There is no more complicated and yet desired thing like love. To have a perfect relationship is the goal of many people but not everyone knows what this perfection consists of, how to find the ideal partner and even the secrets to keep this long-awaited fairy tale.
To help us better understand this, Relationship Therapist Dr. R and Relationship Counselor @Mz_Ash agreed to answer some of the most common love questions from users of this site and even from the world.
• First, can you tell a little bit about you and what you do? Are you good at giving love advices to other people?
Ash: I am a relationship blogger and editorial contributing writer. I offer private consulting with clients who seek my guidance in greater attention and detail, usually about a particular area of focus.
I am married and currently reside along coastal Carolina.
I aim to help others in the best way I can. My advice isn't for everyone and not every client is for me either, and that's perfectly okay.
You can find my website at DamesThatKnow.com
Dr. R.: Yes, I am a relational therapist and researcher. I have received specific training and experience helping couples and individuals with sexual issues in their lives. As a therapist I don’t see that it is my job or responsibility to give love or relationship advise. I see myself as more of a coach, teacher, and at times cheerleader who focuses on helping couples and individuals identify and make changes in their lives that they see as being beneficial. That being said I give my all in the therapeutic process and have seen professional success as a result of my work.
• As a relationship expert, what's the most important thing for a successful relationship?
Ash: I would say the most important thing for a successful relationship is compatibility. Things don't have to be perfect, but two people generally have to be on the same page about the foundational principles of a relationship. They must be able to naturally get along most of the time without conflict.
Dr. R.: Humans are complicated creatures and when two or more interact and form some kind of relationship the complexity is amplified. Among all these complexities are personal core values and interpersonal communication skills among many other things. I believe that possessing an ability and willingness to navigate these personal values through interpersonal skills is one of the most important aspects to any relationship romantic or otherwise. As imperfect people we all navigate this space together and experience success and failure on a number of different levels in this arena on a daily basis.
• About cheating, do you believe "once a cheater, always a cheater" ? What's you definition of cheating?
Ash: There are several ways one can define cheating, but what matters is what you consider a violation of the relationship and how well you have communicated that with your partner. You get to set the parameters of what you will and will not find acceptable behavior. I don't necessarily believe “Once a cheater, always a cheater” in every case, but in many cases, sadly people are repeat offenders.
Dr. R.: When it comes to infidelity or any other human behavior I believe that we are all agents of change in our own lives and as such always have the ability to change our own behavior. What this means is I do not ascribe to the idea of once a cheater always a cheater, if that statement were true my job would be largely meaningless. I view every one as being capable of engaging in a variety of behaviors including infidelity and on the other side of that coin I view everybody as being someone who can choose to change their behavior. Fidelity in a relationship is dependent on what the socially agreed upon rules are of that relationship. For many individuals intimate, committed, romantic relationships are governed by a rule or expectation that each member of the relationship will not engage in a certain level of intimacy (emotional or physical/sexual) with someone other than their partner. This social rule that defines infidelity in this way is heavily influenced by culture, religious views and traditions, personal beliefs, and laws in some areas of the world.
• What are the signals a relationship is over?
Ash: There are too many to list all of them, but the ones that jump off the top of my head immediately are consistent disrespectful behavior and when one is being taken for granted.
Dr. R.: There are many signals of relationship distress and given the duration of time the relationship has been distressed and the degree to which the distress is affecting the relationship can all be key indicators of the life the relationship has left. The life of a relationship comes down to personal values and how far or long one decides they are willing to have their personal boundaries violated or the degree to which they are violated. For instance some people won’t stand for any infidelity in their relationship, that is a personal boundary and when or if that boundary violation occurs they make the choice to end the relationship. Other individuals may be more permissive and allow frequent boundary violations to occur and accumulate before deciding to end the relationship. Anecdotally, I see when one or both individuals no longer have the ability or willingness to empathize with their partner often indicates to the me the relationship is likely to fail.
• Can you really be friends with a former partner?
Ash: If the romantic feelings have gone away on both parts, then yes, but I don't believe this happens very often. Usually, at least one has feelings that remain. At that point, you can act as friends on the outside but you're having to ignore the feelings inside.
