myself, with my family and with my husband. Mediation has made me more confident and it has taught me to take a step back and look at my life in a whole new way. My husband and I have become so connected emotionally and physically, we fight a lot less and just have more fun with each other.
No matter what type of relationship you are in, remember communication, boundaries and respect are key. Don’t expect your partner to save you and to fulfill your every need and desire. This is impossible. Work on yourself first, make sure you are self-fulfilled because another person will never be able to give you meaning and value. Most importantly enjoy your life and relationships, don’t be so hard on yourself and start having more fun! Life is too short.