There is a current crisis that the world is experiencing in the realm of relationships. Relationships have been constructed in many different ways across cultures, built on culturally specific norms and values. These norms and values inform what relationships are intended for/what their purpose is, what they are based on, and they inform the decisions people are expected to make. Culture does not only imply nationality or ethnicity; one’s culture is also determined by things such as religion, race, and class. At the same time, I believe there are parts of human nature that are universal and shared across cultures that have implications for the kind of relationships—friendships and intimate relationships—that we need.
In the United States and in the “Western” world, the divorce rate is at an exceptionally high rate. While there are many reasons for this, one reason is that we are being pushed to think in new ways about relationship. Throughout the world, the institution of marriage was created and pushed by government and religion, in order to create civic order, stability, ensure procreation of new citizens, and to follow religious/God’s instructions. In addition, people got married for economic reasons, and marriage made it easier to run a home and raise children. These were real concerns and needs throughout the ages. However, times have changed greatly and they continue to change due to many factors: growth in spiritual awareness and evolution, growth in technology, growth in world-wide communication, increasing education and higher education, and increasing opportunities for work and learning, especially for women and minorities. More and more people are questioning government and religious institutions that tell them what to do without thinking. The more opportunities we have, the more we realize that we have a choice in these matters, and we feel the need for something more. As we evolve as human beings, our norms, values, institutions, and practices need to evolve as well. We cannot live for very long with a contradiction; either our mind, practices and institutions evolve, or things will continue to be chaotic and break down until we can no longer go on.
In general, as human beings we all have the need to love and be loved. We all have the need to deeply connect to others, to share ourselves and our experiences, to have friendship and companionship, and to be understood. We have the need to feel meaning and purpose in our lives, and to share this meaning and purpose with others. Overall we all have the need to intimately share ourselves with another. As we begin to focus more on valuing the importance of meeting our inner needs, we learn that our own happiness is extremely important for ourselves and the world. Our happiness determines other people’s happiness, and we are creating the energy that is felt in the world everyday. It is very clear that the world needs more love. We are learning what it takes for us to truly be happy and fulfilled, what we need to feel a deep and lasting connection with someone, and even with a community.
What is holding us back from building lasting, successful, meaningful relationships is the way we think about relationship. We are still caught up in the old way of thinking, a way that doesn't work anymore. We are operating on old norms and concepts that are leading to destruction in our lives. We are stuck in feelings of obligation, pride, fear, and perhaps guilt. It takes a lot of honesty and critical reflection to see how our thinking is creating the obstacle, and once we change the way we think about relationships, we can begin to really build something meaningful and lasting, something that actually works.