Sunday 28 October 2018

An Anatomy of Thriving Relationships

My last blog ‘Set the Soul Free’ prompted a reader to ask me, “Harish, since you believe every relationship comes with an expiry date, are you saying - no relationship sustains through life?” Before I respond, let me pose another question: have you ever pondered & found an answer to, “What is your own definition of love?”

Anyone interested in meaningful relationships must understand ‘love’. 

When does one experience, ‘two people are in love’?  My bias – “two people can be said to be in love, when they support and rejoice in each other’s growth”.  When that happens, relationships thrive.  There are siblings, couples, friends or parent-child diads whose relationships thrive through their lifespan.  In these relationships one’s joy becomes the other’s smile.  A thriving relationship demonstrates that each one tends to contribute more to it, than expecting more for self.

In the current era that is characterized by an increasing number of divorces and breakdown in business partnerships with colleagues turning competing adversaries, most relationships do come with an expiry date.  Few instances to clarify -- a parent-child diad where they cannot see eye to eye and avoid each other despite living under one roof or two colleagues by complimenting one another created a series of innovations, product launches and built a flourishing enterprise until one day when their inter-personal equation got on a slippery slope that culminated in closure of business, a toll on their health and broke their spirit.  Though not every inter-personal tension turns degenerative, yet, there are many which do.

Sometimes, despite signals of breakdown in a relationship, one or both sides persist with selfish motives (e.g. two brothers slug it out to inherit property left by their father) or one up man ship (e.g. between colleagues) or simply an ego-trip.  Although persistence to stay on in the relationship appears as a noble intention, the result often is a corrosive erosion that engulfs even those in proximity.

Thanks to western influence, societies have moved from collectivistic to individualistic communities. While this has meant celebration of every individual’s freedom & independence, a major downside of it that has unfolded is the breakdown of relationships at an unprecedented pace.  The fallout of this has been an ever-increasing number of people who are lonely.  The glorified and chiseled individualism hasn’t improved the happiness quotient in families or community; rather, misplaced ideas of self-sufficiency & autonomy have blunted the resilience required to strive for increased compatibility.

Given that our inherent biology was designed to lead social lives[i], The true strength can only be found in ‘belonging’, ‘connection’ and by developing abilities to nurture and maintain ‘social bonds’; In turn making the thriving relationships the sine qua non of fulfilling life and wholesome being. 

Before I unveil the anatomy of thriving relationships let’s examine the facets that make a relationship go bitter. In Bollywood flick Ki and Ka, one gets to see, how in a perfectly complimentary & compatible couple, relationship still turns sour. Serving the fanatics’ palate, the movie had a happy ending; but in real life, there are very few fairy-tale-endings in such scenarios.

The root-cause of languishing relationships are -- competition, jealousy and/ or self-obsession.  A self-obsessed being fails to see the other’s perspectives, jealousy leads to contempt and the competition breeds win-lose mindset. Toxicity surfaces when one persists in a relationship without mitigating these root-causes.  When a relationship pedals on a slippery slope, the bystanders get to see plenty of denial, drama, blame, manipulation and aggression (or passive aggressive behavior).  It’s always better to expire a relationship than be a victim of toxicity.

In an increasingly individualistic world where 3 am friends are diminishing rapidly, we must cultivate a few thriving relationships.  Certainly, freeing oneself from toxic relationships, if any, is the crucial first step to creating a room for thriving relationships. However, walking out of every relationship in which one does not perceive the other to be Ms. Perfect/ Mr. Right is an unlikely solution.  Walking rapidly out of relationships, could be a pathway to locking oneself in a ‘Lonely Room’ with neither the keys to unlock nor the strength to break it. 

 The second step is to preserve, nurture and celebrate those relationships, which provide some uplifting moments. One must try her/ his best before hitting the incompatibility curve.  Cultivating a habit of celebrating imperfect parts in others and developing a funny bone around one’s own flaws are the ingredients to navigate the second step successfully. 

The third step is to shed the façade and make one’s authentic self, visible.  Flirting with difficult emotions and being vulnerable are integral to one’s Authentic behavior. Perhaps, only machines work with perfection & precision; when one recognizes the adage ‘to err is human’, it helps to build relationships that last.

Finally, but not the least, in romantic love or any rewarding relationship, it helps to periodically calibrate our authenticity quotient and gratitude factor.  These two aspects not only help preserve  thriving relationships but also reboot one, where it appears to slide down. 

In writing this blogpost, I have used some of my biases; to me both the terms ‘love’ and ‘relationship’ have a specific meaning.  To me the acquaintances & transactional role connects don't constitute relationships; and ‘Love’ is not confined to romantic pairs or blood relationships.  You may have different connotation to these terms.  However, in my experience whenever I have been able to bring to fore, a sense of abundance, I have been able to enjoy many loved relationships.  The factors of abundance are – (i) Empathy (ii) Authenticity (incl Vulnerability) and (iii) Gratitude for what the relationship provides/ has given

Wishing you an abundance of thriving relationships.

[i] à We are wired to connect: Current research indicates that humans are interdependent at all ages. Studies of adult- hood and aging all point to the vital role of friendship and social connection for adult health, well-being, and longevity. Loneliness is particularly toxic to one’s health…

[i] à We are wired to connect: Current research indicates that humans are interdependent at all ages. Studies of adult- hood and aging all point to the vital role of friendship and social connection for adult health, well-being, and longevity. Loneliness is particularly toxic to one’s health…


  1. So true and kind of brings to fore some thoughts that I have been pondering about too. Just as other material or tangible things thrive with hardwork, perseverance, gratitude and giving so do relationships. We need to work on them selflessly so not sure we can be fully selfless however we can strive to be more giving than expecting.

  2. Aparna PrabhudesaiTue Oct 30, 05:59:00 am

    Liked what you have written Harish and find myself nodding in agreement as I read some of it.
    Also, one thought that stayed on was what you have said about 'two people being in love; when they support and rejoice in each other's growth'. Leaves me wondering can their be only rejoice and no expectation of support.. My fantasy of unconditional love perhaps leads me to this line of thought.

    1. Thank you Aparna for posing this fantasy
      I too for a very long phase of time in my life believed that unconditional love meant ultimate bliss. Rejoiced at that idea I did fall in love with this one person. I was very happy at no expectation state of mine. I had nothing but platonic relationship there. A friend of mine would argue stating that there could not be a sustained relationship without some expectation being fulfilled. As the time unfolded, after several years of rejoice, the relationship collapsed. I felt I was not being honored for who I was and she felt she was not getting the same attention that I gave her before. Now both these expectations are so subtle that unless one has experienced -- one cannot call these as expectations. But after this I have tended to trust my friend's argument more than before.

      When I talk of love and the definition which I am providing here - it does have an embedded subtle expectation of rejoice and support. The support here could simply mean someone who listens, acknowledges, or simply rejoices. I am not certainly saying support necessarily implies - monetary, material, emotional, psychological or physical component. Though I am not ruling it out altogether - that could be an integral part.

      Hope I am not making my line of thought even fuzzier.

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