Updated: Jun 7
What does the word ‘relationship’ mean to you?
If you’re like most people, you immediately define a ‘relationship’ as the intimate kind: boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, or some permutation of the same idea. In reality, however, there are many types of relationships, and all of us are involved in several at any given time.
A relationship can be intimate, and it can be casual. It can be intense, it can be superficial. You have relationships with your co-workers, your boss, your family, and your friends – the point is, they are all relationships, but not all are intimate in nature. Regardless, they are all very important in your life, and how you relate to each one of these relationship facets can have a remarkable impact on your life experience.
How do you define your relationships?
The facets of a relationship are what defines where you stand in it. We tend to define our relationships based on the key participants, for example, mother/daughter, employer/employee, best friends, close friends, acquaintances, life partners, and so on.
Another way we might define a relationship is based on the objective: dating, marriage, having children and building a family, career building, networking, et cetera … but what most people stop short of describing are the facets of these relationships, facets that may have to do with a particular situation, a point in time, or a life stage you are currently experiencing.
Relationships are multi-faceted. Each facet is an interaction, and these interactions are the details that further define the nature of our relationships. These details, once identified, can help us navigate the ebb and flow that occurs in the natural course of every relationship we have. These interactions include:
Duration: is this a long or short-term relationship? Pretty self-explanatory.
Intensity: relationships can be casual, or they can be very intense. The motivation of a relationship will often determine the intensity. The more each individual is willing to invest, the more intense it will become.
Relevance: this is the underlying significance, or the meaning within the relationship – the more one or the other party gets out of the relationship, the more significant or meaningful it will be. The relevance of the relationship can hover anywhere between inconsequential and life-changing.
Depth: you could define the depth of a relationship as the bond, or the connective tissue that brings you together. This bond could be shallow, or it could be very deep. The more open and honest you are in your interactions, the deeper and stronger that bond will become.
Your relationships can be a mix-and-match combination of any of these interactions, all of which can exist in any type of relationship.
Some illustrative examples
For instance, have you ever had a long-term, yet casual relationship? It could be a co-worker, a friend, or an intimate relationship, but just because it is casual and possibly quite shallow in depth, that does not mean it is insignificant. Over the course of these relationships, you may have learned a great deal about what you do or do not want out of life, or perhaps the person introduced you to somebody else who went on to play a more important role in your life or career.
A short but significant relationship is possible too. Think about the teachers you have had occasion to connect with over your life – and not necessarily the ones you meet in school. What I mean is, there are many people in our lives who have made an impact, simply by imparting some sage wisdom that changes the way we think about something; or perhaps they were able to stir some sort of change deep within us. Think about that ‘not-for-you’ person you dated for a short period of time: they helped you to recognize behaviors in yourself that you did not like, and you were able to change yourself for the better because of it – it was short-term, but wouldn’t you consider that a significant relationship?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that long-term relationships are the only serious or significant ones you will have, or that you can’t be bonded with somebody with whom you share only a casual connection. Sometimes, it’s the people we least expect who will be the ones we end up counting on the most.
Relationships are all around us
The next time somebody asks you “are you in a relationship,” think twice about how you answer, and maybe ask for some clarification by saying “what exactly do you mean by that?” Understanding the unique nuances of your relationships goes a long way to helping us learn and grow as individuals.
Defining Relationships Challenge
This week’s challenge for you is to review and evaluate some of your own relationships, both past and present, using these facets as your guide. You may be surprised to find that some of your relationships have not been, or are not now, what you think that they are. And let me know how you define your relationships.
Good Together: your guide to healthy, happy relationships
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