How Are You at Significant Relationships?

Friends group drinking cappuccino at coffee bar - People talking and having fun together at fancy cafeteria - Friendship concept with happy guys and girls at restaurant cafe

Neuroscience research tells us we are social animals. Our relationships nurture and even sustain our lives. They provide comfort, meaning, motivation to connect, share, enjoy and with a few very special relationships, to experience deep love.

When people have few or even no significant relationships, they can be extremely depressed, withdrawn, unmotivated, their physical as well as mental health deteriorates, their lifespan is shortened. The often heard phrase, “No man is an island” alludes to this idea that we are meant to be in relationships with others.

Some relationships we have are more significant to us than others. In a previous blog I invited my readers to consider the image of Membership Circles describing degrees of closeness and emotional intimacy.

In this blog I’m asking you to consider what the components of significant relationships typically include. I suggest that the degrees to which each of these is strong determines how relationally nourished you are. Conversely and very importantly, you can ask yourself to what degrees do you offer each of these to others, especially those who are significant to you, so they too can experience each of the four key relational processes.

Two female friends having a conversation in a coffee shop.

I consider the following four dynamics of significant relationships the crucial ingredients:

  • authenticity
  • transparency
  • vulnerability
  • ability to share substantively

Authenticity means being real, with a high level of openness and honesty. You show your true colors, your thoughts, beliefs, values, needs, feelings, life experiences.

When being authentic, you automatically are more transparent. You allow others to see in and through you. You don’t mask yourself behind what you think another person wants you to say or do. You are free to be yourself.

When you are both authentic and transparent, you allow yourself to be in a place of great vulnerability. The potential exists for you to be either embraced, appreciated, and therefore more deeply loved or misunderstood, mocked, criticized and/or rejected, which can be very painful and even traumatizing.

mother and her young adult happy daughter, sitting at home on the couch, embracing, smiling.

In emotionally healthy relationships, you can talk about those things that are important to you, that are substantive. While we all need to do the more casual social exchanges more substantive conversations allow you to express deeper thoughts, feelings, needs, concerns, struggles, hopes and dreams. We all need people with whom we can go to deeper levels, share what is important to us, what scares or overwhelms us. Typically, we share at this more intimate level with only a few significant others. How they respond – how warm, caring and concerned they are – determines the degrees to which we can continue being authentic, transparent, vulnerable and able to share what is important to us.

Relationships have their histories. Our relationships exist on a timeline: some are very new, some have been around for a while, and some have been part of our lives forever. The longer we are in relationships, the more they are predictable and comfortable. Relationships are living entities and so they need to be nurtured, supported, and tended to, much like a garden. Each of these relationships, if it is relatively healthy, can promote our well-being, our growth, our abilities to take risks, and our experiences of healing. In this era of isolation because of the pandemic our relationships can be life savers.

In turn we have within us the ability to nurture others so they too can experience authenticity, vulnerability, transparency and the invitation to talk about things that are deep and substantive. When relationships are built on these foundations, they nurture our souls, bring us comfort, connection and an enriched life.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. Think about and even make a list of the significant relationships in your life. To what extent in each can you be authentic, vulnerable, transparent and able to talk about deeper, more substantive aspects of your life?
  2. With each of these relationships, consider the degrees to which you invite that person to also be authentic, vulnerable, transparent and able to talk about deeper more substantive aspects of their life? What are some of the specific ways you do that?
  3. If you are low on one or more of these continuums for some reason, what are some things you can do to increase each? Consider ways you can practice and therefore risk potential pain as well as potential gain by being more authentic, vulnerable, transparent and willing to talk about substantive thoughts feelings and issues.

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute