Do We Need to be Emotionally ‘Sorted’ to Have a Good Relationship?

Should we excommunicate our demons before engaging in a relationship?

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I was recently interviewed by Nick Bracks, Australian actor and podcaster at Move Your Mind. One of the many interesting conversations we had was whether we should sort our issues out before we enter a relationship.

Of course, working through our issues and increasing our self-awareness is always a positive step towards a more fulfilling and contented life. Though, as a psychosexual and relationship therapist, I find it an intriguing idea that sorting out all our issues would even be possible before we would then be able to have a relationship.

It might be a lovely prospect to think that we can reach a point when challenges will no longer affect us, and emotions will behave themselves. A time of calm and clarity of thinking that will be with us forever. But how long would this contentment last if every day was the same? If there were no ups and downs or surprises in our life? Nothing to keep us engaged or push our boundaries a little or a lot?

We are work in progress

I am a firm believer that we are all work in progress. Holding on to the idea that we are able to sort ourselves out and then have no further issues, can in fact create more difficulties for us than before we supposedly sorted ourselves out. If we believe we are emotionally or psychologically ‘sorted’, our belief can cause us to struggle against the flow of life in an effort to stop any other challenges coming our way. We become rigid and possibly increasingly anxious in an effort to keep control of life.

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It is impossible for us to stop moving, emotionally or psychologically, even if we isolate ourselves — which a lot of us have experienced first-hand throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — we will still be faced with situations that challenge us. But it is through these challenges that we have the opportunity to further develop our life skills, resources, self-awareness and insights. The lessons we learn will enable us to manage future challenges differently. As our insights increase, we know that what is a challenge today becomes a memory tomorrow: experiences pass through and as we build life skills and resources, we become less overwhelmed by what we experience. And so, the development in the cycle of our life continues.

I am not sure what a life without these opportunities would look like. No matter how much therapy or other types of self-development we do, life will still test us in some way. Even though we at times might feel the challenges presented to us are pushing our resources to the limit, a life without would perhaps be boring, lacking interest or make us stagnate. Not exactly an attractive prospect.

Relationships are possibilities for growth

An intimate relationship is a fantastic place to learn about ourselves and how we interact when being this emotionally close to another human being. If we dare to stay long enough to move beyond the initial infatuation stage, we will begin to face the challenges of establishing the relationship. This is possibly the most testing stage for us and our partner, as we begin to expose the parts of ourselves that are rarely seen by others: the parts we might prefer to keep hidden. Perhaps our subconscious beliefs shine through in our behaviours and reactions, producing buttons that when pressed surprise even us when we react ‘out of character’. These are often referred to as our vulnerabilities. As we open up to the intimate knowing of one another, we are challenged to confront conscious and subconscious ideas about relationships, gender and our roles as partners.

Witnessing this unfolding of ourselves and our partner can build our self-awareness, a process that we are only able to develop when in a relationship. If we are both willing to explore where these conscious and subconscious beliefs and this instinctive knowledge comes from, and how it is affecting us, our partner and our relationship, we will have an amazing opportunity to develop a bond that is stronger than we could ever imagine.

This phase of a relationship can last for years and will carry on testing our ability to accept and tolerate our partner until we reach a stage where this is no longer a test, but a natural and unavoidable knowing. This phase will also guide us to a place where our relationship becomes more than a matter of being in love with one another; it becomes a place of belonging; a sanctuary.

Trashing ‘sorted’

Aiming to only enter a relationship once we are ‘sorted’ will likely leave us with a false idea that we can have perfection when we do commit to an intimate relationship. Rather than working towards sorting out our issues, we would be better placed by working to build our self-awareness and compassion for others, specifically our partner. One will of course follow the other: as we build self-awareness our self-compassion will increase. As our self-compassion develops, we are better able to have compassion for our partner.

And so, it carries on, proving that self-development is an ever-evolving journey that will keep giving throughout our life, elevating our ability for acceptance and compassion for us and for others. Being ‘sorted’ is not an option. Actively engaging with the journey of self-development, on the other hand, is.

Psychosexual and relationship therapist. Author of The Essential Companion to Talking Therapy, Watkins Publishing. Tea, cats and travel.

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