What is the purpose of relationships?

Romantic couple drinking a toast to their many years together
Romantic couple drinking a toast to their many years together

Relationships are about learning, growth and connection, beginning with our first relationships with our parents. We did huge amounts of learning during those growing up years. Besides the physical stuff we learned language so we could communicate our needs and then begin to understand the needs of others. We learned the rudiments of love and connection.All of this was essential to our being able to connect successfully with others as adults. We are hardwired to seek connection with others and hardwired to seek intimacy…

The first problem is, we are ready for sexual intimacy long before our brains are mature enough to handle true intimacy and connection. The second problem is in part cultural. Twenty-somethings who enter into a long-term commitment often assume that since they are adults, they won’t change. They don’t understand that personal change and growth will continue throughout life. And many a relationship has ended because at least one has changed.

However, this seemingly universal problem has a silver lining. When both grasp the fact that personal change comes with the territory of a long-term relationship, they can learn to go with the flow. They can support one another in their growth and transformation.

It took me a long time and two marriages to understand this. When I first introduced my wife to be, Eileen, to my brothers in the late 70s, one of them said to Eileen, “You are hooking up with a very interesting man. He is the only one I know who has had three completely different personalities in his lifetime.” I was shocked; I didn’t know the internal changes showed that much.

Both Eileen and I have gone through many more changes, some by choice and some not, but often life altering. Neither one of us have ever taken on the role of director with regard to our partner’s shifts. I offer encouragement and try to enjoy the show, although sometimes it’s a bit scary. Eileen does the same, even though some of my manifestations terrify her. Our relationship continues to be fulfilling.

So what is the purpose of a relationship? Beyond the biological purposes, an intimate relationship is probably the richest environment there is for self-discovery and reaching our potentials as human beings. It’s the richest environment for learning how to love others. It’s the richest environment for learning how to be true to ourselves.

Finally, being aware of and connecting with something bigger than ourselves has been part of human endeavor in all recorded history. The long-term intimate relationship is the ideal environment for learning to connect with all people, with God, and with all that is.

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Dr. Neill Neill retired his psychology practice at the end of 2013. He maintains an active coaching practice via telephone or Skype with select clients dealing with alcoholic husbands or ex-husbands. Check out his book, Living with a Functioning Alcoholic: A Woman's Survival Guide. http://drneillneill.com

1 thought on “What is the purpose of relationships?

  1. This is such a great article and I only wish I had read it before I got married in my early 20’s, but then my emotional state would probably have been the same then. My relationships have been quite a journey and it took me three to find the one who is my absolute soul mate and rock. I often used to envy my sister who met her soul mate in school and 30 years later they are still the most amazing friends, so I suppose it depends on the individual. And yes to us as a couple our relationship with God is as important as ours.

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