Rosemary O. Ogedengbe, PhD
What Does it Mean to Have a Relationship?
Man is not only a physical being but also a social and emotional being. No one can thrive in isolation. Hence, relationship is fundamental to our well-being. We interact with countless number of people daily but it is not everyone we interact with, that we can say we have a relationship with. The term relationship suggests a form of tie that motivates an on-going interaction between two people or among a group of people. In very simple terms, human relationship means the connection that exists between two people or among a group of people. There are different types of relationships, such as friendship, business or work relationship, consanguinity (the type of relationship that exists among family members), acquaintance, romantic or love relationship, etc. Our focus however, is on romantic relationship, otherwise known as pairing off.
Relationship is Inevitable
When we were children, we only yearned for interaction with our parents, other family members, friends and a few others. We couldn’t feel any difference whether we played with our friends of the same sex with us or those of the opposite sex. However, at puberty, when we attain sexual maturation, we begin to feel a need for more intimacy.
This makes us to experience attraction to the opposite sex. Usually, a boy would feel attracted to girls and a girl would feel attracted to boys. If a boy and a girl find that they are both attracted to each other, and they both agree to be friends, a relationship is said to have been established.
What Purpose Does a Relationship Serve?
- Friendship -to confide in, share ideas, ambitions,
- Emotional Support – to share sad and happy moments
- Preparation for future family life.
What Makes a Healthy Relationship?
- A clear definition of the relationship- is it casual friendship, love?, do not assume.
- Clarity about feelings. Be sure about what you feel and try to understand the feelings of the other person towards you. Is it lust, infatuation or love? Being clear about the feelings involved helps to guide our expectations and consequently prevents disappointment and heartbreak. For instance, if a person lusts after you, they may come after you with a lot of pressure that could easily be mistaken for deep love but the drive is basically to get physically intimate with you. Such a person is not likely to be committed to a lasting relationship with you.
- Mutual attraction, admiration. It is cool that you like this person. Does he or she like you as much? It is also cool that someone likes you and is even crazy about you. Do you like this person? Are you cool with him or her? That someone loves you does not mean you must have a relationship with the person if you are not cool with them. The feelings must be mutual. Otherwise, you wont have a relationship of mutual commitment and mutual satisfaction.
- Mutual understanding, trust, respect.
- Clearly stated boundaries provide protection against abuse. You should be able to draw the line between patience and abuse tolerance. Be bold enough to state how you do not wish to be treated in a relationship. For instance, if your friend calls you a name that you are not comfortable with, it is okay to say you do not like to be called by that name. If your friend demands a level of physical intimacy that you are not ready for, it is fine to let them know. The easiest way to encourage abuse in a relationship is to endure negative treatments because of the fear of losing the relationship. If your friend values your relationship as much as you do, they will not insist on behaviours that contradict your values or make you unhappy. It is dangerous to remain in a relationship in the hope that the abuser will change.
Am I Ready for a Relationship?
Lets look at the considerations:
- Chronological age. Many experts agree that young people who have not attained the age of adulthood may not have developed the psychological capacities required to effectively handle a delicate relationship such as an intimate relationship. Meanwhile, the age of adulthood differs from one country to another. For instance, in Nigeria and most other African countries , the age of adulthood is 18. From the above, we can see clearly that relationship is for adults and not for children.
- Psychological /emotional maturity. No matter how much you and your friend like or even love each other, there will be times when you will disagree on certain issues. It requires maturity to be able to preserve your relationship even as you quarrel and try to resolve the conflict. Without psychological and emotional maturity, one may keep moving from one relationship to another, and this could make it difficult to enjoy a stable and lasting relationship.
- Social skills. Relationship requires social skills- the behaviours that make it easy for others to relate with you and to want to remain close to you. This has to do with how you relate with others. Do you appreciate other people and express such appreciation to them? No one will stay in a relationship with you if your behaviours towards them make them to feel worthless.
- Communication skills – This is not necessarily about grammar but about how you are able to pass your intended message confidently, clearly and politely. Effective communication skills enable you to project your needs, interests and feelings in a non – threatening but self protective manner.
- You are not ready for a relationship until you are able to distinguish between love and sex. As mentioned earlier, once we have attained puberty, it is normal for us to experience sexual feelings as well as sexual attraction. This attraction could be aroused by different qualities that we admire about the particular person, ranging from little things, such as their voice, looks and comportment, to more tangible things, such as intelligence and character. Once this attraction is formed, it is possible to have sexual feelings towards this person, and normal to desire to get intimate them. However, it is important to understand that these feelings are not exclusively towards only this person – It is possible that we will meet someone else in another place and circumstance that we will also admire, perhaps for some other qualities, and if we get close to them enough, we may also experience sexual attraction towards them. Sometimes, a young person may find that he or she is experiencing attraction to more than one person at the same time. Usually, from the onset of puberty, to the time we are in our early twenties, when we may be fully ready for a serious relationship, an average young person would have met tens of people that he or she is sexually attracted to. The above scenario implies two things. The first is that sexual attraction is not the same thing as love. The second implication is that we can’t possibly have sex with everyone we feel attracted to in a life time.
How Would I Know If I Love Someone or If Someone Loves Me?
Love is one of the most difficult emotions to define. I prefer to define love as a deep, pleasant, intense or overwhelming and fulfilling experience of admiration, acceptance, goodwill, affection and a strong and insatiable desire for someone. By being deep, I mean that love is not a shallow feeling but a deeply rooted feeling that takes its root over time. It takes time to grow. Hence, once rooted, it has the resilience to withstand storm and stress. By being pleasant, I mean that love is a sweet and pleasurable experience. You feel good and happy when you are in love. The thoughts of the one you love makes you to feel happy. Love is intense and overwhelming. This means that when you love someone, you can’t cover it up, or pretend not to love them for too long. Love will always find expression. By being fulfilling, I mean that you experience wholeness when you are in love. There is always a feeling of something lost but found . It feels as though there has been an unnoticed vacuum in your life that has just been filled.
Love makes you feel complete. This is why I often tell young people during counselling sessions that, ” if it doesn’t make you feel complete, it may not be love.” When you love someone, not only the person enjoys the affection that you demonstrate to them, loving them also makes you fulfilled. You are glad that you have the opportunity to love them for their own sake.
When you love someone, you admire them greatly and hold them in high esteem. This is why I also say to young people, “if this person disrespects you or makes you to feel worthless, he or she may not love you”. When you love someone, he or she is almost like an “idol” to you. When you love someone, you wish them well and want the best for them. You don’t want them to come to any form of harm. Your goodwill is towards them always and unconditionally.
By a strong and insatiable desire, I mean that you want to be close to the person you love. You want to see them, hear them and spend time with them often, and you are never tired of them. You want them to remain in your life.
What Could go Wrong?
Many things could go wrong in a relationship. Examples are:
- Abuse – intimate partner violence (IPV) which could be physical, sexual, emotional/psychological, economic abuse, controlling behaviour,
- Heart break
- Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Unplanned parenthood
- Loss of concentration and focus on academics/ career development, etc.