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. We wonder how on earth we can be crazy about someone, share several same interests, feel deep attraction, have sex and contact over time, and still not be in a bona fide committed relationship.

These situations happen because we are looking for the hallmarks of a relationship (what we believe are the markings such as regular sex, stuff in common, being introduced to family/friends/colleagues, talking about the future, etc) instead of the landmarks of a [healthy] relationship (the substance). So, what are these landmarks?

Intimacy, commitment, consistency, balance, progression, and shared values, plus love, care, trust, and respect. Without these [landmarks], your relationship hasn’t got the legs to carry it.

When someone has limited access to their emotions and limits 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, living in denial, going round the houses communicating, and struggle to be truly honest and authentic, you won’t have intimacy.

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, though, is not the same as intimacy. What they’re describing is intensity.

Big Questions: 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. This is okay when you’ve both mutually agreed to be casual. It’s a rather big problem, though, when one or both of you are dishonest about your intentions, needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions.

Without commitment, someone gets to enjoy the trappings of a relationship without accountability and responsibility. It’s the Why buy the cow when you can drink the milk for free? mentality. Unfortunately, if you don’t wise up about your uncommitted relationship, your expectations will reflect those of a committed relationship.

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 you appeared to have committed to.

Emotionally unavailable people can’t commit to staying, but they can’t commit to leaving either.

Big Questions: Do both of us have both feet in this relationship? Or are one or both of us actively or quietly resisting?

If you and a romantic partner have managed down your expectations, you’ll notice that you’re normalising bad behaviour. They’ve become consistent at being inconsistent and doing counterproductive, often painful things. You might not 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. 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 you’re standing on solid ground. 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 Questions: Looking back over the course of the relationship, has my partner been positively consistent in who they are? Are all assumptions I started out with or made holding true and consistent?

Healthy relationships require balance. Your relationship can’t, mustn’t, be on one person’s terms. No one should be on a pedestal, and you shouldn’t feel you have little or no ‘power’ or boundaries. Drama needs to be infrequent, and you both need two feet in because if one or both of you has 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 eighteen months when I met her as it was nine years later.

Big Questions: Does any aspect of this relationship feel imbalanced? If so, what and why? Address 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 a partner. When someone is genuinely interested in you, they don’t resist you. Stone cold facts. In a healthy partnering, if certain issues prevent your partner from being as committed as they claim they would like to be, they address them.

Big Questions: Is my relationship moving forward? Or is it going in fits and starts, reversing, or coming to a halt?

Claiming that you have ‘so much in common‘ with someone who resists, whether actively or passively, being in the relationship 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 if you don’t both share core 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 core values.

Core values are what you need to be, do and have in order to live your life authentically so that you can be happy and feel good. They’re based on your 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 that their peers respect them. You cannot meet your emotional needs in a relationship that doesn’t match your values.

Big Questions: 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 and 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. As a result, you can be yourself in an authentic relationship and 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 the above ingredients create healthy chemistry and attraction. When I dodged commitment and was afraid of intimacy, I felt chemistry and connections with like-minded folk. When you’re genuinely emotionally available with healthy love habits, the chemistry and attraction are 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. However, breaking the cycle of emotional unavailability and unhealthy/unfulfilling relationships involves:

1) Ensuring you have a healthy idea of relationships and what they involve.

When you shift the way you think about and approach relationships, you won’t try to build one based on, for instance, 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.

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 leave you feeling hungry for the ‘real thing’ and then chasing up your partners for the substance that they don’t have.

Ultimately, you can still look out for the hallmarks of your relationship such as sleeping together, being in contact over a period of time, not wanting to be involved with anyone else, plans, common interests, etc. However, recognise that ‘hallmarks’ don’t make a relationship. Don’t let those red herrings get you!

Your thoughts?

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