Dear Dr. Chalmer,
I have just watched your videos about sex, good sex and sacred sex. I really learned so much from these two videos and it was very informative as well as interesting and provocative. It made me ask myself questions such as how do I go from sex to good sex as well as sacred sex when I have never had a boyfriend or been a participant in a loving relationship.
I also watched your video on why get married, and that was extremely interesting and also made me ask myself questions, as I have never had a boyfriend and I wonder whether I could ever have or find a loving relationship or even husband.
I come from an abusive family and I have experienced sexual abuse as well as violence and emotional trauma. The good news is that I have been doing counselling for over 10 years and I still see a therapist once a week which is really awesome.
So Dr. Chalmer, I would like you to please talk about how you find a loving relationship, or whether it finds you. I have been working on myself for many years not just through therapy but also educating myself, incorporating meditation, Pilates and yoga into my life. I enjoy being on my own and love my own company. I’m a spiritual person and I’m building on my self-esteem and personal development.
My problem is that I would like to have an intimate sexual relationship with a man, but that just has not come my way. I wonder whether this is because the universe is not ready yet to match me up with the right man, or perhaps I’m not ready? I would like your take. I hope that perhaps you could talk about how to find a loving relationship, which incorporates good and healthy reasons to enter into one.
Dr. Chalmer answers:
Thank you, Marty, for your questions.
Marty, I imagine you’ve already heard zillions of ideas about how to find potential partners, with all sorts of how-to rules about how to conduct yourself when you do meet someone. I Googled “how to find a partner” and came up with over 63 million results! I can’t imagine I’ll come up with much new on that subject.
So rather than focusing on the how-to aspect of finding a loving partner, I want to take up your question about what might be some good and healthy reasons to look for a loving relationship—or to put it another way, what should you be looking for in a relationship that will help it be good and healthy? When you address that, you’ll find that you’re much better equipped to find the how-to approach that works for you.
So—what should you be looking for in a relationship?
Marty, since you’ve seen some of my other videos, you won’t be surprised by my answer. (For those of you reading, you can find my videos on my website, brucechalmer.com, as well as on Facebook.) As I discussed in my video on the two golden gifts you need for your relationship, we need two sets of skills for relationships to both survive and thrive: stability skills, and intimacy skills. The question about what to look for in a partner is related to those same skills.
Basically, you want to find a partner with whom you can have both stability and intimacy. Let me say that again, with a slightly different emphasis:
You want to find a partner with whom YOU can have both stability and intimacy.
In other words, it starts with you. You need to develop the capacity for both stability and intimacy yourself, and then you can determine whether someone you’ve met might be able to do that with you.
What are the stability skills? They’re the skills you need to be able to smooth out the bumps in life as well as you can, and deal with the bumps you can’t avoid without freaking out. Stability skills cover things like being able to earn a living and manage a household, keep reasonably organized, and fulfill the commitments you make to other people as well as you can. In a relationship, your stability skills are what you use to soothe your partner, and soothe yourself when your partner is unavailable, or disagrees with you. Of course, a major stability skill in a relationship is the self-control you need to remain sexually and emotionally faithful to your partner, and to keep your behavior under control when you get angry.
To boil it down, stability skills are what help you reduce anxiety, both for yourself and for your partner.
What about intimacy skills?
Well, you know how stability skills are about reducing anxiety? Intimacy skills are about tolerating, and even increasing anxiety. Because intimacy with someone who’s important to you can be terrifying. Of course, I’m not just talking about sexual or physical intimacy, but emotional honesty. Sometimes it’s lovely, ecstatic even. But sometimes, being honest with yourself and your partner means bringing up difficult topics, and that means tolerating anxiety—you don’t know how your partner will respond.
Intimacy is scary—and so a lot of people shut down part of themselves, rather than risk the anxiety of intimacy. But if stability provides the firmly planted roots for a relationship, intimacy provides the energy for growth. And without growth, even the most stable relationship will wither and die.
So for a relationship to survive and thrive, you need both stability skills and intimacy skills. First, you need to work on those yourself. And, Marty, from your letter, it sounds like you’ve been doing exactly that. As you know all too well, a history of abuse can make it hard to calm yourself—a stability skill—as well as hard to tolerate the anxiety of conflict in a relationship—an intimacy skill. So the work you’ve been doing in therapy, and all the other good things you’re doing for yourself, are just what you need to build those skills.
What about when you first meet someone else? How can you tell if a partner has the stability and intimacy skills you need for a relationship to work?
Well, at first, you don’t! You have to get to know someone, and that takes time.
So how can you decide if the person you’re with might be the right one? Well, of course, in the very early stages of a relationship, you’re not sure. And if you think about it, that puts you in a strikingly similar situation to anyone who’s in a relationship, long or short, that they’re having doubts about.
In other words, you could say that as you’re getting to know someone, you’re deciding on a date-by-date basis whether or not to call it quits on the budding relationship. When you look at it that way, you can apply the same guidelines I talked about in my video on how to know when to call it quits in a relationship. Because it turns out that those guidelines will help you benefit from the experience of getting to know someone, whether it turns into a happily-ever-after or not. So I’ll refer you to my video on that topic.