Relationships—The Good, the Bad, and the Absolutely Wonderful
For most people, their initial response on hearing the word “relationship” is positive. Even many of those who have just emerged from prolonged abusive relationships often still believe relationships in general to be desirable, helpful and comforting. It’s a reassuring commentary on our society that in 21st-century America, where most of us have experienced some form of negative relationship at home, work, school or elsewhere, we remain unshaken in our fundamental faith that having other people share various aspects of our life is an important, enriching, worthwhile experience.
That’s why establishing and maintaining positive relationships of various kinds is essential for a life of quality.
Beneficial relationships occur in numerous forms.
• Family and kinship—where a relationship is based on genetic links, shared blood lines or legal ties. Examples would include parents, children, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, spouse and in-laws (the last two based on legal ties only). Since legal ties are based on legal contracts, they can be dissolved by law. However, while genetic links can be declared legally unbinding, good luck trying to dissolve the DNA connection.
• Intimate or romantic relationships—where the relationship has at least some basis in shared sexual attraction. The relationship may be long- or short-term, and may or may not be formalized by legal or common law marriage (today better known as “living together”). Participants in intimate relationships may determine their own unique levels of commitment and expectations of each other. They often refer to their partner as their “significant other,” “lover,” “girlfriend,” or “boyfriend,” as opposed to just “friend,” which implies a degree of familiarity, but almost always without any intimacy or overt sexuality (specifically referred to as “platonic” relationships).
• Workplace relationships—a vital but often overlooked element of most individuals’ personal support network. About half of us spend more waking hours at work than we do at home, and the relationships we establish at the workplace have major influence on our lives. Adults meet most of their new social friends at work, and the loss of one’s job can mean loss of far more than just a regular paycheck.
• Social relationships—While our spouse, if we have one, may ideally be our best friend, she or he should not be our only friend. It is important to spend some time just “with the girls” (or “the boys”). It is equally important to want to share some experiences with other couples or singles (such as camping trips, visits to theme parks, or seasonal attendance at sports events). Remember: Enjoying the company of others should not be perceived as a rejection or threatening by one’s spouse or significant other. As long as it’s kept at a comfortable frequency for all concerned, it’s normal, natural and a sign of trust in an intimate relationship.
• Relationships based on mutual interests—a form of relationship that’s becoming more widespread and diverse than ever before. Traditionally includes membership in lodges, professional groups and service organizations— the Masons, Elks, Kiwanis, Jaycees, fraternities, sororities, American Red Cross, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Society of CPAs, American Heart Association, etc. Also encompasses people with similar hobbies or interests, such as stamp collectors, fans of jazz or classical music, Civil War discussion groups, flying clubs, Irish dancing, and movie or rock star fan clubs.
A recent successor to old-fashioned pen pal letters are Internet chat rooms and social networking sites, where mutual intellectual and/or social interests influence people to connect, virtually. (I read a delightful quote recently, unfortunately can’t remember the source: “If you reveal too much online, does that mean you are virtually naked?”)
The Supreme Value of Positive Relationships
Good relationships are, without a doubt, priceless. It is possible to exist and even to be happy at times when one is not healthy. It is also possible to get by in life without financial resources or security. However, what would life be worth without any hope of having positive relationships—without a single person to talk to or to care about you? Just ask anyone who has spent any length of time alone or separated from any other human being with whom to communicate.
Is it then any wonder that even today, the ultimate punishment in most prisons remains solitary confinement? And that the ultimate reward and measure of success, for many, is not the balance in the bank account but the genuine, heartfelt connection with another like-minded soul?