The Art of Relating

Christine Kniffen, MSW, LCSW

Essential Prerequisites For Love

There is a very important distinction between finding love and having a fulfilling, successful relationship. However, for many of us the logic seems to follow the route of we fall in love and then a good relationship ensues. But, I think this logic, while reasonable, is what causes many people to get trapped into a pattern that keeps them from attaining what they are truly trying to capture. Like the rest of you, I have been “in love” many times in my life, but that certainly didn’t assure me the type of relationship that worked for me in the long haul. If you truly want to have something great, it’s time to start approaching relationships differently. Traditionally, our idea of prerequisites included screening for issues such as substance abuse, a degree of financial responsibility or making sure that the other person had employment. However, our definition of prerequisites need to expand and has more to do with us than the other person. There are conditions that must first be met by you to finally achieve success in the realm of love. These necessities include knowing yourself, having requirements and assessing for the ability to work out the differences with each other.

The first big prerequisite must be that you “know yourself”, which may appear obvious and therefore might not seem to warrant an entire paragraph in this article. However, just as we need to expand our definition of prerequisites, we also need to have more depth to our understanding of who we are and what we need, especially given what we have been through previously in our earlier, unsuccessful relationships. Yes, of course we know ourselves well enough to state that we need honestly, fidelity and the like. However, I encourage people to go deeper into their understanding and acceptance of who they are. For example, I was cheated on many years ago. As a result, I know myself well enough to say that I need someone who doesn’t push the boundaries and stays back from the line so to speak. Cheating is obviously over the line, but what about when your dating the person that seems to always have a new “friend “that they are talking to via e-mail or text messaging? The idea of what behavior is acceptable for a single person versus a person in a relationship is, of course, subjective. However, we all are much happier if we partner up with someone whose views are more similar to ours. I have seen endless relationship rifts over this very concept. I know myself well enough to state that the above example gets too close to the line for me. After all, if someone were to cheat then that is the route in which it usually gets started. I don’t see my feelings as a problem. Instead, I see them as part of knowing myself, being in touch with my feelings and therefore fully understanding what I need. Think about all that you have been through so you can assess your needs as a unique individual, rather than only including those that are universally required by everyone.

The second big prerequisite, which can only effectively be met after gaining a true understanding of who you are, involves the idea of having requirements. I can’t tell you how many times a client comes to my office, tells me the story of what they have been though in their relationships and I end up saying, “You don’t have enough requirements”. By requirements I refer to what we need to be happy and therefore, what needs to be present in the other person before we fly head first into the relationship and get all emotionally entrenched. Yes, we are all guilty of wanting to be loved. And, based on previous experiences in life this yearning can cause us difficulties in finding a good relationship, as we sometimes just open the gate and say, “come on in” with no real scrutiny up front. Again, that is fine if the goal is to feel love and that great beginning high. However, a wide-open gate is not adequate for finding a successful relationship. And, when we don’t have enough requirements, along with an honest assessment of the other person’s ability to meet them, the odds are increased that the relationship is not the right one. Your heart is a very precious thing. Don’t just give it to anyone who appears to like you.

The last prerequisite is perhaps one of the most important in predicting the likelihood that a relationship can be successful. It involves the ability to talk to each other to work out the differences, which are inherent in all relationships. I run an ad in this magazine that states, “figure out it’s not working in three months rather than three long years”. Lots of people come to my office and want to know exactly how to do just that. For any relationship to work in the long run you must be able to talk. More specifically, each person needs to be able to tell their partner if there is something they don’t like or if they feel negatively impacted by something the other says or does. What happens when you try to communicate your feelings? Do you repeatedly get a response of defensiveness, avoidance of the topic or any other annoying roadblock to communication? In a relationship, each person has the right to state how certain words or behaviors affect them. This is not a right or wrong issue, but rather one of feelings. A couple that cannot complete this type of communication effectively, and who allows this type of poor relationship dynamic to go on for a protracted period, invariably runs into difficulties.

Even worse, they often end up not liking each other very much by the time they hit my office. So, it is essential that you partner with someone who makes it feel safe to state your feelings and is willing to hear you out. He or she might not be adept at this skill when you meet. However, the real question is are they able to stay with the conversation and get through it so that the issues can get resolved and not keep accumulating.

If good relationships have eluded you to this point, then take some time to reflect on the idea of getting these important prerequisites met prior to hurling yourself right into the relationship, and becoming so completely emotionally and physically evolved too quickly. Make sure that you know and accept who you are, have a good depth of requirements and see that you can communicate well enough to work out the differences between the two of you. Do this and your chances for a great relationship will increase exponentially.

Christine Kniffen, LCSW is a Relationship Coach and Therapist. For a free consultation call 314-374-8396. Please visit online at www.ChristineKniffen.com.

Visit my booth at the Healthy Planet Expo Oct. 1 for a signed copy of my book “The Art of Relating.”