Being in relationship is difficult. It’s, perhaps, one of the most demanding domains of our lives. As a couple therapist, I repeatedly see the challenges couples in relationships face: fear of commitment, incompatibility, differing values, growing apart, infidelity, loss, disappointment, and divorce. It’s a long list and certainly not complete.

In relationship, the potential for suffering – hurt, sadness, and exhaustion – is high. Sharing your life with someone and letting him or her get close means that when things go wrong, it matters. The emotions you feel can be intense and turn your world upside down. Yet despite this daunting list, most people rarely choose to give up and go it alone. Why?

Neuroscience over the last 20 years has taught us that we are wired for connection. We have learned that our brains are social organs that develop and change in interaction with other brains. This means that the brains of those closest to us – through emotional availability and responsiveness – shape our emotional learning and ways of relating to others. Interacting with others is the only way we learn to empathize, regulate our body and emotions, and exercise attuned communication.

In other words, relationships are vital. They are responsible for individual development and, initially, with our early caregivers, teach us how to be in relationships for the rest of our lives.

And it doesn’t stop there. Connection is necessary in our adult lives to help us navigate change.

In addition to shaping emotional and relational capacities, feeling connected – that we belong and are accepted – helps us regulate our emotions and feel safe as we experience uncertainty, danger, and loss in the world. When we feel safe – that we are understood and cared for – we can encounter the distress and pain in life knowing there is a place to feel comforted.

While many of us try to avoid uncertainty and danger, it’s one thing we can count on. We will encounter stresses and losses that are out of our control. These opportunities, whether facing unexpected stressors or making the choice to try something new, are the only ways we grow. We have a choice. Will we hold ourselves back, do what is familiar, and avoid pain? Or experience the pain, move through it, and learn that we can thrive on the other side? By engaging differently than the time before we create the chance to experience a new and more satisfying outcome.

We do know that it’s easier to do something difficult – take a risk and grow – when we feel safe and secure. Feeling connected in a safe relationship creates the support, comfort, and sense of belonging we need to take that risk.

This is why most people never give up. Developing a safe and secure relationship is worth every bit of effort and hardship we endure.

Here’s what you can expect to find in a healthy, connected relationship:

1. Each partner is emotionally accessible, responsive, and engaged. Each partner is available to attend to and care for each other’s needs.
2. Each partner feels they can turn to the other for comfort and emotional support in times of distress. Each partner is not met with rejection or problem solving, but with empathy and concern.
3. Each partner feels supported to take risks and grow – to develop individually in a desired direction – without the abandonment by or resistance of his/her partner.

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