Mastering the Art of Relationship
BY ANITA MARTIN
People are social beings, designed to thrive in interaction with others. While the basis of relating is a simple concept, loving in all its forms is a courageous endeavor that may create a state of bliss, a state of desperation, or a state anywhere in-between. Pitfalls are unknown and abundant. Relationships enrich the participant’s life and contribute to personal belonging and place in the world. They provide structure to life’s uncertainties and offer physical and emotional safety when the interaction is healthy. Each individual experiences life in the context of their perspective, values, culture, spiritual understanding, and history. Relationships, whether romantic, friendly, professional, or familial contain unique characteristics and personalities that mirror the nature of its participants. I’ve heard relationships described as a dance. And, it is a dance in every way. Imagine for a moment you are attending a friend’s wedding. A stranger asks you to dance, but doesn’t tell you what kind of dance. Do you know whether to step forward, backwards, or to the side? What if your partner’s idea of dancing is ballroom, while yours is a 1980s Madonna concert? What happens? You step on his toes and he returns the favor. It hurts! He may hold you uncomfortably. You struggle through one dance and vow to never dance with him again. After all he’s a terrible dancer while you have perfected Madonna’s choreography. What’s really happened here?
In this drama, the participants brought their own perspectives, interpretations, and experiences of dance into their dance. Neither of them learned intimately about one another and as a result, their dance was a fiasco. Relationships are no different. Those who are relating, regardless of context, bring individual history to the relationship. We bring ourselves as do others. However, now a third entity has emerged. The relationship contains two individuals and their unique dance. The quality of the relationship is dependent upon the interaction of all three participants. What happens if either participant and/or the relationship is ignored? The interaction may destabilize. One or both individuals may become increasingly dissatisfied. This scenario is played out in relationships often and is maintained by silence. After all, it is easier to leave things undisturbed. But, it results in hurt for those involved and usually for those beyond. Sometimes, our awareness and understanding of relationship partners is so deficient we may feel that we don’t know our loved ones at all. Would this be an untrue assumption?
Life occurs in the context of relationships. Relating is the most important task in which you will participate. We constantly form and function in professional, social, intimate, and family relationships. Positive interactions hold the promise of life satisfaction. Likewise, difficult relationships can wreak emotional, psychological, and physical havoc on those involved. I hear stories of people who experience toxic relationships in multiple areas of life. Sometimes, healing comes slowly and at significant cost. What about those you meet and seem to bond instantly? While the spark of connection is a momentary event, a meaningful relationship is created and sustained by a commitment of mutual understanding, respect, and open communication occurring over time. As trust is earned, it grows and eventually intimacy deepens. And, intimacy is usually referred to as “knowing” another individual. However, true intimacy is the deeper outgrowth of two fully and honestly engaged participants. Improving relationships are, in my opinion, vital to increasing one’s overall quality of life and sense of personal wellness. The path to more fulfilling relationships rests on the art of the dance.