64. Intimate Relationships
Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery (French writer and aviator)
Two types of intimate relationships will be discussed here: passionate love and compassionate love. Even though some authors use different terms, they are all in agreement that there is a qualitative difference between an intense but usually short-term burst of passion, and the love that is associated with a long-term relationship. Many relationships fail because those involved do not understand the difference or do not know how to make the transition – which is what we will focus on in this area.
Passionate love is an intense desire for union with the other person. Its purpose is to break barriers and reduce the anxiety of being close to a practical stranger. It is characterised by moments of exultation, excitement, feeling accepted and safe, and even a sense of unity and transcendence. The common view is that its occurrence cannot be controlled (hence, falling in love). In fact, there are a number of factors that can contribute to and fuel passionate love: novelty; intense positive or negative experiences (e.g. having an adventure or going through some difficulties with another person); fantasies (that can be fuelled by delayed or denied gratification). The most common trigger for passionate love though is identifying somebody with the fulfilment of one’s own needs and desires. In other words, projecting one’s ideal onto the other. This is enforced by glossing over anything that doesn’t fit that ideal. And yet, nobody is perfect – sooner or later, reality kicks in and inevitable differences between the real person and the ideal cannot be ignored any more. This (coupled with excitement naturally subsiding) is why passionate love is usually temporary. When we refuse to acknowledge these differences, passionate love becomes infatuation. It may lead to an attempt to force the other to adjust to one’s ideal, which usually ends in either disappointment or rejection. Let’s turn now to dealing with the latter.
63. Instrumental Relationships
Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.
Howard W. Newton (20c American author)
As already mentioned, instrumental relationships are a means to an end – their main goal is not relating itself but some sort of benefit: this can be self-benefit, mutual benefit or others-benefit. Let’s consider these three categories in more detail.
When one is concerned just with his own benefit, others are treated as objects, a means to an end. This leads to valuing them only when they are useful and to attempts to dominate and control. Those on the receiving end may feel used or undermined. This can happen in a wide range of interactions (e.g. a pushy salesman); even intimate partners are not immune to it. If you catch yourself relating in this way, think about how you would feel if you were on the receiving end. If it happens that you are, you have four options (they correspond to general strategies):
- Avoidance: simply move away if you can (e.g. change your job) to avoid this type of relationship.
- Isolation: close down, distance yourself. This can minimise the effects of such behaviour, and reduce emotional reactions.
- Adaptation: adapt, accept your part in the relationship (you may want to do so for the sake of something more important, such as providing for your children). Awareness that this is your conscious choice can help you deal with it.
- Confrontation does not necessarily mean a fight, just making the other aware that you are not going to put up with such an attitude. If you feel that you don’t have enough power and resources to do so, work on building these first. For example, document or record the other person’s behaviour, or try to win support of others (e.g. colleagues).
When choosing between these options, take into account what the possible short- and long-term consequences are, what your priorities are, and which is most likely to be successful.
62. Intrinsic Relationships
Of all the means which are procured by wisdom to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.
Epicurus (ancient Greek philosopher)
This area is based on the universal human need (sometimes called ‘affiliative need’) to be with others. Intrinsic relationship can spontaneously appear in any situation. For instance, you may have a chat with a shop assistant or a stranger in a train for no particular reason; it is also an important component of intimate relationships. However, the most prominent type of intrinsic relationship is friendship, so this is what we will mostly focus on here.
What matters in intrinsic relationships
An intrinsic relationship is a relationship that is an end in itself – its main purpose is to be with others. So, instrumental motives (wanting or trying to get something out of your friends) can spoil it. This is not to say that friends should not or cannot help each other, but when friendship is used as a bargaining chip to make others do something for you, it ceases to be a real friendship. Some other things really matter in this type of relationships.
Affective elements of intrinsic relationship
Intrinsic relationships usually include an affective component (we tend to like or love our friends). These feelings can be stimulating and refreshing because they relieve us from being preoccupied with ourselves. However, there is a catch: we also want to be liked and loved, but if we like and love others in order to be liked and loved, this is not intrinsic anymore. It becomes instrumental – which others can easily pick up. So, what can we do about this? Start by liking and loving yourself to reduce dependency on others. Then you can like or love others without expecting them to return it. There may be some truth in the saying that ‘unless you love yourself you cannot love another’. Ideally, loving and being loved get blended like a smoothie! Liking and loving need to be nurtured though, for which some other ingredients are necessary.
61. Relationship Dynamic
The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.
Joseph Joubert (18c French essayist)
This area focuses on critical points in the relationship dynamic: initiating a relationship, disagreements and ending a relationship.
Initiating a relationship
Initiating a relationship can have several motives:
- Intrinsic: you like the person and enjoy being with her. To initiate a relationship though, liking needs to be mutual and genuine, rather than adulterated by, for example, a need to be liked (‘I like you, in order for you to like me back’). There are telltale signs indicating whether people like each other: they show interest in each other’s lives, they tend to smile often, and also eye contact is more frequent and maintained for longer.
- Instrumental: this motive revolves around common interests, and the possible mutual benefits of knowing each other. These benefits do not, of course, need to be material (e.g. providing information, making connections etc.). It is easier to start this sort of relationship if you balance what you can gain with what you can give and what can be shared. Being transparent with your motives builds trust, which is essential in this case.
- Intimate: showing that you are attracted to another person is not an offence, but imposing your desire is. People generally do not like to be treated as objects (of one’s sexual desire). Mature individuals do not have sex or start an intimate relationship because they are tricked or surrender to one’s advances, but because they want to. Sexual desire is natural; however, those who make it their only focus narrow and devalue themselves, which makes them less desirable – and in this case it is certainly true that our reputation precedes us.
The above may lead to three types of relationship that will be discussed in more detail in the respective areas; let’s turn now to another critical point of relationship dynamic: disagreements.
Suppose you scrub your ethical skin until it shines, but inside there is no music, what then?
Kabir (15c Indian mystic and poet)
Behaviour in this context refers to a manner of conducting ourselves in an interaction with others. The main topics of this area are external and internal regulators of our behaviour, and also authenticity and spontaneity that facilitate its congruence.
Regulators of behaviour
There are two major ways of regulating behaviour: external (conventions) and internal (consideration).
Conventions are culturally defined customs and norms such as shaking hands, nodding or bowing when you meet somebody; asking for (‘can I have…’) rather than demanding (‘give me…’); thanking those who do something for you, and so on. Conventions are the external regulator because they are usually induced by a group or society – we learn about social norms from others. Besides showing regard to each other, such norms also ensure that all involved can maintain the desired distance and can have some control over the situation (as they increase predictability). Besides, familiarity with conventions can make spontaneity easier, as it helps to assess to what extent and when they can be safely transgressed (every shared framework has some degree of flexibility). Conventions though do not guarantee genuine respect, may be restrictive and a barrier to closeness. Let’s take politeness, which is closely related to conventions. It is a congenial way of interaction that has the purpose of making everybody involved feel safe and comfortable. Politeness, however, can sometimes be used as a cover or even a ‘weapon’ (think about how polite managers become when they intend to sack somebody). It can also become cliché, servility, even a front for inequality. To avoid this, of course, you do not need to stop being polite. Politeness only needs to be moderated (yes, there is such thing as too much politeness), which is why we also need internal regulation (or consideration).