What Is the Most Important Aspect of a Relationship?
by Art Ramsay, PhD

 While most people would probably refer to their 'love' or romantic relationship, whether be a spouse, partner, or girl/boy friend, as the main one, or the only one, we have many relationships.  They could be categorized as family, office or job, school, neighbors, friends, clubs, and religious relationships, and each one would have different influences for us.

 But first, what exactly is a relationship? According to Wikipedia, A relationship is normally viewed as a connection between two individuals . . . These relationships usually involve some level of interdependence. People in a relationship tend to influence each other, share their thoughts and feelings, and engage in activities together. Because of this interdependence, most things that change or impact one member of the relationship will have some level of impact on the other member.[1]

 Notice the word, 'interdependence' in the definition above. Again, from Wikipedia, Interdependence is a dynamic of being mutually and physically responsible to, and sharing a common set of principles with, others. As opposed to codependence which is a tendency to behave in overly passive or excessively caretaking ways that negatively impact one's relationships and quality of life.

 Now that we have covered definitions, we can see that a healthy relationship depends on each person in the relationship holding up their part in the relationship. This is true whether there are two individuals in a marriage, or thousands in a corporation, or millions in a nation. Within this interdependence are traits of individuals that make it work for everyone, or not. Traits that support relationships are love, integrity, honesty, harmony, service, giving, and selflessness. Traits that can kill relationships are hate, resentment, dishonesty, disharmony, neediness, taking/using, and selfishness.

 All relationships consist of some of both types of traits as given above. None of them contains all of one and none of the other. It is how you use the traits within the couple relationship and the whole or larger relationships, that is meaningful. Depending on the relationship and the individuals within it, one or more kinds of traits will have more importance than others.

 Each of us most likely has what we think is the most important in our relationship with __________ (fill in the blank). The question you might ask yourself is how does your 'most important' trait affect your relationships overall. Why? Because while your favorite trait might work great in one or more relationships, does it also work in all your relationships?

 To discover the answer to the preceding question, try this:

  1. Make a list of all the traits you feel empower your relationships both individually and as a whole.
  2. Start with a list for your individual relationships, and then another for your relationships across the board.
  3. Then pick traits that are contained in both.
    1. You may find only one or none that fit both.
    2. If you found one, then that is it for you, the most important aspect of your relationships.
    3. If you found more than one, go back and pick the one you feel is most important.
    4. If you found none, go back and rework the exercise, because you must find at least one that works overall, or your relationships as a whole are not working harmoniously.

 Over the years, I have done similar exercises to the above. What I have found consistently is that a trait of honesty is the number one aspect of every relationship I have ever had that makes it work. If individuals as a couple, or a corporation, or as a nation are not honest with each other, relationships fail. When relationships fail, the structure built around them eventually fails also.

 This is true from small family units to nations. We individually are only as strong as the structure that supports us and vice versa - "Together we stand, divided we fall". When relationships begin to crumble, we need to examine where a weakness lies. For a very intimate relationship, such as a marriage, to work, each person must allow, or even empower, the other to be who they are. To think you can change another person, or have him or her eventually love you, is a fantasy.

 Relationships are built on trust. Have you had relationships where you trusted someone and then that person did something to shatter your trust? We all have. That is why I maintain that honesty is essential in any relationship. Marriages or partnerships fall apart, businesses fail, and nations crumble when dishonesty is discovered and trust is lost.

 After the exercise above, look deeply within to explore what traits you bring to your most intimate, and then for all of your relationships. Remember, they are interdependent, which means you bring something to the relationships. Go through the exercise again, but this time, make the lists about what traits you bring. You will eventually find the one trait you bring to them all. Does it empower your relationships, or disempower them?

 Doing the second part of the exercise may very well be more important to your relationships than the first. Either way, you will have information to work with so that you can change the way your relationships work. Either by changing what you bring to it, or by bringing to the table what you see the other person doing/not doing that does not work for you. Either this will help strengthen the relationship by letting the other person/people know how you feel, or it will dissolve it. Either way, you will have eliminated something in your life that was not working.

[1]   ^ Berscheid, E., & Peplau, L. A. (1983). The emerging science of relationships. In H. H. Kelley, et al. (Eds.), Close relationships. (pp. 119). New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.


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