Ready for a Relationship?
Sometimes it seems like every single guy in the world is out there trying to find Mr. Right. (Not everyone, of course; some guys are perfectly happy to be single, and that’s a valid choice.) Frustrated by the search, some men hear advice like this when they complain to friends: “When you’re really ready, he’ll show up in your life.”
So how do you know when you’re ready? Here are some signs that you’re not ready for a relationship:
- You imagine that a relationship will raise your low self-esteem;
- You look to a relationship to give your life purpose that it now lacks;
- You have very few healthy, caring relationships of any sort now, and you figure a lover is a good place to start.
Becoming part of a couple doesn’t provide these things; instead, it requires them before you are ready to start the relationship.
You’re also not ready for a partner if you are overwhelmed by unfinished business – especially the business that comes from having recently broken up with someone else. These rebound relationships are almost always a disaster. If you’ve recently left a relationship, the pull to find a new partner can be strong. Resist the urge.
You’ve got work to do first to figure out what there was for you to learn and anything you might do differently next time. You’ve also got emotional work to do: grieving, working through sadness or anger, whatever. It’s as if the first guy has to finish moving out of your heart before there is space for anyone else to move in.
Some criteria for readiness are exactly the same as for anyone else interested in emotional health and well-being. For instance, guys who are ready for relationships have a healthy sense of themselves. They understand and respect differences and individuality, and don’t lose themselves or overwhelm a boyfriend when they are dating. They are generally positive and realistic about life and have basically healthy values and priorities. The way they lead their lives is consistent with those values and priorities. They are capable of being rational and logical. They can certainly get angry, but they do so in healthy ways.
(Unhealthy ways would include either denying anger and acting it out in a passive-aggressive manner on the one hand, or becoming explosive and out of control on the other.)
How do you act when you’re hurt or confused? Do you become so passive and dependent that you lose your sense of yourself, or do you express your feelings and work through them? It’s perfectly healthy to have negative feelings sometimes. When we find ourselves becoming a prisoner to that sort of negativity, it impairs our ability to connect well with others. We are at our best when we have access to the whole range of our feelings.
Someone who is actively addicted to alcohol, drugs or anything else is not going to be successful in maintaining a healthy relationship for very long. Addictions are jealous lovers, and won’t tolerate a rival for long. Compulsive patterns of behavior keep us distracted from being totally present to someone else. That just won’t work. Deal with the problem, and then go look for Mr. Right.
What about how you relate to other guys?
Some components of being ready for a relationship involve doing internal work that will help us to be happy, regardless of whether or not we ever enter into a committed, long-term relationship. But successful relationships require more than an ability to be content within ourselves; they require us to be capable of interacting with another in healthy ways, and to understand something about how relationships work.
Having a certain level of social skill is probably required to be someone’s lover. That doesn’t mean you need to be endlessly charming and witty, but you probably do need to understand that he’s going to expect a card from you on Valentine’s Day. If he’s going to be proud to be seen with you, you’re going to need to do more than meet the basics of getting along in social situations: getting along with friends, being sociable with family.
You aren’t the only one with feelings around here, you know. That means that you are going to need to develop a certain sensitivity to the feelings of the other guy. “Sensitivity” means picking up on the clues he gives off as to what he is feeling (say, sad about hearing some bad news), and having the ability to respond to those emotions (perhaps by reaching out to comfort him). Both comprehending and responding are important here, and that requires attention and the ability to extend yourself.
Feelings can get uncomfortable at times. Can you cope with change? How about disappointment? Guys who expect to have everything go their way aren’t mature enough to make it in the love arena. Relationships demand that we are able to express our emotions, and to do it in ways that are appropriate.
At the same time, we sometimes need to be able to act differently than we feel. Perhaps you’re tired after a day at work and just want peace and quiet and to be left alone. If your partner has something comes up that really requires your attention, you can reasonably be expected to put aside your feelings and do what is necessary in the situation. (Not always, of course; you have the right to your feelings, too.) Being emotionally predictable helps. No one stays in love with an emotional volcano for long.
What’s it like when you get pissed off? It happens to all of us. No matter how much you love someone, sometimes he is going to irritate you or hurt you. Expressing your anger or hurt is not only OK, it’s essential in the long run. Holding a grudge, however, is going to sabotage your love for one another. The same goes with endlessly revisiting the problem in a way that keeps the two of you from moving beyond it. Forgiveness is an important part of maintaining any loving relationship that endures for long.
And when he’s the one pissed off? Can you act appropriately and rationally, even when someone else is losing it? Without that skill, arguments can escalate out of control and wreck a relationship. Can you give and receive criticism when it is warranted? Learning from experience helps us to improve relationships over the long haul, to move beyond that initial bliss of being together and move into committed, enduring intimacy.
Loving couples are capable of giving and receiving affection, warmth and gentleness with one another. This can be a challenge when we didn’t grow up in that sort of family, but this sort of stuff can be learned, if needed. Having a soft, gentle voice on occasion helps, too.
Relationships require us to change what we can change and cope effectively with what we cannot change. They are a lot of work! Maintaining the relationship requires commitment and an ability to make that a top priority within one’s life. When we can do that, we’re ready for a relationship.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems. My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate. If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.
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