Recently I wrote about how we can often end up in situations that in our mind feel like we’re in a relationship because they have what appear to be the hallmarks of one, but they’re actually a casual relationship. This is incredibly frustrating for the average person because they wonder how on earth they can be crazy about someone, share a number of the same interests, feel deep attraction, have sex and contact over a period of time, and still not be in a bondafide committed relationship.
These situations happen because we are looking for the hallmarks of a relationship (what we feel are the markings such as regular sex, stuff in common, being introduced, talking about the future etc) but we’re not looking for the landmarks of a relationship (the substance):
Intimacy, commitment, consistency, balance, progression, and shared values, plus love, care, trust, and respect. Without these, your relationship hasn’t got the legs to carry it.
When someone has limited access to their emotions and has limits to how much they will let you in, you cannot have genuine intimacy in your relationship. If one or both of you are doing things to protect yourself from being vulnerable, are living in denial, are going round the houses communicating, and struggle to be truly honest and authentic, intimacy isn’t happening.
You also can’t have intimacy when the relationship is on one person’s terms or where one is prepared to be emotionally available and the other isn’t.
I receive hundreds of emails each year where the person claims a deep connection – feeling connected through dysfunction and/or sex and attraction is not the same as intimacy.
Big Question: Am I genuinely emotionally available? Are they emotionally available?
If one or both of you can’t even commit to feeling out your emotions whether they’re good, bad, or indifferent, not only does this throw a monkey wrench in the works for intimacy, but it will be another symptom of a general commitment resistance.
A relationship without commitment is a casual arrangement no matter how long it goes on for. Commitment gives direction to a relationship and without it, you’re just floating.
Without commitment, someone gets to enjoy the trappings of a relationship without accountability and responsibility – why buy the cow when you can drink the milk for free? Unfortunately, if you don’t wise up about your uncommitted relationship, you will expect from it as if you are committed.
With commitment resistance, one or both of you, whether it’s in an obvious or more subtle, passive aggressive manner, do things that undermine decisions that you appeared to have committed to.
Emotionally unavailable people can’t commit to staying but they can’t commit to leaving either.
Big Question: Do both of us have both feet in this relationship or are one or both of us, actively or quietly resisting it?
If your expectations have been managed down, you’ll notice that you’re normalising bad behaviour and that’s because they’ve become consistent at being inconsistent and doing counterproductive, often painful things. Some of you won’t know which way is up anymore.
Healthy relationships require consistency – you need to be able to trust in what you can expect from it and the person you’re involved with.
With a lot of unhealthy relationships, it’s with one hand they giveth and with the other they taketh away. You go through a good spell and then just in case you’re under any illusions that your relationship is going somewhere or that they might be this way all the time, they disappear or start treating you really crappily.
In an unhealthy relationship, you’ll rarely feel like you’re standing on solid ground because with the blowing hot and cold, the highs and lows, you come to expect that problems lie around the corner – you can’t truly relax. You may also feel that with the slightest ‘wrong’ move, the relationship can tip into shark infested waters.
Big Question: Looking back over the course of the relationship, have they been positively consistent in who they are and are any and all assumptions I started out with or made, holding true and consistent?
Healthy relationships require balance. That means they can’t be on one person’s terms, no one should be on a pedestal, you shouldn’t feel like you have little or no ‘power’ or boundaries, the drama needs to be infrequent, and you both need two feet in because if one or both of you have so much as a toe out, the balance tips.
When you’re in the thick of an unhealthy and/or casual relationship, if you’re not paying attention, in denial, or straight up asleep on the job, one day you’ll wake up and realise you’ve been on a permanent date or that your relationship is no further along. I know someone whose relationship was exactly the same at 18 months when I met her as it was 9 years later.
Big Question: Does any aspect of this relationship feel imbalanced? If so, what and why – must be addressed asap.
Healthy relationships have progression and it’s not because you’re there trying to drag a horse to water and make it drink, or flogging the crap out of the relationship donkey till it collapses, or slamming down the defibrillator just like in the ER shouting CHARGE at your flatlining relationship.
Contrary to popular belief, healthy relationships progress – you don’t have to force you or the idea of a relationship on them. When someone is genuinely interested in you, they don’t resist you. If there are issues that prevent them from being as committed as they claim they would like to be, they address them.
Big Question: Is my relationship moving forward? Or…it it going in fits and starts, reversing, or come to a halt?
You also have to recognise that claiming that you have so much in common with someone who resists whether it is actively or passively, being in the relationship that you want to have with them, is futile.
No relationship is going to die if you don’t both share the same interests, but it will die if you don’t both share the same values.
When you think about common interests logically, it is ridiculous to place so much emphasis on them – I love sewing and a crafting and the boyf is a sports fanatic – he doesn’t need to pick up a needle and thread and I’ll continue to yawn when the football is on.
Healthy, compatible relationships have shared values – These are what you need in order to live your life authentically so that you can be happy and feel good, and they’re based on your firmly held beliefs about what makes you a person of value and also what you see as valuable in others.
If you believe in monogamy and commitment, and they don’t, it doesn’t matter that they’re successful, attractive, like a lot of the same things you do, make you laugh, and are respected by their peers.
Big Question: Do they share my core values? (If you don’t know what they are, I suggest you find out pronto…)
Aside from these core six ingredients in a healthy relationship, you also need mutual love, care, trust, and respect as well as being able to treat yourself with these when you’re in a relationship. i.e self-love, self-care, self-trust, self-respect. When these are present, it also means you are living and loving with your boundaries and values intact which means that you can be an authentic person in an authentic relationship or recognise when someone is not on your wavelength.
If you can’t date or have a relationship with your self-esteem in tow, don’t bother until you can.
All of the above ingredients create healthy chemistry and attraction – when I dodged commitment and was afraid of intimacy, I felt chemistry and connections with likeminded folk. When you’re genuinely emotionally available with healthy love habits, the chemistry and attraction is across all areas of your relationship, not just the convenient aspects such as sex, appearance, or common interests.
And I should stress that I’m not remotely suggesting that sex and attraction are not important aspects of a relationship as they certainly distinguish them from a friendship, but it’s about:
1) Making sure you have a healthy idea of relationships and what constitutes them so you conjure up one on the basis of shagging someone and having shared interests.
2) Prioritising. I’m all about owning your choices. If you prioritise sex, appearance, and superficial chemistry, you must own what results – a superficial relationship. Likewise, if a committed relationship is a priority, sex needs to take a backseat so that you don’t get blinded and waste time in casual relationships.
Ultimately, you can still look out for the hallmarks of your relationship such as sleeping together and being in contact over a period of time, not wanting to be involved with anyone else, plans, common interests etc., but recognise that these don’t make a relationship because without the vital ingredients (the landmarks) to bind it all together, whatever you think you’re involved in is hollow. You’ll end up in pseudo relationships that will leave you feeling hungry for the ‘real thing’ and then chasing up your partners for the substance that they don’t have.