The Behavior That Ruins Relationships Before They Even Start

Last night, I had dinner with a friend, and the subject of love came up, as it always does when we’re together. I got vulnerable with her and shared my anxiety about falling for a new guy.

“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.”

It’s always the beginning that’s scariest for me — that's when my comfort zone is turned on its head. When I start to really care, I become vulnerable, and I have to make a very conscious effort not to revert to my “cool girl” persona, which I do as a defense mechanism.

It requires me to work with intention on actually keeping all of the advice I give to my coaching clients. I know better, but it still doesn't come naturally. The patterns that feel natural are the ones we have to try hardest to break.

My friend, a wise woman, shared this quote: “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.”

My heart literally thudded an agreement to that, raising its little heart-fists in an amen! A ship isn't fulfilling its purpose safely docked. In the same way, our hearts are not meant to remain tethered to safety.

To be alone is to avoid the emotional risk of vulnerability. To venture out onto the open sea is to seek fulfillment but also risk disappointment and turmoil. Our hearts are enjoying their full potential only when we are in relationship with others.

We often numb ourselves with distractions so that we don't realize how unfulfilled we are. But those are unsatisfying imitations of living. Deep down, we still crave true connection. And finding it requires vulnerability.

Are you keeping your heart safe by not dating, or protecting yourself by staying in surface-level relationships?

I’ve got news for you: Your heart wants something real. It’s your mind that’s calling the shots right now, and its top priority is to keep you "safe" — even if safety is not what you need to be happy in the long-term.

So, how do you start taking steps toward authentic connections without running full-speed away from your comfort zone? It's a process of shifting your mindset, and this is how to start:

1. Understand why being single feels safe, and why it's necessary to let go of that sometimes.

I don’t mean to imply that being single is bad — I’ve spent more of my adult life single than in relationships — but I do think it feels like a safer place to be, emotionally.

When we’re single, we don’t have to take as many emotional risks as we do when in a relationship. While on the one hand this protects us, on the other it limits how deeply we can know and express ourselves.

Personally, I always feel my most pulled together when I’m not in a relationship. Those are the times when I think I’ve fully figured myself out. But once I’m in a relationship, I realize just how much more of myself there is to explore. My partners help to bring these parts of me to the surface so that they can be seen and expressed.

2. Take it slowly.

Smile at the cute guy in the car next to you at the stoplight. Create an online dating account and participate in one of their free contacting weekends. Or if you’re dating someone, take a risk and say something extra-vulnerable.

Feel the flutter of excitement and nervousness that arises when you do. This is the gift of being alive, and your heart will thank you for it.

Over time, it will become easier to take emotional risks, and you'll make deeper connections than you may have realized were possible for you.

3. Get comfortable with a bit of emotional wear-and-tear.

It’s true that a ship that stays in port will be shinier than one that's ventured out on long voyages. The venturer has likely been pummeled by waves and maybe nearly capsized. But through that journey, the ship has shown it can handle the ravages of the storms.

The captain knows this vessel is seaworthy and can survive just about anything. As you let your flaws be seen, and you learn that you, yourself, are strong and worthy, you will see that your resilience and openness are some of the best reasons someone has to love you. And they will build your faith in yourself.

Relationships are a profound way to plunge into the depths of life's richest experiences, and true connections are the only way to experience joy, sadness, excitement, and more emotions than I can name — to the fullest.

Let yourself out of the harbor. You deserve a grand adventure.

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