Dr. Lexx joins us for an insightful conversion as we explore the process of transitioning from being single to being in a healthy relationship. Our discussion includes helpful tips on identifying when you’re ready for a relationship, assessing compatibility, and cultivating intimacy through compromise.
What are some of the qualities of dating versus some of the qualities of in a relationship?
Some of the qualities of dating are quite individualized. Number one, you get to put yourself first. This is important so that you discover what you like, what you don’t like, how to advocate for what you like, and how to put up boundaries about what you will do when things are happening that you don’t like. You want to know that you’re good just by yourself. Knowing that you’re worthy as a whole human I think is super important, especially when you’re dating, and especially coming across various types of people who might not realize that you’re important as a human.
Relationships look a little bit different. Consider your willingness to compromise. You might not be able to solve all conflicts, but you have to be able to compromise and not have your morals and values be the things that you’re compromising more. Ultimately, you learn to not do that because you dated for a while so you know how to advocate for yourself.
What are some tips for compromising in a relationship?
According to John Gottman’s statistics, 69% of conflict in relationships is not solvable. What’s most important is how lovers actually approached the problem. Can they laugh about it? Can they acknowledge one might be hurt or angry? Can they hear that? Can they take care of themselves in that moment of conflict? Are they flying off the handle? Are they being hurtful to their partner? Those things are harder to recover from. Those things are harder to grow in intimacy with. It comes down to compromise. It comes down to a willingness to understand. It comes down to potentially agreeing to disagree, and knowing that this is the point where we don’t necessarily agree. And then moving forward from there in how you want to operate as a lovership. If you don’t want to be lovers in a way that is conducive, then choose to not be lovers. That’s okay. But if you actually want to be lovers, if you want this romanticism, then you work on building intimacy, even when there’s a conflict that arises. It just doesn’t define your lovership.
How do you know when you are ready for being in a relationship?
I don’t believe the saying that you’re ready for a relationship when you’ve sown your wild oats. I think that you’re ready to be in a relationship when you’re able to hold on to yourself and your own emotionality. You want to be able to differentiate, to tell the difference, between what’s your stuff or what somebody else’s stuff is, most of the time.
You’re ready for a relationship when you’re able to express your boundaries and your needs, because you’re aware of what they are. You’re ready for a relationship when you’ve worked on healing some of your stuff.
Do you generally see men doing the healing work?
Truthfully, I think the dating pool has pee in it, and I think everybody needs to do some work somewhere along the line. And I think men are just now getting permission to do the work. Boys are the first victims of patriarchy. The idea that boys have to castrate themselves in order to become men is abusive and traumatic. The men that I see in my practice over the last decade, who might have ended a relationship, typically stayed on for therapy. They are really undoing a lot of these harmful messages about what it means to be a man and how they’re supposed to be a man and really defining that for themselves. So, I do think men are doing the work, and I think it’s growing in droves. What’s most important is that they get the permission from the people that they’re dating, to do that work or to be vulnerable without being emasculated and demoralized and put down. Historically, when a man shares their feelings, it gets used against him as a weapon. That means you’re not safe. That doesn’t make any sense. It’s directly contradictory. I think men who can do that work will be more willing to do the work if it wasn’t used as a weapon or seen by the people they desire as less manly.
What are some ways we can help men feel safe to share and be vulnerable in a relationship?
First, I would be careful because I don’t want people in relationships with men to sacrifice themselves for men’s safety. I do not think women and feminine identified folks need to be men’s respite. Men have to find other places to help them heal. However, women can be encouraging. You can say things like, I really want to hear what you think and what you feel. Also, being inquisitive. And also hearing them when they share their feelings. Sometimes we actually have to give them the language and the permission to feel because men have been taught that they’re only allowed to be okay, or angry, or too happy, or too sad.
How do you know if you’re actually compatible with somebody?
With the pandemic, we saw people swiping on the apps a lot more. And we’ve started to see people swipe right more on people that they were really interested in what the person had to say even though they didn’t think they were like the most attractive human being on the planet.
And so in dating, you don’t start with the deep dive. You have to start small as you begin trust building and building intimacy. Can you tell this person something about yourself that may be a little bit closer to your chest? Do they poo-poo it and tease you about it? Nobody deserves to be teased and put down. That might not be the person for you if you can’t trust them with even some basic info. How are they going to handle your deep down, your real hurts if they don’t handle the basic info with care, or with excitement, or with support?
So, you have to consider, Can I trust this person? That’s what all relationships are. Do I feel safe with you? Are you a person that I can talk to, who won’t necessarily put me down, but will tell me when I’m wrong, but also support me in whatever the healing journey is I need? And when it’s romanticism, we’re adding some affection on top of that. And then some long term companionship.
How do you build intimacy, and how important is this in a relationship?
Intimacy is probably the most important thing ever, and not just romantically. The model I define intimacy by is being able to take risks, being able to share secrets, being able to be vulnerable with someone, and to have that trust that is never doubted.
Building intimacy is saying things like, Oh my gosh, I can trust you to be sorry I hurt you. I want to know more about it. It is not saying you’re sorry for doing the thing because you might not be sorry. You may have intentionally done the thing, but the impact was’t that you wanted to hurt the other person. And sometimes that’s not the impact that we intend but it’s what happened. For example, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I wanted to make a big splash, but I didn’t mean to hurt you when I made the big splash. I’m sorry.
And so being able to acknowledge that impact, and also feeling safe enough for them to tell you that hurt. If you’re not safe enough for a person to tell you that they were uncomfortable, that hurt, that they felt shame, they felt disrespected, they felt unheard or disregarded. You can’t have true intimacy, because they’re not showing their vulnerable selves with you. And I think that makes a very watered down non-romanticized unfun relationship.
How do you navigate the murky waters of new relationships?
My grandma has this concept called Happy Weight. So, at the beginning stages of a relationship you gain happy weight, because you’re spending so much time with the other person. You’re eating, watching TV, watching movies, and you’re just like in each other’s world. And it’s amazing. But you tend to gain weight at the first stages of a relationship because it’s just food and fun all the time. That’s what we call enmeshment. It’s when you’re recycling the same energy with each other over and over and over again. It’s the getting to know you stage. And that’s when you start to navigate those murky waters in that excitement. This is where you start giving and receiving feedback and with baby steps you learn to trust and give more of yourself. As this happens you feel safer and can move on to giving larger pieces of yourself.
To hear Dr. Lexx talk more about relationships, including advice for women who want to date or start dating more as well as the positives of being single and thriving, listen to episode 173 on the Vaginas, Vulvas, and Vibrators podcast.
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