Learning to Relate

Background

Everyone wants to have great relationships. We are social beings. We spend the greater part of our lives in relationship with others. We form primary relationships, and maintain deep primary bonds with our partners and our children. We often have long-term relationships with friends or co-workers and, in most cases, we stay significantly connected with our parents and our siblings. We relate to many, many people in different roles and circumstances and we experience many levels of connection.

We develop and are sustained by being and feeling connected to other people. In the long history of the human race, it is a recent development that individuals can survive living alone. For those who choose to live alone or find they are alone, it remains outside the norm and often is a major adjustment.

Learning through experience

We learn to relate through growing up in relationship and are subject to the experience of the relational styles we are born into. Our own relational styles are formed through this experience. We are very lucky if the sensitivity and responsiveness to our needs is adequate so that we learn how to communicate our own needs as we learn how to relate to the needs of others.

Parents need more support

Unfortunately, these early relational experiences are often an uneducated and somewhat haphazard experience. Most people rely on child rearing practices handed down through generations or brief education from a current pediatric theory. There is limited education provided to parents or to children to help make this original relational experience optimal. We are forced to depend on tradition in learning how to care for our young, which does not help in handling the intense emotional experience that taking care of a baby involves.

Limited preparation

Although relationships are central and vital to our lives, we, in fact, have to wing it in regards to many aspects of relating. Almost every mother has experienced the excruciating sense of inadequacy when finding that they are alone with a crying baby having had too little preparation.

Too many less than optimal outcomes

While there are many wonderful bonds that children form with their best friends and school mates, there are also systemic relational failures in schools as children bully others, form cliques and essentially re-enact the less than optimal relationship skills they have learned at home. Later, as teenagers and young adults entering the relationship and mate-seeking arena, they have to navigate instincts and social pressures, usually without having any understanding as to how to approach these monumental tasks.

Following mate selection, whether we are heterosexual or homosexual or other gendered, we have to relate on a daily basis. Negotiating our own needs in a relationship, particularly when there are differences, is a skill we have only learned through default, usually to the less than optimal experiences we have had. So many couples are deeply troubled as they face problems in their relationships with little or no understanding about what might be going on, and/or how to communicate with the other person to resolve issues.

Relational skills can improve our relationships

The good news is that we can learn more about relating at any stage in our lives. Once we gain even a minimal understanding of what is going on in relationships and begin practicing more conscious communication, our experience becomes self-perpetuating. It feels so much better to communicate in a more relational way and we gain so much more sense of connection and well-being that we can usually overcome our attachment to our old, resistant patterns of communicating, even when they feel like home.

Obstacles in communication can be overcome

Learning to be more relational as adults can feel challenging for those who have developed strong defenses to protect themselves, however it is much easier than we fear. Trying to communicate more about how you feel is a good first step. Practicing listening and trying to attune to the feelings of others is a good second step. This can be as simple as just reflecting back to them what you have understood them to say. Noticing that the feeling of connection increases as you are able to understand how the other person is feeling and also when they are able to reflect back that they get what you are feeling.

Connections can deepen through communication

There is no substitute for the connection that can be experienced by looking at the other person while you are engaging with them. In addition, physical touch is the most direct way of feeling contact. The experience of physical contact is deepened when a person is open emotionally. Opening emotionally can be supported by learning to communicate feelings so that the other person can relate to how you feel.

Relating is fundamental

So much more is understood now about how the early relational behaviors of parents with their babies can positively impact future social capacities. Even though the research is with babies, people of all ages respond well to relational behaviors. Feeling a mutual connection with another person is enlivening at any age.

Copyright 2015 TruceWorks