ADULTING (SORT OF)
Keep empathy in mind while overcoming the trials, tribulations of finding love in the real world
Relationships are more complex than today’s reality television may portray. A relationship counsellor shares her advice for finding and growing love in the 21st century.
“It’s the most natural ask in the world, to seek out someone to share your life with,” Lauren Clucas, a South African relationship counsellor, tells Maverick Life.
Relationships are integral to society and seem to permeate into every part of life. They are sung about, written about and played across stage and screen in high-definition, from the tender beginnings to the heart-aching ends. So many people are searching for love that there is an entire sub-genre of reality television dedicated to finding the perfect match. Shows like The Bachelor rake in millions of viewers while a reunion episode of Love is Blind “broke the internet” when a live stream failed to air, causing viral upset.
But away from the glitz and the glamour of Hollywood love are real people living ordinary lives, and finding a partner is not all it’s streamed to be (perhaps, maybe, it’s better).
Am I ready for a relationship?
Relationships, Clucas says, teach people about themselves, and can prompt self-reflection. This can help people approach relationships in a healthy way and prepare them for being in a romantic partnership.
Being “ready” for a relationship is not easily defined, but Clucas points out that a willingness and openness to be vulnerable is a good indicator.
“You have got to be open to the options of love and loss, because that’s what love is, its risk,” she says.
The way people approach relationships and the experiences they bring with them are also worth considering.
“How you enter relationships is very important. And a lot of people bring unfinished business into a relationship that’s current,” Clucas explains. This can lead to couples experiencing conflict over issues that were experienced in a previous relationship.
To avoid this, Clucas explains that the way a previous relationship ended is important in how a new relationship may move forward.
“Find closure over a relationship and understand what you could thank that [previous partner] for and what you need to let go of, or what you learned about yourself, what you learned about life and what you learnt about them,” she advises.
“See relationships as experiences that add value and teach us about ourselves, and also teach us about society and people, so that you feel you’ve got closure before you enter a relationship.”
Take your time
There is no correct timeline to life or finding a partner, but it can nevertheless feel discouraging and that one has been “left behind” when peers are in relationships and one is not.
Clucas here reminds us that instead of looking outward and comparing to others, one should look inward and reflect on what their goals are and how they are working towards those goals.
“Keep connected, make sure that you’re taking appropriate risks, and watch, watch yourself talk in this moment. What are your wants and expectations emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually and socially? Do you even want that? Or is the external messaging trying to tell you that that’s what you should be doing?”
“Whenever we work to a “should”, we’re not actually being truthful to ourselves.”
If a relationship is what someone wants, Clucas encourages them to take responsibility and make the most of opportunities to connect with other people.
“What are you doing to connect as much as you possibly can, to make sure that you are feeling wanted?”
Key aspects of a healthy relationship
When dating and considering a budding relationship, the first piece of advice Clucas gives people is to figure out what they value most, and then do the same with the prospective partner. This can be a major deciding factor, but it can also deepen the relationship.
Clucas explains that the first factor that people consider when dating is relevancy. This can involve shared interests and mutual friends, for example, or anything that is shared and can tie the couple together during those first few dates.
“Initially when you’re looking at a partner, you’re looking for relevance. So you can ask a whole lot of questions to understand what makes that person relevant to you,” Clucas says.
Getting past those initial, more obvious topics that show relevance can lead to an understanding of who the person is beyond those hobbies, likes and dislikes. This leads to the second factor Clucas mentions; authenticity.
“Are they authentic? And can you be authentic when you’re with them? Can you be yourself when you’re with them? Do you experience them as being authentic with you? Are they sharing aspects that they don’t really like about themselves, or something that they’re working with on themselves?” asks Clucas. This stage of finding authenticity can be extremely revealing of a person’s character, as well, Clucas says.
Thirdly, Clucas identifies empathy as the final key factor to a relationship, based on her experience working with couples who had been together over a long period of time.
“In those first few dates, you’re looking to see if that person can listen to you and hear what you’re saying, and perhaps reflect back what they’ve heard,” Clucas explains.
“You’re going to get level one with relevance. Level two if you’ve got an authentic person, but you have someone with empathy, you’re going to get to that much deeper level of relationship.” DM