Dr. R.: Being friends with a former partner requires one to shift the relational boundaries that they use to engage with that individual. This shift can be very difficult for some people depending on their motives for making this shift. Although difficult if one has effective motivation to make the shift it is possible. This is often times best exemplified when two parents separate or divorce and learn to co-parent in an effective manner. Often times (but not always) children’s wellbeing is an effective motivator for two adults to set aside differences and make the changes to the relational boundaries with their former partner that can result in a relationship that others might classify as a friendship. This can be done between non-parents as well if they have adequate motivation to making the shift.
• Do you believe love can last forever and overcome anything?
Ash: It can, yes. Though, that's not always what actually happens.
Dr. R.: I think what I have said previously kind of eludes to this but I believe relationships can last and that individuals can work incredibly hard to overcome anything as long as what is required of them to overcome does not violate a personal core value that inform their interpersonal boundaries with others. Relationships require more than one individual and as such require efforts from all parties involved to sustain and maintain. Through my experiences doing therapy with couples I have personally seen the resiliency of individuals who are committed to their relationship and I have seen relationships come back from some pretty dark places.
• What advice would you give to someone who wants to get married?
Ash: Be self aware and build yourself up first. Date your partner and really get to know them, I'd recommend for at least a couple of years before you get married. Never stop working on improving yourself and the marriage.
Dr. R.: To those who are wanting to get married I would tell them to commit, to jump in with both feet and be prepared to work extremely hard to make it work. Marriage can be one of the most rewarding human experiences but it takes dedication and a lot of sustained work from the individuals involved.
• Sexual relationships can result in real love?
Ash: Possible, but not likely.
Dr. R.: Sex and sexual relationships can evoke many powerful feelings one of them being love. Love is an interesting word that we as people use to try and label a feeling or emotion we experience. In my opinion we have very deep and complex feelings and often don’t have the language to describe adequately what we are experiencing. This results in people experiencing some hang ups around sex and love since love can be used to describe the way we feel about a sexual experience we just had or something as basic as our favorite food. To further complicate the matter, sex can occur in many different contexts and can have many meanings ascribed to it. Hence, we see individuals in casual sexual relationships (Friends with Benefits) struggle to communicate how they feel toward the partner or the relationship. I think it is a chicken vs egg argument did the sex cause the feeling of love or did the feeling cause the sex to occur. In the end the two can be but do not have to be connected. It is all up to us and what we want from our sexual partners and/ or those we love.
• Why is someone friendzoned?
Ash: Usually because attraction just isn't there. People can't friend zone you unless you allow them to.
• What can destroy a relationship?
Ash: Many things. Lying, cheating, disrespect, not listening or lack of communicating, etc.
Dr. R.: There are many things that can destroy a relationship. If I tried to list them you would be reading for hours. What is important is that relationships are unique and when the individuals involved are dedicated to making the relationship work they can overcome remarkable challenges.
• What do you think about open relationships?
Ash: I do not recommend open relationships. This doesn't work long term for most people. Usually those that propose this are just trying to get with someone else without having to suffer any consequences for it, and usually one person gets jealous or feels slighted by the other.
Dr. R.: Open relationships are in many ways just like any other relationship with an added component of some form of the boundaries that govern the relationship are not socially sanctioned. Although the majority of the open relationships I see are not working well this is due to sampling bias as none of the relationships I see professionally are firing on all cylinders when they come to see me. Open relationships can work but require an extra amount of care and attention to communication, personal insight and reflection, and very frank conversations negotiating the boundaries of the relationship to protect each individual as well as make sure each individuals needs are met. This will mean having difficult and thorough conversations possibly involving things such as who is allowed to have sex with who and when that sex can occur, what kinds of sexual acts can occur, who can know, where they can occur, and how frequently. Aside from conversations about sex, emotions need to be considered and talked about as well. If and when these conversations can be adequately had and continue to be readdressed as needed throughout the relationship will strongly predict the course of open relationships.
I would like to thank @Mz_Ash and Dr. R. for their time to share with us their advices and points of view. If you seek dating advices or counseling, you can reach out to Ash here, or through her website. If you need a deeper guidance of a therapist and need to get in touch with Dr. R. (who preferred to stay anonymous) reach out to me and I gladly help you both to communicate.