The 3 Vital Functions Of A Relationship

If you think it’s easier and less stressful to stay single, think again! Here, one expert explains how relationships play a vital role in each individual’s development and personal growth.

By Dr. Gilda Carle, Ph.D.

ogetherness feels great, and it’s comforting to know someone has your back. Research has shown that without a love connection, divorced men over 50 suffer greater health problems and single men aged 30 to 59 die two and a half times sooner than their married counterparts. Single, divorced, and widowed women also suffer higher mortality rates. So, committed love preserves your health — yet, a relationship’s true impact is even more profound than that.

One commitment-phobe’s story
Craig had been commitment-averse throughout his 60 years, but because he had been married (and divorced) twice in his life, one would not have suspected it. Professionally, he was a ferocious
Single, divorced, and widowed women also suffer higher mortality rates.
trial attorney, but personally, he was a broken boy abandoned long ago by parents who overindulged his disabled sister while he was left to raise himself. He ran far away from his family home as soon as possible. Over the years, Craig similarly ran away from every love he encountered before he could suffer the same feelings of abandonment that originated with his parents. Although he dated stunning women in order to trumpet his alleged greatness, his internal void matched their emptiness. Moreover, he attracted women who were already involved with other men to unconsciously replicate the painful love triangle template (comprised of himself, his parents and his sister) set in his youth that had ended in rejection. So, Craig’s dating history was littered with a string of vacant beauties whose affections belonged to other men. As each superficial romance crashed, the wound of feeling unloved became re-infected in Craig’s heart, supporting the lesson he deduced from his childhood experiences: namely, that he did not deserve to be loved.

To numb his emotional pain, Craig took on less taxing cases at work and glued himself to mindless TV programs, but he avoided seeking professional help. But then, to paraphrase Anaïs Nin, “the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Online, halfway across the country, Craig found his soul mate. Unlike his previous girlfriends, she was a one-man woman (O.M.W.). She was also a spiritual devotee who believed in the human potential to heal and forgive. Craig’s training in procedural law lacked such a compassionate outlook, so he and O.M.W. became mutually intrigued. Like a Pit bull, Craig pursued this woman hard and seduced her with these sultry words: “I have all my priorities straight in life now and have never been more ready as a man, a friend, a lover, and a soul mate for that special woman.”

The set-up for sabotage
During their two months of courting, the couple’s emails were filled with effusive “I love you” statements. O.M.W.’s past experience with dating non-spiritual men made Craig’s openness and vulnerability refreshing for her. He became her heartthrob — and she succumbed. But the man could not hide his demons. Without the upheaval of a relationship triangle affecting this new and different relationship, Craig felt off-guard and his inability to manage his anger issues was now in full view. He felt tested by taking the risk to blossom out of the bud and eventually reverted back to his old, negative behavioral patterns, callously telling O.M.W. he still had feelings for his former (and married) fantasy woman.

Craig’s remark was confusing, cruel, and cutting. Because he had never felt anything so deep for a woman before, he did not know how to embrace what they shared. Ordinarily, O.M.W. would have given up on this yo-yo game, but this time she was immobilized by oxytocin — the bonding hormone flooding her body from the scorching-hot attachment she felt with Craig. Also, she intuited that his trust in her would eventually smooth over his own dented armor.

Craig’s first email set the stage for their romance: “I want you to share your entire essence with me without fear of judgment or drama. If a man cannot handle the truth when he is confronted with it, how can any
It was a huge growth experience for her.
woman be honest with him, whether it is about scratching the car or some guy coming on to her?” So O.M.W. naturally felt safe to share her fear about a minor medical issue with him. Instead of acting like the caring man he’d professed to be, Craig harshly called her a “hysterical drama queen,” projecting his inner turmoil onto her. Then, he ended their liaison in an email, saying that he’d thought he was ready for love but guessed that he’d been wrong. See ya! After everything they had already shared together, Craig extinguished the spark with his soul mate in a frigid e-note. Not surprisingly, O.M.W. felt set up and duped.

What makes a relationship worth fighting for?
The moral of Craig’s story is that all couples have issues. But when it comes to relationships, these issues serve three vital functions, which I’ve outlined below:

Vital Function #1: People need a safe haven in which to navigate their differences
One night, Craig asked to discuss something but O.M.W. refused. The next day, she attempted to dismiss something else in a similar vein, but this time, Craig held onto her — and his touch magically melted her resistance. Before this breakthrough moment, O.M.W. never knew she was so shut down emotionally from others. Craig had uncovered and healed something in her that no man had been able to in her previous relationships.

After another outburst, Craig chose to sleep on the couch. O.M.W. coaxed him into the bedroom with her, and as he followed, he admitted that he’d hoped she’d beckon him back to bed. Like the lyrics from The Harters’ country music song, “If I Run,” this was a turning point for Craig. Photos of the couple together revealed softer lines in his weary face, supporting the health benefits of the love he now felt. O.M.W.’s reaching out after they’d had a conflict was also a turning point for her: in past relationships, she would have left the fit-thrower on the couch all night — which would have escalated into an argument the next day. With Craig, she embraced love as she never had before.

Vital Function #2: People need relationships to quash their childhood traumas
O.M.W. recognized her own angry parents’ behavioral patterns in Craig’s tantrums, so he was the perfect partner to help her right the wrongs from her own upbringing. Craig needed the honest reliance and devotion O.M.W. provided because he’d missed out on having a trusting childhood. When two people are able to share their feelings and dash their fears together, they bond deeply with each other. Now both parties would miss the chance to heal a whole spectrum of childhood issues, and Craig would let slip his opportunity for healthy, long-term love.

Vital Function #3: People need to interact with each other in order to grow as individuals
Those who undergo personal therapy learn to understand themselves, but only a safe relationship can teach them how to relate to others in a healthy way. Neither Craig nor O.M.W. could know each other’s soft spots until they became romantically involved. For the first time ever, O.M.W. courageously and vulnerably apologized to a man for shutting him down. It was a huge growth experience for her.

Disappearing in order to escape discussing an issue is a gutless act in relationships. Those who fear commitment think they’ll avoid unnecessary stress by flying solo. But Deepak Chopra, M.D. says, “Love is the essence of healing. People who have no [love] relationships are 3 to 5 times more likely to die from cardiovascular illness or cancer.” So, while life alone may appear to be easier, an individual’s health and growth are both actually put at risk by this behavior. After their split, Craig landed in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. Is the fictitious peace of self-imposed solitude worth such dangers? That depends on how passionately you want to live and grow… and I know what my choice is!

Relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle, Ph.D., gives Instant Advice throughout the world via Skype, email and phone. She is the 30-Second Therapist for Her best-selling books include Don’t Bet on the Prince!, 99 Prescriptions for Fidelity and How to Win When Your Mate Cheats. Please visit her website at (
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