The pandemic has made dating difficult, accelerated some relationships by pushing people to move in together earlier than they might have, and severed many established relationships as couples are forced to confront their problems during lockdown.
As UK restrictions have eased, TV’s ‘Love Island’ has allowed us to think again about the pattern of relationships, and the choppy seas sailed in search for a life partner.
While most of us will not meet our future partner in a luxury villa in Mallorca, the relaxation of social distancing has made dating a whole lot easier; but how do you know when you’ve met ‘the one’?
Marian O’Connor, couple and psychosexual therapist at Tavistock Relationships, offers tips on finding the right life partner.
- Get to know yourself - an exciting, yet terrifying aspect of intimate adult relationships is the prospect of being seen, known and accepted by another.
We may find that in an intimate relationship, not only are the best parts of ourselves on display, but so are the parts of ourselves that we don’t like or do not want to know about – those ‘blind spots’ hidden in our unconscious. This ‘Pandora’s box’ contains the clue as to why we sometimes behave worse with those we love, than with our friends or our work colleagues. We may find ourselves attacking our partners for the characteristics we deny or don’t want to know about in ourselves - anger, envy, ambition, even kindness – characteristics we may observe/tolerate/accept in our friends and colleagues.
- Work out what you are seeking from a relationship - we all have an unconscious as well as conscious internal narrative about what we need, want or deserve out of life.
For example, we may consciously want a loving, caring partnership, but our unconscious narrative, learnt from our early experiences in our family, may be that we are bad and don’t deserve a caring partner, or that all relationships end up being abusive.
In his book ‘The Insight Cure’, psychiatrist John Sharpe refers to these ideas we have about ourselves as ‘false truths’ - beliefs about ourselves that are perhaps not as true as we like to think. It is worth investing some time and soul searching to find out what false truth is driving your partner choice. For example, are you drawn to partners who might help you heal a past hurt or reinforce it?
- Decide on what you will and won’t compromise on – once you’ve worked out what your values and hopes for the future are, you then need to work out what you might be willing to compromise on, and what is immovable for you.
Your partner will have an equivalent set of ‘norms’ that may look very different to yours, so before committing to each other, you need to compare notes. For example, do you both want to have children? In the first throes of love, you may assume you and your partner are attuned in everything. It can be a shock to find out, too late, that their expectations of a life together are very different from yours.
- Think with your head as well as your heart – despite what we see in the movies, intimate relationships are not just about sexual attraction and romance.
If you find yourself always falling for partners with very different values and ambitions to your own, you might need to stop with the smooching and ask yourself why? For example, you might meticulously plan your finances, but are attracted to partners who like to blow their cash on pay day. Is this from an unconscious desire to achieve more balance in your life, to become more playful and less ‘uptight’? Or are you embarking on a path of future arguments and discord where you become even more controlling and they become even more feckless?
- Remember you have a choice - commitment should be something that you feel you have a choice in, and it should happen at a pace that you both feel comfortable with.
Be wary of committing under coercion, blackmail or guilt trips; statements like “if you love me then you will….”, or “my ex would have…” have no place in a conversation about commitment.
- Don’t rush it - just as heavy machinery comes with a ‘do not operate when intoxicated’ warning label, relationships need a ‘do not navigate whilst drunk in love’ alert.
In the first few months of a relationship, whilst intoxicated on a cocktail of hormones that keep you infatuated with your new love, you are in danger of rushing into commitments. If you allow yourself to be swept along the tide of romance, you may end up locking yourself in emotionally, legally and financially to someone your ‘sober’ self doesn’t want to be in a long term relationship with.
- Are you equally committed?
If you are the less committed party, take a step back to ask yourself what is stopping you from taking the next step. Perhaps your gut feelings are warning you off someone incompatible. Or it might be that your anxieties about being trapped, or tied down may relate to experiences from your early life, and may not be relevant to your current situation. In such a case, you might welcome a partner who is able to see a committed relationship as a joyous, creative partnership.
If, on the other hand, you are the partner that’s planning the wedding after the second date, take time to find out why, especially if this is a common pattern in all your relationships.
Seeking relationship support
Tavistock Relationships therapists work with couples and individuals to explore relationship problems.
If you need relationship support you can book a therapy session or call 020 7380 1960 for more information.