By creating healthier beliefs and developing new skills, you will create new ways of relating to family members with whom you were raised, and others you meet in your life — friends, co-workers, partners, husbands, wives, and children. You have choices about who you invite into your life and how you interact. Yet, you may still be confused about what creates a healthy relationship. One of the most important concepts in creating healthy relationships is to understand that relationships have different levels and purposes.
Some people are only in our lives, or we are only in theirs, to provide a practical service. For example, the bus driver's role is to see we are driven safely to a destination. The barber's role is to provide a satisfactory haircut. A co-worker's role is to develop a relationship that allows the goals of the workplace to be met. The intimacy we develop with friends and partners offers a greater sense of meaning, purpose and connectedness than our more casual and superficial relationships. I do not want to discount that we develop caring feelings toward those who work with us or provide services, but some people overwhelm others in an attempt to garner intimacy with all they meet. As a result, they often distance people in their unrealistic expectations, feel let down when others don't reciprocate, and have little intimacy with anybody. They find they have less time for those they've made commitments to and more with those whose relationship is more superficial.
The levels of adult relationships are:
Casual Involvement occurs in relationships where people interact in a casual manner and have little or no commitment to one another.
Companionship involves two persons associating for the purpose of sharing a common activity. The activity is more important than the person and the person becomes interchangeable.
Friendship is where two people associate for the purpose of mutual support and enjoyment of each other. The person is most important. The activity is secondary.
Romantic relationships are when friendship is shared with sensuality, passion, and sexuality. Romantic love is more than passion and sexuality. Passion and sexuality can be experienced in the context of casual involvement.
Committed relationships are when we commit to working on taking responsibility for our part and mutually agree to do what we say we are going to do. We trust that when there are problems, it does not mean the relationship is over. We agree to work on whatever problems arise with a mutual trust of sincerity and intent. Commitment does not mean you stay in a relationship irrespective of what may occur. At times, as people change, relationships are renegotiated. Commitments are reinforced or lessened, but when we make a commitment, we do what we can to make the relationship work, not allowing ourselves to be abused, nor allowing ourselves to give up our integrity in the process.
While it is not always reality, it is healthiest for people to move through these levels as listed. Once a relationship has moved into a romantic or committed level, the couple continues to incorporate the previous levels into their daily lives. Committed relationships incorporate casual contact from the standpoint that superficial routine is a part of daily life. For people with a troubled childhood, it is important to learn that casual contact is not abandonment. The ability to move in and out of these levels will be incorporated into a committed relationship.
As well, there can certainly be intimate moments and experiences with strangers or companions. Those who experience natural crisis at the same time, those who are witness to a beautiful scene together, may connect in a highly intimate fashion. While such moments may be fleeting in time, they may affect us for life. Those times are seldom forgotten, yet it is with our close friends, partners, and family members that we experience our greatest ongoing intimacy.
Excerpt from Changing Course