Why relate, anyway?

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Relationship is an institution that leads to a meaningful life. We inescapably depend on each other as much as we depend on ourselves to live our lives and if possible live life to the fullest: mentally, emotionally and physically. We discover that life is more comfortable when we share our successes and failures with those we would love to trust. As humans, we tend to define ourselves by our relationships with those who surround us. And so, relationships are vital in our everyday performance.

For one reason, they increase our emotional well being. For another, they create stability in our lives. They offer us the opportunity of learning how to become good friends or partners. They offer us a chance to have someone to rely on and trust in times of need, someone to relate to when we face problems and someone who shares in our joy when we surmount problems. 

Each of our relationships reflects different actions or reactions that help us to grow and learn more about ourselves. Relationships are often essential steps to holding us together during times of stress, when we face life’s challenges. Without relationships, we would only have an emptiness that cannot connect our true selves to anything else!

Love is one of the most profound manifestations of the relationships known to human beings. There could be many kinds of love such as the love between a mother and her child, a brother and his sister or a man and a woman. But for many people, a romantic relationship with a compatible partner or partners is the ultimate expression of love. For these individuals, romantic relationships reflect one of the most meaningful aspects of life and source of deep emotional fulfillment. But while the need for human co-relationship appears to be inborn and natural, the ability to have a healthy, loving relationship is mostly acquired by learning. 

There is every reason to believe that forming a stable relationship starts in infancy. For example, a child’s earliest experiences could be with its caregiver, its nanny or mum who reliably meets the infant’s needs for food, care, warmth and protection. Such relationships are in some ways destined because the child and its guardian get bonded in time, and that is also a practical way to establish a deeply ingrained pattern of relating to other persons if the circumstances are right. 

In the case of the child-adult relationship, maintaining a strong relationship requires consistent care and communication on the part of the adult, but for the adult-adult relationships,   certain ways of behaviour have been shown to be especially important for fostering healthy relationships. For a start, each individual should feel confident that the partner is willing to devote time and attention to each other.  They must both be committed to accommodating their differences, even if those change over time. 

In this 21st century, good relationships are generally marked by emotional and physical fairness, particularly in the distribution of chores necessary to maintain a decent household. Partners in strong relationships also feel grateful to each other, openly provide and receive affection, and engage in honest discussions about sex and family planning.

Incredible as it might seem, the truth is that most of our relationships are accidental. We meet our friends or even future partners in the kindergarten or primary school, in our secondary school or university or at work where we spend the main part of our time. Our relationships are based mainly on proximity. But generally, there are about six different types of relationships we would consider here.   

Monogamous relationships which are basically traditional in most African communities assume having only one sexual or romantic partner at a time. Most people who enter into such relationships or marriages do so because they want to be monogamous, though they are sometimes known to not always play by the rule. 

There is also the polyamorous relationship in which people have more than one romantic relationship at once. Frequently, polyamorous couples have a primary partner, a secondary partner, etc. with the understanding that these “places” can be changed as their individual needs change. Such relationships are a combination of monogamous and polyamorous relationships. 

There is open relationship which lets both partners share physical intimacy with anyone they want, but still save their emotional affection for each other. In this kind of relationship, each person can have as many sexual partners as they wish, but only one romantic partner.

A long-distance relationship also works. It reserves emotional connection more than the physical one. Usually, such type of relationship is often temporary. However, some couples choose to live happily ever apart indefinitely. In this kind of relationship, both partners agree to have sexual connection with each other regularly — and that’s it. 

People in casual sex relationships can be physically or emotionally intimate with others as well, so long as both people agree to it. Casual sex relationships can be “unique.” It means none of the partners sleeps with anyone else, which is similar to monogamous relationships, but without the emotional connection. Such relationships are similar to a casual sex relationship, but with one essential difference — a set, platonic friendship. 

And then, there is “friends with benefits” relationship which begins when two friends decide to act on mutual sexual attraction. Outside of the sexual relationship, the partners work solely platonically and remain friends. Usually, such relationships end when one or both partners start to date someone else.

And finally there is the business or workplace relationship where a level of intimacy is normally established with or without sexual intimacy. Thus we have business partners in law firms and similar establishments. 

There are some persons who are asexual. It means they do not experience sexual desire or attraction to others, but they still want to participate in a romantic relationship. Entering into a relationship with an asexual person can take a few different forms. Both partners can agree to be completely sexless, or there can be a compromise for an asexual partner such as engaging in sex occasionally under certain circumstances, or partners can experiment with, for example, cuddling, kissing, and so on, finding an arrangement that works for both. Whatever the relationship between the partners, they must, first of all, be healthy.

In good relationships, partners try to afford their partner the benefit of the doubt, which creates a sense of being on the same chapter. This feeling, maintained over a long period of time, can help couples overcome challenges they would have inevitably faced together. Strong relationships require different types of nurturing—physical, emotional, and intentional. In subsequent reviews, we shall deal with real and fake relationships and examine how they affect our well being and what we can do about them. See you next week. 

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