Relationships surround us and they are vital to each of us on many levels–business, family, recreation, friendship, marriage, and acquaintances. Each relationship contributes to our lives either in a positive or negative way. Often a relationship contributes both positively and negatively to our lives. Because we are human and humans need relationships, the vast majority of us need and want relationships with other people. There are a few among us that have adapted to reduced or very limited contact with other human beings, but those are the exceptions and worthy of an independent discussion.
Relationships are here for all of us, fortunately.
Example: Historically, marriage is the relationship that produced most of us and for some it was the abuse of marriage via rape or some deviation of marriage. Marriage is a relationship that has been vital to the growth of the human race throughout all cultures, all history, and all people groups. A man and a woman choosing to make a permanent bond with the natural outcome being biological children and these two making a commitment to raise the children according to their societal norms. So, for the most part we, you and I, would not be here without the relationship of marriage.
Marriage is just one example of the presence of relationships in our lives. Another vital and unavoidable relationship is those with whom we work. If we take a job, move to a new job, enter the job market post graduation; then, relationships and how we function in those relationships often relate directly to our success. Our second family be it on a university campus, in the military, in the community in which we live, or a church or similar group; relationships are all around us. This simple presence of relationships makes life palatable and fulfilling.
Often simplicity is the snack of relationships. Yesterday as I was exiting a building, I held the two entrance doors open as an older couple entered and following them was a lady busily doing something on her cell phone but not observing me. She finally looked up and realized that I was holding both doors for her, and she quickly entered thanking me for the effort. Seconds, a passing relationship touched a life and encouraged her just a bit. [Note: I live in the South and was raised to be a Southern gentleman, yes, I hold the doors for others, always.] You might think, “you had no relationship with that woman.” Technically, you are correct but, because I chose to meet a need she had, I did have momentary contact with her life. My point is simply this; we live in community, and we have and make relationships all the time, even in passing seconds.
Relationships shape us. Do you remember the old saying, “birds of a feather flock together”? I am not sure where it began but St. Paul in the New Testament had a take on it, “bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Cor. 15:33, ESV) In both cases, the implication is that you become like those with whom you spend your time. If you like sports, you will likely spend more time with others that like or love sports the same way you do. If you don’t like reading long novels or novellas, then you most likely won’t join a reading club that focuses on such long works of literature. In a similar vein, if you spend time with persons that do not have a job or a good work ethic, then you will tend to become like those persons. If you only converse with those that hold similar views to your own religious or political views, then you will continue in that thinking pattern never knowing if your views are right, wrong, open, closed, or confused. We tend to become like those with whom we associate.
The closer we are in a relationship, the more influence or power that relationship has on us. One of the realities that counselors and therapists face today is cohabitation. Merriam-Webster defines it this way, “to live together as or as if a married couple.” “As” being the operative word in the definition, marriage has traditionally meant that the couple had made and continued to hold to a strong commitment to one another and to the relationship as a whole. There is always a legal commitment and often a religious one as well. This commitment in marriage provides stability, security, economy, protection, and permanence hence the family. Cohabitation means a couple live together to gain some of the benefits of the relationship without the commitments–sex, shared living expenses, companionship. The problem with the most impact or consequences arises when a child is born and the couple decide that marriage will not work for them and one of them leaves and one keeps the child. You see without the legal and or religious commitment, the relationship is viewed not unlike trading vehicles, “trading it in for a new one.” Social and psychological studies have shown this to be quite damaging or at least less than optimum for the child’s growth and success.
Relationships can be and should be for the most part affirming. God has provided the people in our lives to enrich our lives in both the micro and macro levels of life. “Normal” relationships, good ones, give us positive feedback and encouragement on numerous levels. Everyday interactions often provide acceptance. A man at the Kroger I visit usually early in the day always greets me. He recognizes me even if he doesn’t call me by name. That greeting is an encouragement and reminds me that I am accepted by this man. As I was buying gas yesterday, a woman was on the opposite side of the gas pump from me dressed in a skirt and blouse. I complimented her on her attire and told her I truly like to see ladies in skirts and dresses. She was grateful I noticed; I wished her a good day and we parted. These micro interactions fill our day and the days of others with positive experiences that communicate recognition and acceptance of our person.
On a macro level, say during a work day, we greet, seek out, stop to chat, and at times have lengthy interactions with co-workers and acquaintances. Some of those co-workers are now our friends and the mix of all these various relationships either build us up or have a tendency to drag us down emotionally and mentally. Relationships are powerful.
The potential in relationships rests more on us, on our attitudes, on our current outlook, and less on other persons. Let me explain further. As I have stated, relationships are everywhere, they are important components of our lives, and they encourage and bless us or they can drain the life and energy out of us when they are very negative in nature. Why would I put the onus on you and I as we live in relationship with persons throughout our lives?
In our relationships there are two contributors, the other(s) and you and I. We can influence, control, pilot, or manage only that which we bring to a relationship. Therefore, what we bring to a given relationship has tremendous affect on that relationship and positive or negative growth of the relationship. Let’s consider an example.
You work in an office or company with perhaps 200 employees. The HR department has a conflict resolution policy and process to avoid firing an individual because of conflicts with others in the office. Sometimes the process works very well and sometimes it does not. There are always a few individuals that just are not or cannot seem to be happy or at least tolerable even one day. You encounter this person a few times a week and during those encounters you say little or nothing to them or very little so you don’t upset their apple cart. We have all been around those persons in our work environment. What I have learned to do is be cordial, polite, and even a bit open with them in spite of their expected response. Now, they may be in a mood and either sulk or respond with something negative. I practice the following: 1) I refuse to respond in kind; 2) I try to offer something they need like a pleasant greeting or a wish for a good day; 3) I never take their negative attitude with me, even to mull over their attitude for more that a minute. You see, I am in charge by doing these things, or they are affecting my day and attitude. I choose to manage my contribution to the work relationship.