I am reading a wonderful book right now entitled How To Be An Adult In Relationships: The Five Keys To Mindful Loving, by David Richo. He explains in his book that we all need the "five A's"...attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing... to have a successful and healthy adult relationship. But what exactly does "successful and healthy" mean in regard to relationships? It means a lot of different things. To have boundaries--allowing each other the space to grow and be individuals in the midst of real connection, closeness and togetherness; to accept one another fully--whether or not we understand or agree with the other's feelings or choices; being open to giving and to receiving; knowing what we need to feel loved and learning how to ask for it--not expecting our partners to be mind readers...and on the flip side learning what it is that our partner's need to feel loved and giving this to them; loving someone the way they are--letting go of control and trying to change our partners or getting them to be the way we think they should be; allowing our partners (and feeling the freedom ourselves) to express our feelings or to disagree and to fully be ourselves.
Richo connects all of these essential elements in intimate adult relationships to our early childhoods-whether or not our parents were able to allow us to separate and individuate to become the unique people we were meant to be. As one might imagine-this process of separation and individuation does not always go smoothly, or even well. Our parents might have been overprotective and afraid to let us venture out to explore the world around us, sending us the message that the world was too dangerous and that we could not trust ourselves to know what we needed or wanted; or they might have had difficulty seeing us for who we were, needing us to be what they wanted us to be, presenting us with the challenge of becoming and later being our true selves, so that we became dependent upon other's evaluation/approval/reassurance rather than knowing within ourselves our worth, who we were and what was right for us.
The question always comes back to, so how do we get there? How do we do it? How do we create the kind of relationship that allows for individual freedom and continued growth while also fostering true closeness, intimacy and connection? How do we let go of our need to cling and control or to distance and withdraw to get what we think we need from another?
The answer might be surprising-but perhaps it will make a lot of sense.
Richo posits that "in healthy intimate relationships we do not seek more than 25% of our nurturance from a partner; we learn to find the rest within ourselves." So while we all need another to feel mirrored, safe and to help define us...to allow us to come out of hiding and to be found...we cannot rely on this "other" to do all of these things for us. The main source of these experiences needs to come from within ourselves. The reassurance that we are worthy, special and will be "OK" in light of whatever occurs externally resides most fully inside of us. For many of us, this is a new concept! Scary, maybe, but also exciting, as we can have more control over our wellbeing and happiness than we ever thought was possible. As Richo states, rather than relying on ourselves, many of us have been looking for the "perfect partner" to fulfill all of our needs, the oasis that will offer us everything we lack--total happiness and emotional fulfillment. We have not had the opportunity while growing up to develop this strong inner sense of security, and we have learned to search for or to rely upon someone else to give it to us...often ending up frustrated, dissatisfied or even desperately disappointed that another was not fully capable of filling all of our needs for wellbeing and emotional satisfaction.
Now, as adults, we have a renewed opportunity to revisit this space within ourselves, and rather than allowing our fear to create distance from ourselves by looking for another to fix us or to fill us up, we can face our fear--by allowing ourselves to feel it--and we can look within for our own wellbeing and comfort. We do not have to be as reliant on another for how we are going to feel from one moment or one day to the next, but rather look within ourselves for this reassurance. Instead, we can turn toward our partners for support, love and closeness--which can free us up to do the emotional work that we were meant to do to become fully ourselves.