Relationships 101

Interpersonal relationships make up every relationship that fulfills a range of physical and emotional needs for you. These are the people who you’re closest with in your life.

While romantic relationships are interpersonal, family members and intimate friends are, too. There’s also such a thing as secondary interpersonal relationships. These include acquaintances, neighbors, and others who you interact with on a regular basis.

In short, you have some kind of interpersonal relationship with everyone you know.

Given the importance of relationships to our emotional and physical well-being, it’s necessary to learn how to develop and maintain them.

Relationships don’t develop suddenly. One psychologist, George Levinger, identified five stages of interpersonal relationships in a 1980 study. He called this stage theory, which includes:

  • acquaintance
  • buildup
  • continuation
  • deterioration
  • ending (termination)

A successful interpersonal relationship will only go through the first three stages. A relationship that ends in a breakup with a friend or romantic partner will go through all five of these stages.

Not all relationships will make it past the first stage of acquaintance, either. Part of the importance of Levinger’s theory is to show that interpersonal relationships are just as dynamic as they are varied.

Interpersonal relationships are important for your overall physical and emotional happiness. Relationships help fight loneliness while also giving you a sense of purpose in life.

For instance, the closeness you feel with family and friends is an essential part of your social support. Relationships in other aspects of your life outside of romance and family can also have a positive effect on you, such as getting together with acquaintances for a shared interest or hobby.

All interpersonal relationships are built on loyalty, support, and trust. Close relationships may also be built on love. Mutual respect and reciprocation of these qualities is important in maintaining all your relationships. Otherwise, the relationship can become one-sided.

Maintaining friendships and other relationships takes work. The first and most important factor is communication. This requires in-person discussions about your feelings. Although texting and messaging online can be very fulfilling sometimes, they often don’t provide the same effects.

At some point in the relationship, a conflict will arise. How you deal with it will determine whether the conflict strengthens the relationship or not. Rather than avoid the point of contention, it’s important to talk it through and listen to their point of view.

If something is bothering you at work or school, speak up. If you’re having some issues with a friend, family member, or partner, be sure to tell them. Hopefully they’ll reciprocate with respect and honesty.

Aside from honesty and open communication, it’s also important to:

  • Establish boundaries.
  • Be an active listener.
  • Show the other person respect at all times.
  • Maintain a positive attitude.
  • Be open to constructive criticism and feedback without letting your emotions take over.

Not all relationships are lifelong. In fact, others may never go beyond an acquaintance. And that’s OK. It’s normal for certain relationships to come to an end. There are factors that affect the course of all of your interpersonal relationships.

When you think of an interpersonal relationship ending, you might think of a breakup with your romantic partner. But other interpersonal relationships can end, too.

For example, when you graduate from school, you may not stay in touch with all of your teachers and fellow students. The same goes when you leave a job and move on to another.

It’s impossible to maintain all the relationships in your life forever. This is especially true of secondary relationships.

Interpersonal relationships touch all aspects of our lives, including home, work, and leisure activities. Without strong relationships, it’s possible to feel lonely and undervalued as a person. You may also feel that you’re lacking social support.

Today, it’s easier than ever to miss out on interpersonal relationships due to technology that encourages digital communication. People who work from home miss out on in-person communication with their co-workers. Friends and family may opt to text rather than get together for a meal and conversation.

Make a point to see your family and friends in person, or check out your local meetups and other online resources for ways to engage in much-needed human interactions.

Finally, you can’t build interpersonal relationships if you don’t have a good relationship with yourself.

Take time to get to know yourself and also invest in self-care. If certain issues are keeping you from spending time with others, consider talking with a therapist for support and guidance.