Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows.

What Do We Mean by Personal Relationships?

Woman laughing as her young daughter kisses her cheek

The concept of relationship is very broad and complex. In our model, personal relationships refer to close connections between people, formed by emotional bonds and interactions. These bonds often grow from and are strengthened by mutual experiences.

Relationships are not static; they are continually evolving, and to fully enjoy and benefit from them we need skills, information, inspiration, practice, and social support. In our model there are three kinds of personal relationships:

Family

The concept of "family" is an essential component in any discussion of relationships, but this varies greatly from person to person. The Bureau of the Census defines family as "two or more persons who are related by birth, marriage, or adoption and who live together as one household." But many people have family they don't live with or to whom they are not bonded by love, and the roles of family vary across cultures as well as throughout your own lifetime. Some typical characteristics of a family are support, mutual trust, regular interactions, shared beliefs and values, security, and a sense of community.

Although the concept of "family" is one of the oldest in human nature, its definition has evolved considerably in the past three decades. Non-traditional family structures and roles can provide as much comfort and support as traditional forms.

Friends

A friendship can be thought of as a close tie between two people that is often built upon mutual experiences, shared interests, proximity, and emotional bonding. Friends are able to turn to each other in times of need. Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, social-network researchers and authors of the book Connected, find that the average person has about six close ties—though some have more, and many have only one or none.

Note that online friends don’t count toward close ties—research indicates that a large online network isn’t nearly as powerful as having a few close, real-life friends.

Partnerships

Romantic partnerships, including marriage, are close relationships formed between two people that are built upon affection, trust, intimacy, and romantic love. We usually experience this kind of relationship with only one person at a time.

Expert Contributor: 
Karen Lawson, MD
Reviewed by: 
Kate Hathaway, PhD

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