Relationships: Bending and Breaking

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I was recently listening to an online forum where a human biologist sharing research made the comment, “The key to all humans is relationships.” She went on to explain that as humans, we are wired for relationships. Our very earliest relationships help form us. Psychotherapy is based on dealing with past relationships that were unhealthy. So much of our behavior, inner voice and thinking is based on how our interactions with others molded us, for better or worse.

Recently, I have witnessed relationships in my own life and relationships around me go through various metamorphoses. So often when we hear the word “relationship,” we often think of romance. However, that is such a small sliver of our bonding with others. I’m talking about the broad sense of relationships, spanning across family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. While changes in these interactions can be fascinating to watch on the sidelines, (Isn’t that what most gossip is about?) It can be painful or exhausting when you are in the thick of it. As the dust settles after the shake up that has been going on around me, there are three scenarios that I have seen play out over and over again in various circumstances.

First, The Rut: Both parties know something is off, but it takes awhile to even figure out what it could be. It isn’t so much that something is wrong, just more that there is something lacking. Each party might give a hefty push on their own, but after a few days, it feels like everything is sliding backwards into the dreaded rut. In my case, some wise counsel and open communication helped both parties push together over the road block and things have rolled at a smooth, satisfying pace.

Second, The Space: People change, we change and though at times I don’t like it, life refuses to stand still. Sometimes I try to ignore the changes, insisting it doesn’t matter, but over time, two paths become further and further apart. The distance causes me to feel like I’m practically yelling to be heard by the other individual. Perhaps they feel the same way. I’ve had to accept that with change comes needed space. It doesn’t mean respect or fond memories are gone, just that the relationship isn’t what it used to be. It’s scary to take a step back, wondering if more and more steps away is what is to follow. Maybe paths will cross in the future or align side by side, but for now, space seems like the most logical answer.

Last, The Implosion: The easiest way to discuss this change is by looking at the relationship through a scientific lens, otherwise emotions boil over. On the surface, everything seems fine. However, after zooming into a microscopic level, it is easy to see that the very molecular bonding of the relationship has been dissipating, dissolving, dying for a long time. Both parties ignore it, giving excuses for themselves and each other. Like any experiment, the heat is turned up and the shaky structure gives way. Times of laughter turned to frustration turned to resentment implodes on top of each other, layer after layer. Witnesses stand around staring at the wreckage and ask, “How did this happen?” Yet, the scientist shakes her head and answers, “Every sign for disaster was there. You knew this would happen, you just didn’t know when.” With a sigh and a few tears, there is hesitation, to rebuild or walk away? It’s hard to say.

Sometimes we curse our relationships, sometimes we praise them. Some are validating, others soul-sucking, some open and warm, others guarded on a hard defensive line. Whatever they are, it’s what life is made of. Now I understand better why my mom always gave the advice in my younger years to be wise of who your friends are.

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