Relationships vary in terms of what they are being used for, and in terms of their power dynamic. Have a look at the following four types of relationship, and see if you can recognise yourself, or anyone you know, in any of them.
Some people use other people as nurses when they feel helpless. This is necessary if a person is suffering from a situation or illness which they are powerless to do anything about. The dynamic here is that one person plays the role of ‘the sufferer’, and the other has to play the role of ‘the carer’.
The nurse-patient relationship has its uses. It’s useful if it’s undertaken between consenting adults, and if both parties feel it’s for the good. But it can be problematic if the person cast in the nurse role hasn’t chosen it freely, or if the person cast in the patient role hasn’t chosen it freely.
Some people use others to help themselves recover. Here, there is an understanding that the recoverer wants to become more independent, but they’re not there yet. One person plays the role of ‘person in recovery’, and the other plays the role of encourager or teacher.
Again, this relationship is useful if there is consent, and if there is agreement that it is for the best. But it can be difficult if the recoverer doesn’t want to be rehabilitated, or if the rehabilitator hasn’t agreed to help in this way.
Some people enlist others to help them change. There is an understanding that the changer has an aspect of their life that they want to develop. One person plays the role of self-developer, and the other the role of coach.
This is useful if the changer is truly able to make progress without too much support, but can be difficult if there are unrealistic expectations. It can also be tricky if the enabler hasn’t agreed to play the role, and the changer is just ‘hanging on’ to them. Furthermore, it can be hard if an enabler fails to ask the changer what changes they want to make, ignoring their consent.
There comes a time in any relationship when the possibility arises of simply being together as fellow humans, without one or the other person needing to spend too much time compensating for the other’s needs. This is possibly a more equal relationship, and a good basis for friendships that are free of co-dependence.
This is a useful relationship stage if both parties feel reasonably able to stand up on their own two feet. However, it can crumble if one or other person has serious unresolved difficulties.
THE RELATIONSHIP PYRAMID
We are all born helpless. In that sense, we are all nursed by our early carers, and move through relationships with teachers, coaches, and peers.
At each age of our life, in fact, we will have a selection of nursing, teaching, coaching and peer relationships. Though they can run in parallel, there is a frequent sequence. Think of how we learn new activities. First we need nursing through our first experience; then we find a teacher and learn more; then we become a self-developer, taking more control of our own learning; and finally, we achieve relative parity with our peers.
Depending on our preferences, we can become fonder of some roles than others. Some people walk through life insisting that others nurse them through everything. Some claim peer relationships without having learned the skills necessary to keep up with them. Some get exhausted nursing, teaching and coaching others, leaving no time for being helped themselves.
BEING MINDFUL OF RELATIONSHIP STAGES
It is worth being mindful of how we are relating to others.
We can think of all our relationships, and get a feel for whether we have a healthy balance.
If we are temporarily disabled by illness or upset, do we have others who can look after us, or help us to recover? Do we have good coaching relationships with those who can help us change for the better?
On the helper side, if we see others suffering, are we able to take the time to provide care, and help with recovery? And do we take the time to share our skills and learning with others who want to develop and change?
Above all do we have mutually respectful peer relationships, in which both parties, just for a while, can escape the burdens of caring or being cared for, and just share what the universe has to offer?