Relationships Defined In Just Two Words

To move our map closer to the territory, we need clarity so let go back to basics and look at the word “relationship” and I use the word in its broadest possible term in this post.

In life a person has all kinds of relationships like employer and employee, student and teacher, friendships, boyfriend and girlfriend, landlord and tenant, customer and business and so on

Of all of the realisations, and there were many that I went through, in the years of travelling, writing, researching this book and talking to people from all different cultures there is one realisation that startled and surprised me more than any and that is this.

People do not understand what the word relationship means.

Don’t get me wrong.  People have a tremendous gut instinct of what a relationship actually IS.

This gut level instinct of what a relationship IS means they have a laser like recognition of when they have a relationship in their life and when they don’t.  Whether a particular relationship is desirable or not and when a relationship is over.  They just know.

It also means that they know and understand when and why some relationships are closer than others even when they are presented to them in an abstract way when talking about a third party.  This is a tremendous intuitive skill that people have that runs to a very, very deep level.

They just don’t know what a relationship means.  In other words their understanding is intuitive, not cognitive.

What I mean by that is that, when you ask most people to define the word “relationship” they really, really struggle.

They can’t come up with a good definition.

Pause for a moment and try it yourself.  The following are all kinds of relationships that people commonly have in their lives :

  • Employer and employee
  • Student and teacher
  • Friendships
  • Boyfriend and girlfriend
  • Landlord and tenant
  • Customer and business

All very different arrangements and yet we apply the word “relationship” to all of them.  Why?

Well obviously we apply the word “relationship” to all of them because there is some quality that they have in common that makes them all a kind of relationship.

What is it?

When you ask people this question they usually come out with some vague and woolly definition of “shared emotions” or say things like there is “some kind of emotional shared connection or bond” but that’s not it.  You don’t need that to order a DVD from amazon.com do you?  You still would have a customer business relationship with them.

So, when people already have such an amazing intuitive understanding of what the word means then why the struggle to define the word?

Well, I have some shock news for you.

You have been lied to your entire life.

By who?  Well, by pretty much everyone.  By society.  Perhaps even by your own family.

About what?  Well about the nature of relationships, about what comprises a relationship, what a ‘committed’ relationship means, a ‘real’ relationship is.

Hell, even the dictionary lies to you about the meaning of the word relationship.

A quick search on dictionary.com gives the following definition:

re•la•tion•ship

–noun

1. a connection, association, or involvement.

2. connection between persons by blood or marriage.

3. an emotional or other connection between people: the relationship between teachers and students.

4. a sexual involvement; affair.

That’s not what the word relationship means.  Let’s look at them one by one.

1. A connection, association, or involvement

What if you are kidnapped one day and held in a dungeon?

You would not be in a relationship with that person.  Sure you have a connection / association / involvement.  The involvement is one of kidnapper and kidnapee.

Unless you develop Stockholm syndrome and fall in love with your kidnapper then you do not have a relationship.

Therefore a connection / association / involvement with another person is not what constitutes a relationship.

2.  Connection between persons by blood or marriage

What if you are born a twin and, completely without your knowledge, you are separated at birth and go your entire life unaware of the fact?

Do you have a relationship with your twin?  Clearly not.  You are related – of course – but that is simply a biological fact.  It could not be a relationship if you never meet or are never even aware of each other’s existence your entire life.

Likewise, if you have a member of your family that you don’t have contact with because you don’t get along.  Again, you are related.  It is a biological fact however, not a relationship.

Marriage?  What if you have not had sex with your spouse for 3 years, live in separate houses and are not getting divorced ‘for the sake of the kids’ or because you live in one of the few countries in the world where divorce is illegal or because the shame that your family and the scorn from society at large towards divorcees prevents you?  Clearly the relationship broke down a long time ago.

The fact that they are still married would be a legal fact, not a relationship.  So clearly marriage alone does not alone constitute a relationship even though most married people are not so unfortunate as the couples I just described above and do indeed have a relationship.

3. An emotional or other connection between people

Well I am sure you would feel emotion towards someone who kidnapped you but it is most likely to be hatred.  So, simply having an emotional connection with somebody does not mean you are in a relationship with them.

