As a personal growth coach and couple intimacy coach, and a facilitator of various love & intimacy workshops, I often meet people who tell me they are in a relationship, or are looking to find someone to start a relationship, or are ending a relationship, or have decided that relationships are just not for them. So what is a relationship? What is it that these people are wanting or not wanting?
The Google online dictionary has one definition of relationship as: “a state of connectedness between people (especially an emotional connection)”. In other words, we are in relationship with anyone we relate to emotionally. I think, for most of us, there are “small r” relationships and “big R” Relationships. It’s the “Big R” Relationship that I’m writing about here – that “mate-state”, the state of deep, intimate, emotional, perhaps spiritual connection between people.
One problem many of us face is the model of Relationship we carry in our habits and thoughts, as well as the model we see presented in the popular media. The “story” is that we’ll meet “the one” and feel instant attraction. It will be as if we complement each other perfectly. (“You complete me” says Jerry Maguire. Cue the music, Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross sing “Endless Love”). We’ll spend les and less time with our friends and more and more time with each other. At some point we’ll “fall” in love, have sex, become a couple.
As we spend more and more of our time with each other we spend less and less time with our friends. Pretty soon, we’re expecting one person, our lover, to meet all the friendship, companionship, and “tribal” needs that were being met by a whole network of friends and family. Not surprisingly, we may start to feel suffocated, stifled, and unhappy. We begin to find fault with each other. Eventually our love will be pretty well smothered by expectations and unvoiced resentments. We’ll find ourselves just going through the motions with each other. Ultimately, more than half of couples will separate, break up, divorce, move out.
Let’s have another look at that word: Relationship. See it as “Relation Ship”, a ship of relating. When I think of a ship, I imagine a big ocean-going vessel built to withstand high seas and heavy weather, meant to last a long, long time, with lots of cabins and staterooms and entertainment.
Sadly, instead of a Relationship, too many of us live in something that is more like a “relation-dinghy”! (A dinghy is a small, open rowboat or inflatable raft.) At the first heavy weather or big wave, you are washed overboard or sunk. Some of us live in “battleships” – shooting our big guns at each other, launching torpedoes. Too many of us wind up in “garbage scows” – dumping our garbage on each other. Whatever happened to the “Love Boat”?