Advice From a Close Relative

by Monica A. Ross, LPC

I got some recent relationship advice from a relative, an aunt actually. We were speaking on the phone, but I could envision her turning towards me in real life, staring me down in a “Hey look, I’ve known you your whole life. At some point, accept some of the feedback I’m giving here” kind of way. 

Getting feedback from someone isn’t always a pleasant thing.

It’s not to say that it can’t be a pleasant thing. And I think there are times certainly when we’re more open to feedback than at other times. This time though I was intently listening...hanging on every word and desperately hoping that the advice given would resonate with me and save me from impending disaster. 

This is a person in my life who for the better part of my life I avoided taking advice from because I was determined to live out my life very differently than she. So for me to stop and pay attention suggests that the time had truly come to seek out alternative options. 

My aunt has maintained a romantic relationship with the love of her life for virtually her whole life. The relationship started in her 20s and she is now with this same person over 40 years later. So I ponied up and with ears intent asked, what is it you have to teach me about relationships?

Granted, I have a degree in psychology and I could pull a book by John Gottman or Stan Tatkin down from the shelf. But here was a unique opportunity from someone who in some ways shirked all of that or perhaps came to some of the same wisdom via an alternative route.

Her advice? I’ll summarize it here and add some thoughts of my own.

#1 Do not, and I repeat, do not ask “What’s next for us?” from anyone you want to continue to see but have known for less than 6 months. It’s a tendency that can be hard to fight against because you meet someone new and you think right away this person is incredible! You immediately want to know, where is this going or where could this go? 

The impulse to ask stems likely from being hurt over and over again—and the desire to prevent that happening yet again. To do that though can put pressure on the new connection, let’s not even call it a relationship at this point, while it’s in its infancy stage of exploration and play. 

It’s like introducing this dark cloud of doubt right from the very beginning—calling into question the legitimacy of what might not have a “next” but is at the same time just as valid, just as important perhaps as those relationships that do.

#2 Do not take anything anybody says literally. Every word that comes out of a person’s mouth should be taken with a measure of skepticism, she explains. At first glance this seems a bit cynical—like the point being made is that people on the whole aren’t honest. But that’s not the point being made.

People may very well be honest when they tell you how they feel and what they think. But people don’t always often know themselves very well, do they? So their being honest is really an attempt at being honest, at best. It’s a way of characterizing how they feel, which at any moment can also change as the person gathers new information.

#3 Resist the urge to fill up space for other people with the fear that if you don’t fill it up they will find someone else who will. This really stems from a fear of losing them. But space is a good thing. 

It’s one of those paradoxes of life in that you would think it would be the opposite—spend as much time as possible with this person and they won’t have time to think about anything else. But often in those moments when they are doing other things and they’re mind is focused elsewhere, their thoughts drift back to you. We all, I think, can attest to experiencing that.

It’s the “not everyone in our lives can fill every role for us, nor should they,” philosophy.

#4 The only thing that leads to the next level in a relationship is TIME. Don’t be afraid of that either. The closer we get towards the later parts of our years, the more the tendency to want to conserve and preserve time. 

There is the fear that time is running out. But truly we never know how much time we have. We assume in our younger years that we have plenty of time ahead of us, but then I think of those I knew from my youth who passed away at a young age. So, no. We don’t know any of us, how much time exactly we have on this earth.

#5 There are times when you don’t need to do anything. This is an important one. I’ve mentioned this one myself elsewhere. Sometimes simply doing nothing can be very effective. For one, it gives everyone a break and the time and space to think. Again—time. Space.

#6 Keep the connection fun and keep as much as possible from emotional reasoning. That’s another one covered in an earlier post and it is a hard one to learn for those of us tagged as highly sensitive or intense.

When I’ve had couples in my office, I’ve witnessed emotional shifts in energy taking place between two people firsthand. It’s an interesting thing to observe happening via body language, tone of voice, word choice. 

One person appears to be pushing and the other is pulling or vice versa. When that happens it’s as though the couple has entered into Plan B Mode. We want to avoid stepping into Plan B Mode. Plan B is when fun ceases because anxiety and worry and doubt are introduced. 

Things start to feel all around uncomfortable for both parties. There is a disconnect. And you know it and can feel it as a couple when you’re in that mode.

#7 Intimacy does not always mean commitment. You can achieve intimacy with someone with whom you are not in a committed relationship. Let’s go back to the definition of “intimacy” or “intimate.” 

Privacy, closeness, familiar experience, personal connection, warm friendship.

Some people think that commitment is a means to achieving intimacy because it fosters feelings of security and safety. But I suppose the opposite could be true—intimacy fosters commitment. At any rate, you can have one without the other. The two are not permanently linked.

So take it for what it’s worth. I’m just passing along wisdom that was passed along to me. This isn’t an academic discussion by any means. This is just a testament to a close relative’s personal experience on the topic of connection.