I am not sure about other languages but we are definitely short of a word which describes the actions, behaviours and competencies involved in achieving a healthy relationship (noun). ‘Relationshipping’- my word- is a verb used to describe the ‘doing’ part of relationship.  All the actions, words and behaviours that generate a climate for love to grow and for connectedness to thrive are skills or competencies of quality relationshipping.

There is a word- relating– but it does not necessarily denote whether a relationship is functional or dysfunctional, whether the ways of interacting are healthy or unhealthy. The verb ‘relating’ is so vague it is avoided by careful writers and speakers* Even the dictionary highlights its inefficiency as a word. I wonder if that lack of word or description thereof-  which covers a multitude of skill and competencies involved in maintaining a healthy relationship- is the part of the reason so many of us struggle to have quality relationships. If there is not even a word for it, one can assume that as long as you are ‘in relationship’ with someone, there is nothing to do after that.

It’s like there is an assumption, the job has been done. The work is finished. You related, or were relating in some way and through those interactions you acquired a relationship. Job done. Task complete. Now that there is a relationship- there is nothing left for one to do but sit back and relax, enjoy. Wrong.  Connection and deep bonds between people do not just survive, for years, after you have fallen in love and decide to be ‘in relationship’ with each other. Relationships need to be nurtured, protected, honoured.  

The moment we have managed to secure the privilege of relationship (especially those that we choose) the real work begins. The individuals living in them need to start implementing regularly a whole lot of ‘A’ actions-appreciation, affection, attention, acceptance. It is like health. The maintenance of health is an ongoing discipline and commitment to doing stuff we don’t always feel like doing but choose to do it because we know it is good for us. In the long term, the effort is rewarded with the freedom of a strong and fit body. We understand that ‘health’ is not a once off status like ‘in relationship’; it is an ongoing and perpetual process of being mindful of the choices we make and the lifestyles we live. And if you take a look around it is evident there are many people for whom health is clearly not a priority.

In the same vain, we are surrounded by people who are together, in relationship with one another but there is zero connection between the two of them. There is no ‘relationshipping’ going on. There is the noun, yes, a relationship exists, but it is empty. It is a carcass. There is no kindness, no comfort, no consideration, no friendship, no support, no respect, no co-operation, no teamwork, no passion, no partnering. Instead there are two individuals who take each other for granted. Based on the convenience of shared domestic duties, expenses and responsibilities, they depend on the other for physical, emotional and functional needs to be met because that is a wife’s/husbands duty and obligation. It is through a filter of entitlement that the relationshippers (those in relationship –dating/engaged/married/in a civil union/in a domestic partnership) proceed year after year in what could easily be described as a love-less union. From the outside and to observers of the momentarily happy Facebook posts, all looks strong and fit. At a closer glance and to those privy to what goes on behind closed doors, it is strained, stressed and sick. There is not much love there. They don’t even like each other very much. They absolutely take each other for granted.

Kind of like the way some people treat family members.

We can be ‘in relationship’ with our sister/brother/mother/father because we are born into or adopted by that family. Those relationships don’t require us to ‘do’ anything for them to survive, they will remain family members from birth to death whether we invest time, thought, effort or energy into them or not. Perhaps it is because of those family ties which we take for granted, we tend to assume that the relationships we choose require just as little effort.  We believe they will just exist without too much thought or intention, the way our sibling relationships exist even if we make zero effort.

Couldn’t be more wrong.

Relationships might just ‘happen’. We meet people and fall in love in the most bizarre and mysterious circumstances. But transforming them from a relationship into a partnership and working together as a team is a whole other ballgame. It is the relationshipping ballgame. We are not born with relationship skills. We have to intentionally learn and practice them the same way we choose to invest effort, money and time into learning every other skill we want to be successful.

Remember the bestseller ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen. R Covey?

‘Since 1989 it  has sold more than 15 million copies in 38 languages worldwide, and the audio version has sold 1.5 million copies, and remains one of the best selling nonfiction business books. In August 2011 Time listed 7 Habits as one of “The 25 Most Influential Business Management Books” (Wikipedia)’

Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”.

Covey expands on this by identifying three different paradigms that exist within relationship.

