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Do I have to figure myself out before I can find love?


“For years mental health professionals taught people that they were psychologically healthy without social support, that ‘unless you love yourself, no one else will love you.’ The truth is you cannot love yourself unless you have been loved and are loved. The capacity to love cannot be built in isolation.” — Bruce D. Perry

A friend posted this quote, and I was thrilled to see it. As a relationship therapist, I usually cringe when I hear people say some rendition of, “I need to be alone to figure myself out, then I can be in a relationship.” This idea came out of the chemical dependency community back in the 1980s, when there was talk of not starting a new relationship until a year of sobriety. For those not newly in recovery this it has never made sense to me. When we are scared, lonely, sad or happy, we instinctively, given that we are social animals, reach to another human for comfort or to share our joy. In fact, isolation causes depression. Conversely, research shows that social support boosts the immune system, reduces stress, and mitigates aging.


I usually say to clients, “We heal in relationships” or more accurately, “We heal in positive relationships.” We learn trust when we are trusted. We learn to love when we are loved. We learn compassion from having another empathize with our problems.


What are the elements of a positive relationship that lets us learn all these things?


According to Emotionally Focused Therapy, the three elements of a positive relationship contain Accessibility, Responsiveness and Emotional engagement (or A.R.E)


Accessibility: How accessible is your partner?

  • I can get my partner’s attention easily

  • I can connect emotionally with my partner

  • I can share my feelings, and my partner will listen

  • I feel connected to my partner

Responsiveness: How responsive is your partner?

  • My partner is there when I need comfort

  • My partner will understand that I need him/her

  • I can lean on my partner when I feel worried, anxious, or scared

  • After a fight, I know that I am important and that we will figure things out

  • My partner can reassure me when I need to know that I am important

3. Emotional Engagement: Are you emotionally engaged with each other?

  • I am comfortable being close, and I can tell my partner about my joys, fears, and hurts

  • I trust my partnerI confide in my partner

  • I feel confident, even when we are apart, that we are connected

  • I know my partner cares about me and the things that matter to me

  • I can tell my partner about how I feel about almost everything

Ask yourself, does your relationship have these elements? If not, maybe it is time for a relationship tune-up. Or maybe it’s time to find someone who is there for you in these important ways.

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