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The Axis of Assumption: Exploding Embedded Relationship Concepts

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Young Couple in Relationship ConflictRecently Ferrett said some really smart things about axes of introversion. Really, if you've not seen it, take a look - it's been a really great starting point for my amour and myself talking about the differences in the ways we're both introverted, and helped us understand where the other is coming from.

It also got me thinking - there are some other things in the ways we talk about relationships that probably should have thier own axes as well.1

One example of an axis that should be split up is in the way we talk about "seriousness" of relationships. There are several ways that a single axis of "strong" to "weak" doesn't quite match up to our lived experiences.

Is a one-night stand more of a "strong" relationship than a best friend you've had since childhood? What about people who you see infrequently, but when you see them, the relationship is strong and intense while it lasts? Is that relationship "stronger" or "weaker" than the barista you see every day?

There's clearly several axes here - sexuality, intimacy, and frequency - and how you value them may be very different than someone else you're in a relationship with.

When we're casually talking about relationships, "strong" and "weak"2 work... but with lots and lots of caveats. Taking the time - at least once - to split up at least intimacy, sexuality, and frequency will help you better have a grasp on the way you intuitively think about your relationships, but also let you translate what you mean to someone else.

And then there's the axes that go between two values, rather than a single "strength" scale. Let me give you an example:

Helper to Adventurer

At one end of this spectrum, you've got someone who looks at relationships as being about mutual support. Being in a relationship means you've got someone to help look after the kids and dogs, or take the trash out, or wash the clothes, or help pay the mortgage. It's about security, and knowing there's someone there to help you up.

At the other end, there's the person who looks at relationships as to have someone to do fun things with, to go on adventures with. The person who wants someone else to share the cool things in life with. It's about experiences and good times.

In my experience, most people (myself included) value one end of this scale more than the other. It's important - vital, perhaps - to remember that it is a scale. Too often it's presented as a binary either/or rather than a scale...and it doesn't have to be. Not at all. This recent "A Softer World" really kind of gets at how this scale can be reconciled between two people:

Even calling these things spectrums misses the point. People are not even a point on this spectrum, really. They're normal distributions around a central point... so that even if one value is significantly more important to you than another person's, there's still a lot of overlap.

I look at Zoƫ and Wash from Firefly here. They're very different people. They go on adventures. And they support and love each other completely.

But the final, and perhaps most important, point to make whenever you're talking about relationships, is that it's about the other person. This is perhaps the best working definition of love out there:

Love is when the happiness of another person is more important than your own.

And that's the thing. If you value your relationship with someone, you'll shift on these axes to meet them. Maybe not all the time. Maybe not all the way. But you'll shift. And if you're lucky, they will as well.

Sometimes people can't shift enough (or at all). Some relationship decisions (kids, for example) are yes/no choices. Sometimes your wants and needs violate someone else's boundaries.

But all the rest of the time?

The Adventurer will take out the trash for the Helper, and the Helper will pack the 50' of silk rope in their backpacks3.

What other assumptions about relationships do you think need to be broken down or expanded on this way?

1 I'm coming from this with the attitude that each relationship is its own unique thing, despite the common assumption in Western culture that all (hetero) (monogamous) relationships are all structured the same.
2 We talk about how "caps" the R in relationship is. Capital R? Small caps? Demi-caps? Lower case? It's a quick shorthand that works well.
3 Because you always got the 50' of silk rope in AD&D.

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