  1. Dependence: the paradigm of “you” – you take care of me
  2. Independence: the paradigm of “I”- I am self reliant
  3. Interdependence: the paradigm of “we” – We can do it, we can combine our talents and abilities to create something greater together.

Despite independence being the avowed goal of many people and social movements, interdependence is a far more effective and advanced concept**

Interdependent relationships are partnerships. Those are the ones that require relationshipping.

He identifies ‘interdependence’ at the top of The Maturity Continuum® and evolves from ‘dependence’ to ‘independence’ (self mastery) and then progresses into ‘interdependence’ (think co-operation, teamwork, positive & effective communication).

I echo his ideas. Self mastery/independence is the foundation or platform upon which partnerships can be created (deliberately with intention and effort) which is why personal development is so important in achieving healthy, quality relationships (also why I offer a process call ‘Dating Deliberately’ to help singles become someone for whom a healthy relationship possible- finding a partner to be ‘in relationship with’ is half the equation, having the skills to make the relationship thrive is the other half).

First we need to become a mature, responsible, self-sufficient and self-reliant adult before we can attain a healthy functional relationship. I spoke about this in my blog ‘Individual therapy is sometimes the best couple therapy’.

So, what are some relationshipping competencies you might wonder?

  • Taking responsibility for the choices you make and the consequences of those choices
  • Being accountable for your word- meaning what you say and saying what you mean
  • Being trustworthy -which makes you a dependable, honest and reliable person
  • Having an awareness about who you are, who brings out the worst and best in you, who would be a good match for you
  • Knowing what is important to you, what you stand for, what you are willing to suffer for
  • Managing your emotions instead of your emotions managing you
  • Being entirely comfortable with your own company and in your own skin
  • Communicating in positive and effective ways your thoughts, needs and desires
  • Knowing how to fight fair without naming, blaming and shaming or aggression
  • Being proactive and driving the direction of your life
  • Self respect- maintaining strong personal boundaries, learning to say no, speaking your mind
  • Self care- compassion, kindness and acceptance of who you are, with all your limitations, faults and mistakes
  • Ability to be vulnerable with another person, to let your guard down and expose the real you
  • Financially stable or at the very least on your way to financial independence
  • Self sufficient in the areas on basic functioning- cleaning, feeding, watering and picking up for yourself (unless you want to date your mother)

Relationshipping competencies stand us in good stead when it is time to co-operate in a real partnership. Teamwork demands that we can trust one another. It requires quality communication. It expects fairness and forgiveness when mistakes are made. Partnership relies on co-operation, placing both partner’s needs as equally valid. If we do not have the skills, how can we ever hope to create a partnership? Similarly, if we don’t maintain a lifestyle of healthy living, how can we expect health?

Not everyone is cut out for a great relationship/partnership/interdependence. Not everyone desires it enough to move out their comfort zones. Its hard work, there is no time to be lazy. Some jobs, some lifestyles and even some personalities are not conducive to healthy relationships. It’s not a judgment, it is what it is. The problem arises when we assume everyone wants to be in a loving partnership. People prioritize other things above their partner and relationship all the time, they just don’t do it consciously.

If you are ‘in relationship’ with someone who does not hold you and the relationship in high regard, does not make consistent efforts to nourish or contribute in positive ways to you and each other, it is not a partnership. Existing ‘in relationship’ that is devoid of any pleasure and nurturing is like existing in our bodies devoid of health. And, that is okay if that is enough for you. Not everyone is willing to do what it takes to live in a strong and healthy body. Both require massive effort.

It boils down to choice. If you prefer to have a meaningful lifelong connection and want, with all your heart to love and be loved dearly, first you need to become an awesome partner yourself. If we want to have a healthy and fulfilling connection we need to become someone for whom a healthy relationship is possible. We need to be a quality partner. The better you and your mate get at relationshipping, the more joy and fulfillment you will receive from each other.

 If it feels like this is an area of development for you or if you think this makes sense and believe you could do with some assistance on this, inbox me. I would love to help coach you to be that person.

*Collins Shorter English Dictionary. Pg 977.

** The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Personal Workbook. Stephen R. Covey. Pg  21.

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