This is the start of a new season. The focus for this season is relationships and I will be doing a number of mini-series on different types of relationships. But this first episode, it’s all about relationships in general.
What is a Relationship
We are designed for relationships. There are mirror neurons in our brains that only light up when we are in community. We don’t know everything that they do, but they seem to help us with identity and empathy, among other things.
So what is a relationship?
The Mental Health Foundation defines relationships as:
“the way in which two or more people are connected, or the state of being connected’. Relationships include the intimate relationships we have with our respective partners, those we form with our parents, siblings and grandparents, and those we form socially with our friends, work colleagues, teachers, healthcare professionals and community.”
So we can form a wide variety of different types of relationships under different conditions and with different people.
Three Types of Relationships
We can have three different types of relationships: distant relationships, medium relationships, or close relationships.
Distant relationships are the ones that we have with people that we may come across infrequently and our relationship with them is built around a particular purpose. So, for example, that could be your doctor, or your language teacher, or the person who works at a cafe that you go to every day if you haven’t gone to the next level of building a medium relationship, and that’s mainly based on social environment, and it tends to involve the expression of positive emotions. There can sometimes be negative emotions, for example, at work or with casual friends, but the wide range of emotions is more prevalent in close relationships. And these are our loving relationships.
This is where we aim to understand and to be understood, to support and to be supported.
The Five Stages of Relationships
The psychologist Levinger I’m not sure how you say his name) developed the five stages of interpersonal relationships. And when he developed this, it came up about romantic relationships. However, other psychologists have explained that those five stages apply to all of the different types of relationships we might have. Those stages are acquaintance, buildup, continuation, deterioration, and ending.
So for the first one, acquaintance. This is where we might meet somebody and feel some sort of attraction to them. Or we could end up meeting somebody because of circumstances. This often happens at work or in the places we frequent. The second stage is buildup, and that is when we start to identify similarities with another person or people. And we start to build trust with them and be comfortable with them.
Continuation is when a commitment starts to develop. This is where we’re beginning to deepen our trust. And this is actually a great point for professional relationships as well as more intimate relationships. This is why we began to have social currency as well.
When a relationship is not that healthy, it then moves into the next two stages. The fourth stage is where we start to see deterioration. This could be because of a serious disagreement or because of a betrayal. It means that unless something significant is done, the relationship we’ll move onto the fifth stage, which is ending. That could either be by choice where each person decides that they no longer want to maintain the relationship, or it could be by circumstances. So for example, if we lose someone that is also an ending, even though that’s not something of our own choosing.
Whatever type of relationship we’re a part of, we want it to be a healthy relationship.
Healthy Relationships Build a Healthy Life
Healthy relationships are among the most important needs of humans. They are helpful for our mental health, our physical health, and our feelings of wellbeing.
We especially count on our medium and close relationships to be a source of strength when we’re struggling, and to help us build resilience. When there are no struggles and no adversity, our relationships are still important because they’re supportive and they help provide meaning for our lives. This satisfies us cognitively, emotionally, and tangibly.
In a healthy relationship, we feel understood, validated, and cared for. When our relationships [06:00] are struggling or when they’re in stage four or stage five, we begin to feel weak, needy, inadequate, indebted, guilty, controlling, over-involved. Our body expects inter-dependence, to have shared goals, and to have joint attention. When that doesn’t happen, our body’s response is to increase cognition and physiological effort. The brain goes into self-preservation mode, which then can increase loneliness and other negative effects, such as hypervigilance where we are always looking for threats and we don’t really trust ourselves or others in different situations, and defensiveness. We find it harder to assume goodwill or to see the best in all the people, depressive symptoms can crop up, we began to have more morning cortisol so we wake up stressed after a full night’s sleep. Actually, it may be difficult to get a full night’s sleep because when our brain goes into self-preservation mode, it is difficult to fall asleep, to stay asleep and the quality of sleep is decreased.
The late Dr. Cacioppo used an analogy that made a great impression on me. He described the genes as a piano and the social environment as a pianist.
So we can begin to see that much of what actually happens in our life, in our experience, is formed through our choices and through our relationships. Our social environment, the one that we create, the one that we curate is a big part of the life that we live.
The Self is a Process Developed through Relationships
Doctors Jim Cohen and Lane Beckes explore the idea of the self. I found it compelling that there is actually no self. We can touch our hands and our nose, but we can’t actually touch our self. So what is this self?
The self actually is more of a verb. It’s a process that we go through, and it only exists and is defined through our relationships. We want to be in healthy relationships, positive relationships because they help us develop healthy selves. When we have social networks and connections, we also have better physical health, and this protects us from cognitive decline. We’ll be digging into some of the important elements of relationships this season. To prepare for the season, here are some topics for you to think about.
Important Ideas in Relationships
When you think about the relationships in your life, how do each of the following concepts show up? Mutual respect. Reciprocity. Communication. The ability to deal with conflicts. Active listening. Establishing boundaries. Trust.
These are some of the big ideas in relationships. And I’m very curious about what matters to you in your relationships? Is trust the most important thing? Is commitment? What about excitement and play and fun and joy?
Consider what’s important to you in a relationship, what’s important to you to receive, and what is important to you to give.
Today, my invitation to you is to think about what is the most important relationship to you. There’s a video I’m going to add to the show notes from Stephen Covey and it’s a video about filling up your bucket. What do you put first? The tiny things? The things that are not so significant. Or do you put the big things? Do you even know what the big things are to you?
For the whole of last season, we discussed self-acceptance and a big part of relationships is the relationship you have with yourself. I won’t go into that so much since we spent so much time on it last season but I do want you to think about what are the activities that you do that foster a positive relationship with yourself.
Spend a few minutes and do some journaling, or do some thinking, or talk it out with a loved one.
As I go through this season, I will be bringing you lots of other episodes with experts and individuals. If you would like to be on the podcast to discuss relationships, let me know by filling out the contact form at changesbigandsmall.com or by sending me an email.
Enjoyed this episode? Please click this link to rate the podcast.
Compilations From the Previous Seasons
- Meaningful relationships can help you thrive – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140829084247.htm
- Stage theory – https://changingminds.org/explanations/theories/stage_theory.htm
- What is the self and who is the other – https://www.dropbox.com/s/2490kfymyvkvycy/The%20Self%20and%20The%20Other.pdf
- Building relationships – https://www.berkeleywellbeing.com/building-connections.html
- Interpersonal Relationships – https://www.healthline.com/health/interpersonal-relationships