Who wouldn’t love to know what to do with all of that interest and excitement about your future relationship before you have found the one?! Take that energy and intention and put it into understanding the basics of healthy relationships and your dating life will become more satisfying as you feel empowered and educated about the task you are undertaking.
Here I am going to expand on the idea of our Relational Identity. Relational identity is who we experience our self as in the context of our most important relationships. Most people today are familiar with the concept of Attachment. Attachment Theory is a scientific theory of human bonding, or attachment. We know today that our brains actually develop neural connections through the process of attachment relationships.
This means that the emotional experiences you had with your parents, siblings and other important people actually trained your brain how to think about who you are, what to expect in the world, and what works or doesn’t work in relationships. You already knew that your early relationships were formative in your identity and your future relationships, right?
What you probably don’t know is that this process of brain-learning is ongoing throughout our lives. That means that each and every relationship you have, your brain is taking in information and re-wiring the neural connections that make up your expectations, emotions and hopes and fears. This is one reason that psychotherapy is so powerful, as are your friendships and the romantic relationships that you choose and nurture to be healthy and supportive.
Now here’s the most important thing I learned in graduate school: these early experiences are NOT actually the most important factors in determining your future relationship patterns.
What IS the most important factor in your future relationship is how well you understand your relational story. Think about that for a second, and you’ll realize that you have the keys to the kingdom in your hands. Your willingness to understand the complexities of your attachment history and likely some skillful help to decode the subtleties of that story free up the future of your romantic life to be that which you most desire and need.
Would you like to get started opening the door to your future, freed from the limitations or wounds of your past? Here are a few exercises to help you down that path.
- Write out a narrative of your life story, starting with your birth and up until at least the end of high school. Include important events and milestones, but make sure to be as inclusive as you can about the important relationships in this story.
- Can you write a coherent explanation of each of the characters in your story, which doesn’t either blame or excuse them but is honest about the nature of the story?
- Can you articulate how each of these relationships made you feel, what lessons you learned from them, and whether those lessons were either a misconception (mistaken notion) or a supportive, reality-based belief system that you should retain going forward?
- Try reading this completed story to a close friend or a therapist and ask for help discovering whether your story is emotionally coherent. If you find it difficult to complete some part of this assignment that is a great time to get help from a professional.
The work of knowing your story is not a simple task or a short one. Often, we are working on this story throughout our lives; for instance, when you have children you will likely both remember new events from your childhood and understand them differently based on your experience of being a parent. This is not a one time or static exercise, but it is of primary importance if you want to feel free to build healthy relationships.
To learn more about Dr. Elisha and her work to help you succeed in intimate relationships, visit http://www.relationshipsrewired.com. You can also download the free eBook How to Be an Extraordinary Partner!