4. A sexual involvement; affair

Anybody who has ever been sexually abused would not say that they were in a relationship with their abuser.  So clearly a sexual involvement with another person, in and of itself, is not what constitutes a relationship.

So what is a relationship?

Let’s go back to our bullet point list from earlier :

  • Employer and employee
  • Student and teacher
  • Friendships
  • Boyfriend and girlfriend
  • Landlord and tenant
  • Customer and business

So why do we use the word ‘relationship’ to describe all of these diverse arrangements?

What do they all have in common that causes us to apply the word ‘relationship’ to all of them?

In short, what makes a relationship a relationship?

In the spirit of pure form theory, a definition is possible in just two words and I am going to give it to you.

Are you ready?  (drumroll)

Mutual reward.

That’s it.

That’s all that the word relationship means – mutual reward.

All relationships are founded on the basis of mutual reward and break down when mutual breaks down.

Employer And Employee

You get your wages.  You employer gets your time and expertise to help him grow his business.  There is the mutual reward right there.

You stop doing your job or paying your landlord?  Mutual reward breaks down.  You know what they are going to do next.  You are getting kicked out.

Your employers stops paying you?  Mutual reward breaks down.  You are going to find another job.

Student And Teacher

Student gets to learn a potentially valuable skill that may help him in his life, his career or his physical health.  The teacher not only get the satisfaction of helping people but, if he is good at it, he can make a career out of it.  Mutual reward.

Friendships

Same rules apply.  Strangers become friends at the unspoken moment that they both realise that they both like hanging out with each other.

You are friends with somebody because you both like spending time with each other.  That’s it.  There is your mutual reward.

Every had someone who likes hanging out with you but you don’t like hanging out with them or vice versa?  Do you think you are going to become friends?  Clearly not.

Ever had friend that you had a falling out with and you were not friends anymore?  Why?

Because the mutual reward broke down.

You might feel that it is because of the argument that you had or the falling out that you had or because it was the fact that you discovered that they were dishonest.  However something like that is simply the catalyst to the mutual reward breaking down.

You are not friends anymore because the mutual reward broke down.

Ever had a friend that you think you are not friends with because your simply lost touch?

That is a relationship that you still have today even though you might not realise it.  The mutual reward never broke down so you still have that relationship.  You have just become disconnected from the relationship.

Boyfriend And Girlfriend

You both get your sexual needs met and spend time together in a loving and pair bonded bubble.  Mutual reward exists.

Stop getting your sexual needs met?  Fall out of love?  Argue and fight?

Mutual reward breaks down.  The bubble bursts.  It’s not a relationship any more.

Customer And Business

Stop off for a coffee at café, sit outside and enjoy the sunshine and then leave your money on the table and walk away?  Do you have a relationship with the café?  Sure you do.  You are a customer.

What happens if you decide to just walk away without paying?  Do you have a relationship with the café then?  No. Why not?  You got what you wanted didn’t you.

This question is easy to answer now isn’t it?  No mutual reward.

You would just be a thief not a customer.  Thief and victim is not a relationship.

So as we can see, a relationship is not defined by an exchange of cash for goods and services nor is it defined by a contract (although a written contact might detail the mutual reward).  It’s not defined by a sexual involvement or a genetic link.  It is defined by mutual reward.

Ok so let’s redraw your map a bit by applying pure form theory to the definition of the word relationship.

Relationship – The Pure Form Definition

re•la•tion•ship

–noun

1. mutual reward.

That means that relationship rules can be broken down very simply, at least when it comes to how relationships are founded and dissolved, regardless of whether the relationship is personal, business, sexual or non-sexual.

The 4 Principles Of Foundation & Dissolution

  1. If mutual reward exists, a relationship exists.
  2. If mutual reward does not exist, a relationship does not exist.
  3. If mutual reward is established, but mutual reward breaks down, so does the relationship.
  4. If mutual reward breaks down but is later re-established, like when you argue with your partner but later make up, then so is the relationship.

Mutual reward = relationship.  They are the same thing.

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Leave A Reply (1 comment so far)


  1. Marcus
    5 days ago

    What if you meet someone on line and you have never met them in person, is that still classified as mutual reward

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