There are so many different ways to understand and navigate relationships. In my experience as a therapist, I’ve witnessed how it can sometimes become difficult to specifically define a relationship. The truth is, sometimes the characteristics of relationships overlap. For example, it can sometimes be tricky to tell when/if a relationship shifts from friendship to romance. This often causes confusion and distress and it can be especially challenging navigating a dual relationship. So let’s break down the basics of each type of relationship to help gain some clarity and comfort.
Navigating Romantic Relationships
Romantic relationships are typically marked by emotional intimacy, mutual trust, and shared experiences. Although there are millions of ways to define a romantic relationship, the most common characteristic is that it usually involves physical intimacy. This is what most often sets romantic relationships apart from other relationships.
So, is it really that simple? Unfortunately not always. In fact, determining romantic status of a relationship is one of the top things that people bring up in therapy. There is often a level of commitment associated with the term “relationship” when the connection is romantic. But that isn’t always the case. There are many different ideas of what constitutes a “romantic relationship” so navigating this early on with a potential new partner can be quite stressful and confusing at times.
Generally speaking, a friendship is a connected relationship that is non romantic, not related, and not professional. But how many friends do you have that fit directly into that definition? The fact is, many of our “friends” are also people that we associate with in many different arenas of life. We may have friends that are coworkers, or family members. While this doesn’t always pose a concern, it can create some sticky situations that cause these relationships to be difficult to navigate.
And when it comes to friendships and romantic relationships, the line is usually fairly clear. But it can also feel a bit hazy at times. Our strong friendships can often reach the same level of emotional connectedness as a romantic relationship and this can be tricky to discern. It can seem like it’s the same and not the the same at the same time. And that can be call-your-therapist level stressful.
Navigating Professional Relationships
Even though not everyone experiences professional relationships in the same way, it’s a type of relationship worth addressing, This is one of the most specific types of relationships and one of the only ones that usually comes with clear guidelines. In theory, these should be the easiest relationships to understand, quantify, and navigate. We usually have a human resources led blueprint for exactly how this relationship should play out.
But, like with other types of relationships, it’s not always that cut and dry. Its difficult to put humans into a box. We can have a clear set of rules and expectations but still fall short in how it all plays out. That’s because humans have various and unique personalities. Some people just don’t get along. There also may be times when we have to work with our friends, romantic partners, or family members. This can cause some boundary issues that make it difficult to maintain a purely professional relationship. Bottom line is, it can get a bit murky.
Putting It All Together
It’s safe to say that defining and navigating relationships is often easier said than done. Most of the time, the answer is: “Its complicated”. When we experience duality in our relationships, the best course of action is to have a conversation with the other person. Chances are, they have some of the same questions or concerns. If you still cannot wrap your head around the status of a certain relationship, try leaning into the ambiguity and accepting the messiness of it all. Sometimes it just is what it is. And that’s okay.