Finding the 'Right One' - the animal instincts behind our search.
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Owen Redahan. MBACP. B.Sc.(Agr)
27th February, 20120 Comments
For most people finding the right partner is an important aspect to their life. However, in some ways, finding a partner is the easiest part. Knowing that this is the person you want to spend some, most or all of your life with and keeping that relationship alive and fulfilling is the real challenge. This happens mainly because our basic animal instincts usually control the ‘first contact’ and then gradually they become less important.
Humans are unusual animals in that we pair up for so long. This long-term pairing happens because our offspring depend on us for many, many years and society expects us to look after our young as a couple. This can mean that couples go against their instinctive nature to mate, produce young, feed them and let them go once they are able to forage for themselves.
Prolonged pairing, unless worked at carefully and for the length of the relationship, can result in unhappiness, feelings of failure and frustrations. Exploring the changes that longterm relationships demand within the safe environment of counseling sessions can be useful for partners wanting their relationship to succeed but unsure about how they are feeling.
Choosing ‘the one’.
Generally we start selecting a mate by physically accessing them. This applies to the majority of relationships be they heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. Perhaps an unpopular analysis but ask anyone what attracted them to their partner and they will more than likely describe a physical attribute. Even those who meet through arranged marriages or internet dating react to physical attraction. Once we accept that this is the initial driver towards partner selection it is easier to assess and develop the relationship.
Think about it. How often have we found the guy playing football ‘cute’ or the girl at the bar with her friends ‘sexy’. Everyone tends to have a type they fancy but it is not known why this might be. There doesn’t seem to be any correlation between a desired type and the person who is desiring. Although as the relationship develops the way we were brought up, our parents’ type and other childhood and teenage factors come into play.
Once contact is made with the desired person and that person finds the pursuer interesting and attractive then the courtship begins. Physical attraction usually becomes even stronger although women tend to delay physical intimacy (full sexual intercourse) until they believe they are sure of this potential mate.
Men tend to, but not always, want sexual intercourse as soon as possible. This is another reflection of our animal side where the male wants to produce as many offspring, thus spreading his genes, as possible. Whilst women tend to want to nest and ensure that any offspring are nurtured for as long as they need it.
Even on a first meeting physical intimacy, if the right signals are being given out, develops. A woman, for example, allows her personal space to be invaded but also more intimate physical contact can be made from gentle arm caressing to holding closely to mouth on mouth kissing. How far things go usually depend on the woman as the male sex drive encourages the male to push boundaries. Therefore with two gay men it is more likely that physical intimacy will be achieved quite quickly.
This, by the way, does not apply to all men and sex drive varies enormously amongst both genders. And in today’s society, women can more frequently drive the agenda to physical intimacy.
The relationship evolves.
Over a period of months physical intimacy becomes even stronger and hormonal surges and drives are key. However, after in general 6 to 9 months, the physical side of the relationship can begin to loose its all-consuming drive and other factors become more important. Partners begin to notice that the person they adore has little faults. These get shrugged off in the continuing glow of physical attractiveness. But in the 9 month to 2 year period who the partner is, how they approach life and the relationship and what they are really like as a person comes to the surface and become important.
This is the period when relationships are most likely to break up. Unless a child has been conceived or born to the couple. If this has happened then both partners will tend to feel that they need to stay together and society, family and friend pressure also tends to inform this decision. Some individuals and couples seek out counsellors at this stage because they are not sure what is going wrong. They still have strong positive feelings towards their partner but at the same time can’t figure out why they are also doubting the relationship. Working through those feelings can help couples and individuals decide how they want to move forward - together as a partnership or separating and looking for another.
Deciding to have a long-term relationship with some-one is not something that should be ruled by just physical desire. Unromantic as it may be couples will begin to decide, consciously or sub-consciously, if they actually ‘like’ their partner and then move forward, or not, with them. As the years progress the physical side tends to decrease although intimacy such as caressing, hugging and kissing usually continue. The relationship is then built on mutual respect, trust and love. ‘Love’ is the desire to have the best for the partner, to care for them, to want them to be happy. And this develops stronger as the initial overpowering physical attraction diminishes.
Managing the change from ‘lust’ (physical attraction) to ‘love’ (attraction but also desire to support the partner) depends on good communication. Which is where liking the other person and feeling comfortable enough to be able to talk openly about feelings and desires is key to the future of the relationship. And this openness is usually what keeps the relationship going.
Although as with everything human there are variations within relationships and some partners are perhaps not as honest with each other as the other partner may think they are. Sometimes counseling can help in that individuals who have difficulty expressing themselves can find it useful to explore feelings and express them with the help of a third, not-involved person - a counsellor.
At the start of a relationship communication tends to be physically based. As it develops it becomes based on physical intimacy but also trust and security. And this is what supports the relationship into the future. And it is moving from the first state to the second that is vital to the future stability of the relationship.
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