I write a fortnightly column for the Great Eastern Mail. Missed an edition? Here I share past letters for you.

Dear Emma, I feel that everyone around me is getting married and I am perpetually single. I’m always the bridesmaid, never the bride. How can I find someone that I genuinely connect with and want to be intimate with?

Firstly, thank you for writing in. This is a beautiful question and something many of us have felt at one time or another, so please know you are not alone in feeling this way. My words to you are going to sound clichéd but they are cliché for a reason – they’re true. Healing the relationship with yourself is of first importance. Often when that has taken place, there a can be beautiful aligning in life for a readiness for an intimate relationship. Often this healing can be around self-esteem so we can choose someone who also wants a relationship with us and is ‘securely attached’.

Secure attachment is important if you often choose people who are emotionally unavailable. Sometimes this comes from a maladaptive idea of safety because we have a fear of rejection. It’s safer to be passed over than open and vulnerable in a relationship. This idea of safety also incorporates work on the nervous system, which is why the work of healing yourself is important. Bowlby’s Attachment Theory begins with reflection on childhood experiences and what we carry forward into adulthood. Secure attachment is the one we all are aiming for, but it takes self-awareness and plenty of practice.

Self-esteem is a common characteristic among many relationship difficulties and the different attachment styles, of which there are four. That said, attachment theory is not a label or definition of who we are, but something we can all move between at different times in our lives. If you think this is something that feels relevant to discussing in more depth, please consider speaking with a counsellor who can help you unpack this in more detail.

Another component to healthy relationships and intimacy is to consider your boundaries. Setting boundaries can help you become closer to your partner in a relationship as they assist in maintaining communication and manage expectations between you and your partner. They also help minimize conflict, because they establish a precedent for what you both expect from each other. Be open about your needs and prepare to listen to their needs as well.

Which brings me to the third topic that I want to briefly touch on for relationships. That is listening. When we feel truly known, by being heard and seen, we feel much more comfortable being truly intimate. Listening is important aspect to that. Listening is more than hearing. It involves setting aside distractions and being present for the conversation. This communicates attentiveness, care and respect to your partner. Try not to listen to respond but listen to understand. As Jane Austin put it in her famous novel ‘Emma’; “Emma felt that she could show no greater kindness than in listening.” I’d have to say that I’d agree with that and not just because our names are the same!

Remember, a healthy relationship begins with ourselves and moves outwards from there. Healthy relationships are truly a dance of connection and autonomy.

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