It’s all about love, or is it?

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With Valentines’ Day fast approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about relationships of all sorts – romantic relationships, friendships, work and family relationships.

But first, did you know that Valentine’s Day has evolved from a wild fertility festival in ancient Rome that included plenty of drinking and occasional matchmaking?  Well, I suppose it’s always good to have a reason to celebrate, especially when we’re still waiting for Spring to arrive.  So much so that we now celebrate Galentine’s Day – a day in which women celebrate their female friendships – on 13th February. 

However, although this time of year can potentially be a fun time for a lot of us, it can also create anxiety and stress, especially when we are not feeling in a particularly good space in our relationships, or indeed, we are not in a romantic relationship.  At this point it’s important to remind ourselves that partnerships aren’t all about love and romance, and that we are all experiencing a wide variety of relationships through our lives and these give us valuable learning and experiences.

It’s also good to remind ourselves that there are quite a few things that are more important in a relationship than love.   There has to be more going on than just a feeling of love in order for a relationship to last the course.  Here are just some of the things involved with being in a relationship.

  • Trust is essential to a healthy relationship, and that includes trust with private information, trust with being vulnerable as well as talking about cheating.  It’s all about having each other’s backs.
  • Feeling safe and secure around each other, free to relax and be yourself without fear of judgement.
  • Genuinely liking each other and having an ongoing sense of connection through common interests – allowing you to share goals and dreams.
  • Retaining your sense of self and your independence – feeling free to do the things you want to do, to be yourself and to have your own thoughts and feelings.
  • Compassion, acceptance, compromise and forgiveness.  Sometimes it’s difficult to agree on things and this is when these qualities are required in order to weather the storm.
  • Working on your communication skills in order to talk about your needs, fix problems, express your feelings, set boundaries, etc.

Thinking specifically about communication, I’ve seen a trend for relationship therapy in the media recently – Couples Therapy (BBC2), In Treatment (Sky Atlantic) and Where Should We Begin with Esther Perel (Spotify podcast) and this makes me feel happy as I think it is beginning to normalise the fact that relationships are not easy and they need work.  I’ve noticed that many people expect their relationships to survive without any help and, as a result, they often start to falter.  Bringing couples therapy out into the open begins to allow us to realise that everybody needs support and that communication between us must remain open for the relationship to have any chance of survival.

Having been an eager observer of other people’s therapy sessions, I’m aware how important it is to communicate, but by far the most important thing is the ability to listen and to really hear what someone is trying to say.  It’s much healthier than immediately planning in your own head where that leaves you and what you are going to say next.  If you put everything else out of your mind and actively listen, then you will begin to really hear what the other person is saying and to start to put yourself into their shoes and to see the world in the way that they see it.  Active listening promotes compassion, empathy and respect and starts a real conversation flowing.

So when we see Valentine’s Day fast approaching, we can keep our rose coloured specs on and look forward to the cards and chocolates, or we can take them off and start to use our ears a little bit more than our eyes with all our important relationships.