Relationships - Love healing
Relationships are the context within which people continue to grow and develop their potential.
It goes deeper than that. Does one necessarily have to be psychologically separated from one's own family of origin to be able to connect with a partner? Or is the separation from one's own family of origin achieved through the intimate connectedness with another person? I guess both the above theories are right.
In the beginning of a relationship one's own identity is embedded in one's family of origin. As one meets a partner, one is also gradually letting go of one's family. In the propensity to form one's own family the person has to connect with one's partner and develop something unique about oneself. His or her independence from one's own family is gradually achieved through the interdependence that develops in the new relationship.
Some of the implications in this debate involve one's capacity for marriage and commitment. Others involve one's capacity for continuing the marriage. Various aspects of this capacity have been researched to the smallest detail and clinicians are expected to know exactly what to look for in order to be able to help couples. There are valid indicators as to what constitutes the effective capacity to connect or not with a partner. These, however, are derived from research on divorce. So in reality we know what works in relationships because researchers have pinpointed what doesn't work.
I have already written about some of these in a previous article. Here, it is enough to say that there are some people who shouldn't attempt marriage in the first place, before they seek professional help to sort out their personal issues. Before marrying, partners should make sure that they and their partner can live in a relationship for life. While this is not a 100 per cent guarantee I am sure that it can save a lot of trouble in the future. Prevention is better than cure.
Other implications involve separation and the restarting of relationships. American and British research have repeatedly indicated that most of those who divorce, re-enter a relationship and remarry, are likely to divorce again for the second time. It is interesting that those who find intimate relationships difficult to handle continue in their search for connectedness with another partner unsuccessfully.
There is another theory which is highly implicated in one's capacity to connect intimately with a partner. It is called the attachment theory and explains the way people connect intimately with one another. The style of connectedness has been shown to be determined by one's childhood attachment experiences with one's primary carers, mainly the parents.
This makes sense in that our parents or carers are the first and most powerful teachers in one's life. No wonder, therefore, that childhood ways of relating with one's parents persist into adult romantic relationships. This means that if one looks into how a person relates with his parents one can understand the person's way of relating to one's love partner.
This idea of attachment has not been isolated and there's a link between the way one has learnt to attach and one's self esteem, as well as one's view about the world. For example, children who have experienced rejection in their primary relationships with the parents are likely to develop a negative view of themselves and feel insecure in relationships.
So, one may say that secure people, who are able to intimately relate in a healthy balanced way, are more likely to have satisfactory and successful intimate relationships. But I know no-one who is so perfectly composed.
One of the beautiful aspects of relationships is that of being able to help people grow psychologically and develop their full potential as human beings. A relationship becomes an opportunity to review your historical relationship style from a different perspective and the possibility of learning from it and improving oneself. If a romantic love relationship is a context where old, personal and relational dynamics are replayed, it offers partners a safe place where they can challenge themselves and each other into further personal and relational growth.
Intimate love relationships also provide healing of past damaged relationships with one's family of origin. One may have had a very destructive relationship with one's parents and through the current intimate love relationship one comes to review that relationship. Adjust it, change parts of it, integrate new aspects, while abandoning other aspects. Thus the person changes through accepting and acknowledging the past difficulties, seeking alternatives, and actively employing them at the service of oneself and the relationship, always keeping oneself in check with one's partner.
To achieve growth from within a relationship, however, the partners must both be open to each other and to themselves. Personal growth through a loving intimate relationship can provide the safety and security through which one explores beyond the horizon of oneself and adopts new behaviours or feelings. It is not always easy to bear with. In the long term it reaps the fruit redeemed through increased intimacy, personality, stability, and maturity.
Enduring love relationships can therefore be therapeutic and a change opportunity, but only for those who engage themselves with a degree of commitment, dedication, and openness. The latter can be achieved through letting go of one's own family of origin while embracing the risk of being intimately involved in a relationship. The leap can be scary but the fruit of the enterprise is definitely worth the while in the long term.
• Dr Azzopardi is a systemic family therapist.