There are many ways of connecting with people. An emotionally safe, equal, and emotionally intimate relationship is likely the scariest and most challenging relationship to build, yet is also the most likely to decrease your sense of loneliness and help with your well-being. Let’s call it a Soul-Fulfilling relationship. This type of connection may be a romantic but doesn’t have to be. In a Soul-Fullfilling connection, you share your deepest emotions with someone in an honest, accurate way and your experiences are accepted without judgment. You can count on honest, loving feedback and give and take. You support and love in equal ways over time. Soul-Fulfilling relationships take time and nurturing to build.
Finding those miracle connections is a challenge. Investing in a relationship only to find it’s not built on a solid foundation or isn’t an equal match for you is painful. Leaving can be agonizing even when you know it is the right action to take. Recognizing early on who can be worth the effort to hang in there through difficult times and who to risk sharing your inner world with can help. How do you know when you’re being tolerant of the differences of others and when you’re being too reactive?
Remember, we’re not talking about acquaintances or regular friendships. The criteria for a soul-fulfilling relationship is higher. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of such connections, keeping in mind that these are just a few of the characteristics to consider.
1. A safe, equal, and emotionally intimate relationship means that you aren’t constantly taking care of the other person. If you are always looking at how to please the other person, responding to their difficulties on a daily basis, and/or helping them manage their emotions, then your relationship is probably more of a caretaker. Being a caretaker can feel safe because you are in control and don’t have to risk vulnerability of equal give and take. If you don’t expect to have someone who shares in the problem-solving, then you aren’t disappointed. You may love the person and cherish the connection. You may want the person in your life forever and there is great value in that–it just isn’t an emotionally equal relationship. In an equal relationship neither person is the caretaker and both care for and nurture the relationship and each other.
2. Being honest in a relationship means you tell the truth. If you are lying, that puts a barrier between you and the other person. Maybe ask yourself the reason you are lying. Are you hiding who you truly are? Are you hiding because of your own judgments or is it really likely that the other person will reject or criticize you if they know the truth? If you are lying, then the relationship loses intimacy and safety.
Being honest doesn’t mean the same as passing judgement or making assumptions or giving an unsolicited opinion. Being honest is not saying something hurtful because you are hurt. Being honest means you express your emotions accurately and in a loving way. You stay on the same side. You don’t blame, name-call, or use the relationship to control what the other person does. Emotional honesty, factual honesty and respect support and nurture loving connections.
3. No excuses to yourself for the other person’s behavior. If you are constantly making excuses for the person you love, that’s not true acceptance. For example, if your partner lies to your friends or behaves in ways that upset them and you explain it away by saying, “She just wants to impress you,” or “She is just trying to protect me,” then you aren’t seeing your partner for who she really is. Of course she has wonderful characteristics. She also has weaknesses. Part of acceptance is accepting the whole package and not overlooking the weaknesses. Acceptance would be that your partner lies to others. That’s the truth and you love and accept her anyway. Acceptance doesn’t mean you approve or agree, it only means that you acknowledge the reality.
4. A soul-fulfiling relationship requires being both available to the person you care about and capable of being on your own. When you’re needed, you are there. When you say you’ll be present, you are. You share the important and meaningful events in life. At the same time, you give each other room to pursue dreams and have time to yourself and with other people. There’s a trust and a connection that is so solid there is no need for jealousy or possessiveness. If there is jealousy and control, then that’s a sign that the relationship isn’t safe and isn’t nurturing you to be the best you can be.
These ideas aren’t new and most would agree on their importance, but find them difficult to live on a daily basis. Awareness helps keep quality relationships a priority, including awareness of how your own behaviors contribute to creating the relationship you want. What characteristics do you think define soul-fulfilling relationships?
Note: The Emotionally Sensitive Person: Finding Peace When Your Emotions Overwhelm You is available for pre-order and will be published on November 1, 2014. Thank you to everyone who helped make this book possible. If you are interested, check out The Emotionally Sensitive Person podcast on iTunes.